Table of contents
to Part 1: Ancient history - 1972: How it all began
Change in all things is sweet
The growing preoccupation with the problem of ozone depletion in the polar regions led to a big boost in our balloon activities at Esrange. The first large ozone campaign was carried out at Esrange in 1992. A hundred scientists visited Esrange, and 44 large balloons were launched over a period of three months.
That same year a large investment was made in the construction of the Arena Arctica facility at Kiruna Airport. This large hangar, which can be used for aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747, enabled us to accommodate aircraft which took part in campaigns to support ozone research.
The release of balloons might seem to be a nice, old-fashioned activity. In fact, the launch of a modern large balloon is an awesome experience. The largest balloon launched from Esrange has a volume of 1 million cubic metres, which is far larger than the "Globen" arena in Stockholm. For such big balloons, a dynamic method is used for release. Normally an auxiliary balloon is used to lift the payload during the initial phase.
The release of a big balloon is not without its dangers. On one occasion, a French scientist got entangled in a rope and was nearly pulled up into the air with the balloon! Of course, as we have seen from James Bond movies, all he would have had to do is work his way to the payload gondola, release the payload, and use its parachute to effect a safe landing...
More than 300 big atmospheric balloons have now been launched from Esrange. On average, one big balloon campaign is carried out from Esrange every year. Most of the balloon campaigns are performed in co-operation with CNES.
In March 1997, a balloon launched from Esrange landed in Greenland after circling the world more than three times. Another balloon landed in Norway after completing five circles and was recovered after its 22-day flight! The payload was in perfect condition. It will be refurbished and flown again.
SSC’s darkest hour occurred in 1993. During preparations for a rocket launch, the ignition circuit for the solid propellant motor was inadvertently activated during an indoor test, when the rocket was in a horizontal position. The rocket killed one of our colleagues, Bror Thornaeus, and injured three others. - Bror was highly regarded by everybody who knew him, and he left a big family. This made our sense of loss and sorrow all the deeper.
As the years went by, Esrange kept getting busier in satellite support. In addition to landing data from Earth Observation satellites, Esrange had a growing role as a satellite tracking and control station. In fact, by the early 1990s Esrange was a contender for the title "Busiest Satellite Station in the World". We supported up to 40 satellite passages per day, and that did not even include Tele-X operations!
A particular thrill was provided by our own scientific satellite Freja, which was launched in 1992 on a Chinese launch vehicle from a site in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. A telephone line had been set up to the launch site, where Sven "Djingis" Grahn gave a running commentary. After the launch phase had been successfully completed, there was an anxious wait before the first passage over Esrange took place. Tension increased as the predicted time of signal acquisition arrived and passed without any sign of life from Freja. Then, 23 seconds late, the first signal was received, and anxiety was replaced by jubilation! A quick check showed that everything was normal onboard.
A stark reminder of what could have happened was given a year later, when Landsat-6 was launched from California. Although the satellite was launched in a southerly direction, Esrange was the first ground station due to contact the satellite after the launch. The time when contact should have occurred passed, and there was no signal! Lars Alm and his team on "the Hill" at Esrange were more than worried. Was there anything wrong with their equipment and settings?
But other stations soon reported that they had the same problem. A desperate attempt to find the satellite with an optical telescope in Hawaii turned into comedy, when ESA’s ERS-1 was mistakenly identified as Landsat-6. - It was later determined that the launch had failed.
Our original business of launching sounding rockets continued with new campaigns carrying names such as RASMUS, HYGROSOND, and TEXUS. If some of the old interest in measurements of the aurora borealis had been transferred to satellite experiments on Viking and Freja, the slack was taken up by investigations of the upper atmosphere and of phenomena in microgravity. This also had the advantage that launch dates tended to become more predictable. The old wait for auroral conditions to be just right gradually occurred less frequently.
As we have seen, a major extension of our capabilities took place when the MAXUS rocket was successfully flown in 1992, and again in 1995. We could now offer scientists 12-14 minutes of microgravity. - Wait a minute, the apogee of MAXUS is high enough that... could it be... do we really know for sure that it was the launch of Landsat-6 that failed??
