German Space Operations Center (GSOC)
More than five decades of experience with space missions
The German Space Operations Center (GSOC), operated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) at Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, has an impressive track record with many years of invaluable experience.Since 1969 GSOC has been responsible for operating spacecraft, playing a key role in countless crewed and uncrewed missions. In recent years, the preparation and implementation of Earth observation missions has been added as a new key area. In 2007, the German radar satellite TerraSAR-X was launched, which provides high-quality radar data of Earth's surface. In 2010, the TanDEM-X radar satellite was added, which is operated in formation flight with its twin satellite TerraSAR-X. In addition, the EnMAP hyperspectral satellite, which is controlled and monitored in Oberpfaffenhofen, was launched in 2022.
Role of the German Space Operations Center
GSOC employs some 300 people, making it a prominent space establishment at DLR's Oberpfaffenhofen site. With over five decades of experience in the preparation and implementation of international space missions, it is also the key element in Germany's activities in space. During a wide variety of crewed and uncrewed missions, it is responsible for:
- controlling and monitoring spacecraft, their sub-systems and on-board experiments
- communication between spacecraft, ground stations and control centres
- tracking and calculating flight and orbital paths
- planning and executing corrections to flight and orbital paths
- receiving, processing, distributing and evaluating data
- mission planning, i.e. planning the sequence of operations on board and on the ground
GSOC has an important role to play within the objectives of the German national space programme. It performs international duties (for example in ESA projects, such as operating the Columbus research module on board the International Space Station ISS) and also works with partners (for example NASA for the GRACE mission), as well as implementing commercial projects such as those with TV-SAT, DFS and EUTELSAT. At GSOC, commercial, scientific and crewed missions are all managed in parallel. The various projects all benefit from the comprehensive capabilities and structures of tried-and-tested multi-mission operations.
Effective and flexible – multi-mission operation and the matrix principle
GSOC organises itself and manages its projects on the basis of experience gained during previous spaceflight projects, obeying the matrix principle. In line with this principle, projects are assigned to dedicated project groups made up of, or supported by, representatives of the relevant technical departments. This distribution of responsibility ensures maximum availability of expertise and flexibility, allowing resources to be allocated according to the demands of the project. For each new project a project manager is appointed by the Mission Operations department, and this manager is supported by the project engineers from the appropriate technical departments. This project group is then responsible for all the work involved in preparing for and carrying out the planned mission.
The multi-mission concept firstly ensures that sufficient facilities and personnel are available to prepare for and carry out the mission without capacity issues. Secondly, it allows many resources to be shared with other projects, resulting in greater operational reliability and lower costs.
Experience and expertise from numerous scientific missions since 1968
By preparing and implementing many different kinds of missions, GSOC has been continually building on its experience and expertise ever since 1968.
GSOC's first mission was AZUR (launched on 8 November 1969), during which the satellite passed through Earth's radiation belt. This was followed by two aeronomy satellite missions, AEROS A and B (1970 - 1974). The successful AMPTE mission (Active Magnetospheric Particle Explorer, 1984 - 1986), was the next in a series of near-Earth missions. Between 1990 and 1999 GSOC was responsible for the X-ray satellite ROSAT, utilising the DLR ground station in Weilheim (not far from Munich) and the NASA ground station at Wallops, Virginia. GSOC is currently operating the Earth observation satellites BIRD, CHAMP, GRACE 1 and GRACE 2 as part of an efficient multi-mission operation. The TerraSAR-X mission with its high-resolution radar satellite, was launched on 15 June 2007 and has been flying in formation with the TanDEM-X satellite since 21 June 2010. The EnMAP hyperspectral satellite was launched on 1 April 2022 and has been controlled and monitored from Oberpfaffenhofen ever since.
As far as interplanetary spaceflight is concerned, GSOC was responsible for the HELIOS A and B missions to the Sun (launched in 1974 and 1976 respectively). The probes came within 0.28 astronomical units of the Sun (one astronomical unit or AU is the average distance between Earth and the centre of the Sun). Following the success of these missions, GSOC was also entrusted with supporting ESA's GIOTTO mission, where DLR's 30-metre S-band antenna at Weilheim came into play. During NASA's Jupiter mission GALILEO, the Operations Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen was tasked with monitoring the Retro Propulsion Module (RPM).
Experience with crewed missions since 1983
Human spaceflight has developed into another important activity for the German Space Operations Center, which already has 31 years' of expertise in the field. With the operation of the Columbus research module on the International Space Station ISS, GSOC became a European leader in this field. During the first Spacelab mission, FSLP (1983), GSOC was linked to mission control in Houston as a user centre. In 1985, when the first German Spacelab mission D1 was launched, it served as Payload Operations Control Center (POCC), successfully demonstrating the capabilities and functions of a control centre, particularly for European science. GSOC was solely responsible for the scientific aspects of the Spacelab D1 mission, making it the first control center in the western hemisphere outside of the USA to be directly involved in crewed spaceflight missions.
A new building equipped with state-of-the-art facilities was designed and built at Oberpfaffenhofen for the German Spacelab D2 mission in April 1993. It was also used for crewed ESA missions such as EUROMIR. GSOC took part in another milestone in crewed space missions when the Space Shuttle mission SRTM lifted off in 2000 with German ESA astronaut Gerhard Thiele on board. The German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst followed in his footsteps with the Blue Dot (2014) and Horizons (2018) missions, as did Matthias Maurer with the Cosmic Kiss mission (2021-2022).
Because of its track record in crewed spaceflight, unique in Europe, ESA selected GSOC to operate the Columbus research module, Europe's most important contribution to the International Space Station.
Over a long period, the stringent demands of crewed spaceflight have resulted in the development of a number of new and innovative concepts and measures that have had the effect of enhancing overall system availability and operational safety at GSOC. This isalso beneficial for key requirements in other projects.