Q & A with Michael Eiden, ESA HST Project Manager for the Science and Robotic Exploration Directorate
Name: Michael J. Eiden
- ESA HST Project Manager for the Science and Robotic Exploration Directorate
- Senior Advisor (ad personam) for Multidisciplinary Mechanical Systems in the Directorate for Technical and Quality Management
What is your area of expertise?
My area of expertise is extremely broad, covering: launcher and spacecraft system engineering, management and highly specific expertise in the discipline of space structures, mechanisms, space tribology (the study of friction, wear and lubrication), nanotechnology, entry and landing system for planetary missions, sounding rockets parachute recovery system.
I have been involved since 1980 in basically all ESA missions with structural sizing of the satellites and for 13 years as Head of the Space Mechanisms Section. My contributions to the future science mission preparations both at system level and in the field of enabling technology developments have facilitated many missions today in orbit.
What made you choose this field?
I started with a University degree in aircraft and aerospace engineering. My dream was and still is to contribute to the most advanced engineering research developments and space missions. I like the work with space scientists since they are opening our eyes to recognize we are not alone in the Universe. Although we are so extremely small, still we dare to explore our origin and open the ways which will lead us one day to other planets.
You were the technical manager for the design of the solar arrays (Hubble’s “wings”). Tell us about the challenges of designing the power source for a spacecraft.
My first work on HST at the beginning of the 1980s was structural analysis of the extremely precise optical bench of the HST Faint Object Camera, which we returned from space in the servicing mission 3B. The design of the original solar wings of Hubble were a particular challenge. Today’s HST wings consist of large rigid panels deployed by astronauts during the SM3B mission. When transported to orbit by the Shuttle, they were occupying (along with their carrying structure) a major part of the Shuttle cargo bay. In 1990, the HST together with the solar arrays had to be transported to orbit by the Shuttle. Fortunately, we had developed technology to build an extremely lightweight, compact roll-up solar array blanket which would fit on two sides of the HST. Once in orbit, its supporting booms were unfolded and the blankets extended from a rotating drum. But also the Solar Array Drive Mechanisms (SADM) were novel. They enable positioning of the solar cell face to the sun. They are a kind of heart for HST by providing flow of energy for the operation of the spacecraft and the science instruments. Very smooth rotation is required in order not to disturb the extreme pointing accuracy of the HST when looking at the stars and galaxies at the edge of our known Universe.
How have the solar arrays and the drive mechanisms and electronics performed?
The solar arrays and drive mechanisms have performed excellently. The first wings induced for short time a small jitter when HST moved out of Earth’s shadow on its low-Earth Orbiting trajectory. They were replaced in 1993 together with the HST COSTAR optics and have shown excellent performance over a period of 9 years. Despite thousands of micrometeoroid and debris impacts, little power loss/degradation has occurred. In 2002, when the present panel wings were installed, SADMs adapted to the panel type wings were installed. These SADMs also perform excellently. Both the prime and redundant side of the electronics are healthy.
How do you feel about supporting what many call the most powerful astronomical tool of our time?
It is a challenging job, but a dream job. The success story of international cooperation between ESA and NASA on the HST project for over 19 years in orbit has led to fascinating results, in my opinion unmatched by any telescope in the world. I’m extremely honoured to serve the Hubble project.
Do you have a favourite HST image?
The Hubble Deep Field image. What a fascinating Universe!
Have you worked all of the servicing missions?
I have provided analysis support at ESTEC for the SM1 and SM2 servicing mission. For SM3A and SM3B, I have been ESA HST Technical Manager at the STOCC (Space Telescope Operations Control Center @ NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center).
What has been the most exciting part of SM4 for you so far?
The excitement started with the actual launch of Atlantis. Experiencing the actual launch of the SM4 after it was put on hold and even close to being cancelled due to the tragic mishap with the Columbia Shuttle is a great success.
What has been the most stressful part of SM4 for you so far?
I don’t think our ESA team has seen any stressful events on our hardware. However, there is continuous tension in my mind since I want to be prepared for the unknown. Hubble has been in orbit for 19 years in and has shown in past missions to sometimes surprise us. We are well prepared and have shown to be an A1-team in the previous missions.
What is next for you?
After completion of many 12-hours shifts on SM4, I will take some days of leave to recover. Arrangement of engineering support for the HST operational time period until 2014 will follow. The ESA Innovation Triangle Initiative Programme activities await me when I get back to ESTEC. Other SADM research and development follow and then preparation of the parachute recovery system for next two ESA sounding rocket launches with microgravity payloads. The excitement continues!