Of course, it would take a number of MAXUS flights to equal the experience of our sub-orbital astronauts Kenneth Löth and Christian Lockowandt, who between them have accumulated two hours of flight in microgravity preparing sounding rocket experiments on aircraft parabolic flights ("the vomit Comet").
A counterpoint to the hectic rocket and balloon campaigns, and to the stressful passages of satellites in low orbit, is provided by the Tele-X and Sirius control centre at Esrange. Not that you can get too relaxed as a Tele-X operator - on the contrary. But most of the time, nothing very dramatic is going on with our geostationary satellites. They stay in place, and they do what they are supposed to do! - On the other hand, there is the constant pressure of knowing that your little mistake, especially if a crisis should develop, could mean the loss of a billion-SEK spacecraft and the wrath of a million angry TV viewers! - There is also the scheduled excitement of controlling the satellites during eclipse and orbit adjustment operations.
Just as the Tele-X/Sirius team at Esrange, our young but seasoned team in Salmijärvi are in the unenviable situation that success is taken for granted and probably get less recognition than they deserve. At every meeting of the ESA Programme Board, statistics show the outstanding performance of our station. Usually our availability is 100 %. Occasionally it may drop to 99 % or thereabouts - still far above the levels of other ERS stations.
One reward for the good service we provide may be that nobody has questioned our role as the principal station to support ESA’s next big Earth Observation programme: ENVISAT. A major expansion of our Salmijärvi building has just been completed, and we are ready to receive all the new equipment that will be installed and operated from 1999 onwards.
To visit Esrange nowadays is to be impressed with, and infected by, the vitality and enthusiasm of the relative newcomers. But it is also inspiring to meet the "old guard", the veterans who have contributed so much to SSC, and who are still just as prone to catch "campaign fever" as the youngsters.
Amid these pioneers, quite a few are veterans from the ESRO days. Aimo Maksimainen even helped to clear the ground for Esrange back in 1964, when he was working for a construction company. Other well-known profiles from those days are the present Head of the Esrange Division Jan Englund, Lars Erik Sarri, Rune Nyberg, Kimmo Koponen, Sören Häggroth, Stig Kemi, Ulf Stambro, Tore Johansson, and Astrid Sunna. And let us not forget Lennart Marcus, who is reputed to be able to read the data on a magnetic tape just by letting it slide through his fingers. Or Börje Sjöholm...
It has been said of Börje that he likes to pull his colleagues’ legs. During the ESRO years, there was a Belgian colleague who was a passionate tea drinker, and who could always be seen with a tea cup in his hand. Börje and his team mate Axel Wollin sneaked into the Belgian’s room and managed to drill two microscopic holes in his tea cup. The poor fellow complained for months that his cup unaccountably was leaking. - It should be pointed out that the Belgian was himself an inveterate prankster, so he was just getting his just retribution!
On another occasion Börje fooled an Englishman. As we all know, one way to test that a battery is charged is to lick it with the tongue. Börje showed the trick to the Englishman, who promptly repeated it outside the building. Of course, this is not such a good idea at - 35° C! His tongue instantly froze to the instrument he was testing, and they had to bring him inside with the instrument glued to his face! There he was slowly thawed until the instrument could be removed.
Despite a string of impressive achievements in the 1980s, spirits were somewhat dampened towards the end of the second decade. Commercial success had turned out to be more difficult to achieve than we had hoped. That this in essence was due to an anaemic world market was no real consolation. Some new ideas were needed to recover the old optimism!
We moved on several fronts to accomplish this. One element was to create a clearer division of responsibilities between the mother company and Satellitbild. Another was to give renewed emphasis to partnerships with user organisations. Development projects were carried out with the participation of experts at the universities, the National Land Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency (SNV), and elsewhere.
