History and Evolution

In this regard and in order to conduct operations in the European facilities on board the International Space Station (ISS), the European Space Agency has decided to implement a decentralized and hierarchical user centre approach (Figure 1). For this matter, ESA has assigned the responsibility to handle in-flight operations of pressurized and/or non-pressurized multi-user facilities the already existing national User Support and Operations Centres (USOCs)

Evolution of the B.USOC

Within the time frame January 2013 to September 2013 and to take into account the results of the Council at ministerial level, the ESA Executive has elaborated on the USOC network, aiming to reduce operation cost and increase efficiency.

As consequence of this elaboration, the following measures have been agreed:

  • Discontinuation of the USOC contracts for ERASMUS USOC (NL) and MARS USOC (I) and reassignment of the related payload/experiments, as noted by PB-HME;
  • Avoidance of “Cascading operations”, by reassigning payloads/experiments as necessary.

With respect to the discontinuation of the ERASMUS USOC (NL), the relevant activities are discontinued with the parallel reassigning of the ERASMUS USOC’s activities to other USOC, selected to avoid as far as possible “Cascading operations”.

MARS USOC (I) activities will be discontinued upon completion of the FASES and FASTER experiments, currently planned in second quarter of 2014, to be followed by the reassignment of the MARS USOC’s FSL rack/payloads/experiments to the B.USOC.

For the next phases of ISS operations, B.USOC will then be the Facility Responsible Centre for SOLAR, METERON, ASIM and FSL.

A Facility Responsible Centre (FRC) is the organisation to which the overall responsibility (by ESA) for a payload on board the Station is delegated. Its functions focus on payload systems aspects and are related to all phases of payload operations, i.e. pre-flight activities, in-flight operation and post-flight activities:

  • Support from early payload development onwards
  • Experiment/payload preparation (operations concept with payload developpers (P and Principal Investigator (P)I, operators training...)
  • Operations products development & validation (Payload Operations Data Files, Progress Report…)
  • G22 Operations document (Experiment Sequence Test (EST), Mission Operation Implementation Concept (MOIC) …)
  • ground segment (design & support)
  • ground model management
  • operations execution & support

History of the B.USOC

Belgium has fully embraced this decentralization concept allowing its scientific community to develop, implement, realize and valorise experiments inside and outside of the European Columbus facility after its launch. Entering this programme, Belgium wanted to ensure sustainability of the Belgian Operational Centre developed for ATLAS missions and located inside the Space Pole premises.

Since 1992, the Space Remote Operational Centre (SROC (IRM, KMI), renamed B.USOC for the ESA/ISS programme) has been supporting and conducting operations of Belgian space experiments on a number of space missions and facilities. Some of the experiments worthwhile mentioning in this context are:

  • IML-2 (BDPU);
  • Atlas-2 and -3 (SOLCON, SOLSPEC);
  • EuroMIR 94, 95/96 (CSK-1), RMS 2-Rip, TITUS);
  • LMS (BDPU);
  • Neurolab (ALFE);

Figure 1. Decentralized Network for Columbus operations

During the (long) pre-Columbus launch phase in order for B.USOC to prepare its first assigned SOLAR and PCDF operations as Facility Responsible Centre (FRC), the Belgian Government funded some of the most productive and challenging scientific ESA ISS missions such as: Belgian ODISSEA mission, PROMISS missions etc. Moreover, Belgium has also funded experiments which flew during Spanish CERVANTES mission and two experiments composing the SOLAR platform (SOVIM, SOLSPEC).


Figure 2. B.USOC timeline from foundation to the end of ISS programme.

Belgium also aspired to increase the “ESA” geographical return by investing in the implementation of the Erasmus USOC through the ISS – and the GSTP program in the framework of the development and implementation of the European Drawer Rack (EDR) and Protein Crystallization Diagnostic Facility (PCDF).

Looking into this (non-exhaustive) list of involvements, it is understandable that Belgium always puts priority on the scientific and industrial return of this Space Program as well as on the proximity between the User Home Bases (UHB, laboratories of principal investigators) and the B.USOC by consolidating operational activities at the Space Pole premises.

Today B.USOC is part of the Operational and scientific Service activities of the Space Pole. In the new functional structure, B.USOC will be a scientific programme of IASB/BIRA , controlled by the Space Pole representative (Director General of BIRA/IASB) and BELSPO Space Division representative.

The main task assigned by the Belgian Science Policy (BELSPO) to the centre is to provide to scientists and/or end users a set of services and resources in order to prepare, perform, monitor, analyse and valorise experiments on board Facilities inside/on the ISS but also on-board other satellites and platforms.

Currently, the centre is composed of two main systems:

  • an infrastructure System, embedded in the IASB/BIRA infrastructure, including rooms for operations control, meetings, engineering models, payload models and equipment as well as offices for the team,
  • An information System, at least partly embedded in the IT system of the Space Pole, containing all hardware and software for data handling, processing, archiving and valorising, for local network and external communication interfaces.

In addition to be part of the ESA-ISS Operations Ground Segment, the Centre is also part of the CNES µSat Myriades Ground Segment.

The current 28 engineers and scientists composing the B.USOC integrated staff today valorise their experience by giving support to operational projects and by developing new operational concepts. Functional structure of B.USOC is described below.


Figure 3 : B.USOC Functional Structure