Darmstadt, Germany - July 2011



Francis Bell writes,

My report for this Quarterly must celebrate our recent visit to Darmstadt.

The rationale behind the visit was to reinforce the personal contacts we enjoy with EUMETSAT and, importantly, to be briefed about EUMETSAT's planned future satellite programmes, together with information about data transmissions and how they may affect individual reception.

Also, not to be dismissed, was the opportunity for GEO members from different countries to meet together, and for some, to meet the helpful EUMETSAT staff for the first time.

It was early 2011 that the date for our visit was confirmed, and Harriet Locke was appointed by EUMETSAT to oversee our visit. Harriet was brilliant in every respect, looking after the administration and planning of our visit. Via email correspondence with her I had asked for presentations relating to EUMETSAT's future programmes and their co-operation with NOAA, again from the perspective of how this would influence the reception of satellite data at home. I think all our delegates judged the final programme to be perfectly arranged for us.

There was no charge for the visit but delegates had to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements. The reality was that we all stayed in two adjacent hotels close to the centre of Darmstadt. This was delightful, generating the opportunity to spend time together outside the formal programme of visits.

In total there were 28 GEO delegates, who came from the Netherlands, Germany, UK, Finland, Ireland, Austria, and France.

On arrival at the EUMETSAT HQ for the first day our welcome was genuinely friendly and, as best I could judge, EUMETSAT staff were pleased that we were visiting their HQ. It was Sally Wannop, head of User Services and Harriet Locke who looked after the formalities of our arrival.

The day was split into three parts:

  1. The formal presentations in the Council Chamber-there were seven of these presentations
  2. Tours of the technical facilities, the satellite control rooms and the Data Storage Centre
  3. A brilliant lunch which gave us a break from the tours and formalities.

At the end of the day a group photograph was taken, followed by a small technical meeting between some of our GEO delegates and EUMETSAT technical staff.

group photo

I was delighted that, during the day, I met Dr Lars Prahm, Director General of EUMETSAT. He has been very supportive of GEO over the years. He retired a few days after our GEO visit. I think he has been appointed head of the Danish Meteorological Services. There is an article in issue 34 of Image which gives the background to Dr Prahm's career and his time at EUMETSAT. If you don't have a copy of Issue 34 of Image then I have no sympathy whatsoever with you. The details of how to be included in this publication's mailing list have been reported often enough in GEO Quarterly.

An evening of wining and dining with GEO delegates and some EUMETSAT staff brought to an end our first full day.

Day two started with a visit to EUMETSAT's primary ground station at Usingen. Accompanied by three members of EUMETSAT staff, a one hour coach ride brought us to the ground station. The site is located on top of a gentle hill amid wooded countryside, on what used to be a WW2 airfield. Its geographic position and geology, I guess, makes the area ideal for locating the very large satellite dishes which stand there today. I don't quite understand the ownership of the site but it seems to be primarily run by Media Broadcast GmbH. As with our arrival at EUMETSAT HQ, the reception we received by Media Broadcast could not have been more friendly and welcoming.

A presentation was given to us by Juergen Schaefer, Lothar Stockmann and Andreas Nowak about the role of Media Broadcast and its activities. Apparently Media Broadcast has about 60 customers and looks after thousands of TV and data satellite channels which pass through the Usingen site. I was sincerely impressed with the VIP treatment we were given, both for the time and trouble that have been given to the presentations and then the two hour tour of the dishes and control rooms. The were dishes of every size on the site. I couldn't count them all but judged there to be over a hundred.

Our tour included not only crawling around some of the biggest dishes on site but specifically visiting the EUMETSAT primary dishes with their control rooms. I came away from Usingen in awe of the amount of data passing through this site and the fine control which is necessary for perfect satellite communications.

I thanked the Media Broadcast staff who had guided us around the site and expressed some regret that we had to leave on time because of our afternoon programme which included a prebooked tour of ESOC. I think we all agreed that another hour at Usingen would have been time well spent.

We presented ourselves at the European Space Operations Centre

(ESOC) back in Darmstadt with just seven minutes to spare to enjoy a tour of their facilities which I had booked, together with a guide, several months beforehand. The style of this visit was a little different from the personal treatment we had enjoyed at EUMETSAT and Media Broadcast because we were put through a standard tour of facilities like many other groups. However, our guides were excellent and broadened our perception from weather satellites to deep space missions.

A bonus for us was that at ESOC there is a GEO member, Mark Drapes. Mark works with the gamma ray and x-ray telescopes so, when we came to his area of the ESOC facilities, he was on hand to explain these and other missions with which he is involved. Although we could look through the windows of several control rooms within the ESOC buildings, we were not, understandably, allowed inside them. Mark stayed with us for most of our remaining time, explaining facilities as we progressed the remainder of the tour.

From my perspective, our two days were brilliantly successful from every dimension. GEO learned much about EUMETSAT's future programmes and I hope EUMETSAT learned a little more about our enthusiastic and talented GEO group, plus our equally talented friends from the Netherlands, Werkgroep Kunstmanen, who were well represented within our delegate group-plus of course other members of our party.

Finally some brief comment from delegates:

Hello Francis It was a great trip. Martin Schager, Austria.

Many thanks for all your efforts to organize this meeting. It was definitely worth attending. Andreas Lubnow, Germany

The visiting of EUMETSAT was very interesting for me and I hope I can repeat it in the coming years. Thomas Protzel, Germany.

Thanks a lot for organising the Darmstadt visit, it was brilliant. Regards from Germany.