We also received a boost from the outside world. A number of new satellite projects were announced in the early 1990s. Some of them promised dramatic advances. In addition, the infrastructure to support applications was finally catching up with satellite technology. Information technology was developing at a dizzying rate, and GIS technology was starting to revolutionise map making, and even the concept of the map itself.
In parallel with the continuation of the SPOT programme with the successful launches of SPOT-2 and -3 in 1990 and 1993, preparations started for the enhanced SPOT-4 project and the new-generation SPOT-5. SSC and Satellitbild participated in the technical working group for the SPOT-4 ground segment. We also received a contract to develop software for product generation.
In SPOT-5, we were more profoundly involved in studying system architecture. At first, British participation in the project was envisaged, and we took part in some lively discussions on the pros and cons of different system concepts. We also collaborated with NRSC in a study of the SPOT-5 ground segment on behalf of Spot Image. - Later, France and the United Kingdom amicably decided not to join forces. - Unfortunately, the financial squeeze in 1996 forced France to descope and stretch the SPOT-5 programme. In parallel, however, studies began on the successor of SPOT-5.
Well, that is perhaps not the way you usually think of ESA, but in 1991 SSC could greet them as a newcomer to the club of satellite owners - as a SPOT partner we had already been a member for five years! - Of course, ESA already had extensive experience from the Meteosat programme...
ERS-1 was primarily a sea monitoring satellite, but its radar instrument also provided interesting information over land areas. For us, the satellite first of all meant a new role for Kiruna through the TT&C and data receiving station at Salmijärvi. We also got involved in the development of applications of radar data, including the organisation of sea ice experiments in the Baltic Sea; and in the distribution of data through Satellitbild, which was a member of the Eurimage consortium, ESA’s commercial distributor of ERS data.
We did not expect any quick breakthrough when it came to operational applications. A completely novel data source requires a number of years for "robust" operational applications to emerge. Still, we were somewhat taken aback when a delighted ESA manager demonstrated the first radar images: "...And every single one of them could be the subject of a doctoral dissertation!"
ERS-2 followed in 1995. - From the technical and scientific point of view, the ERS satellites have been a resounding success and contributed to Europe’s present world lead in remote sensing satellites.
In 1992, the Swedish Government decided to participate in ESA’s next remote sensing satellite project, Envisat, at a level considerably above GNP. This project would be supported by the Salmijärvi station, and we might also establish a Processing and Archiving Centre at Salmijärvi for one of the instruments.
The cost of the Envisat behemoth is almost 20 billion SEK - 30 if you include the Artemis data relay system - so there will be a lot of sweaty palms on the day of launch, in 1999 at the earliest!
At the other end of the scale in ESA contributions, the author once paid Sweden’s share in an ESA programme in cash out of his own pocket! Sweden had sunk some leftover money from Sirio-2 in a telecommunications experiment named LASSO. Our share was just 0.07 %. When a proposal was made to prolong the experiment by a few months, the author voted yes on behalf of Sweden, and with a flourish pulled a 200 FFR note out of his wallet and handed it over to the secretariat. This contribution fully covered our share! - Alas, the note was returned at the next meeting. ESA’s administration had been unable to cope with this innovative procedure...
The European Commission more than once had to confront the question of what its proper role in space activities was. There already were two space agencies at the European level: ESA and EUMETSAT. On the other hand, space was becoming strategically and commercially important to a degree that argued for wider involvement from the Commission.
In Earth Observation, the Commission had been active in methodology development through its Joint Research Centre in Ispra since the early 1970s. Those were the days when mainframe computers spat out thematic maps in the form of lineprinter sheets which had to be coloured by hand! In the following two decades, JRC conducted a number of large-scale applications demonstrations in agriculture, forestry and environment.
Out of this work came the concept of a European Centre for Earth Observation (CEO). The concept was soon radically altered, but the name persisted. At present, a massive effort is underway to establish CEO as a de-centralised network, and to populate the network with different kinds of services. - As part of this effort, SSC has managed, and/or participated in, several projects and studies in every phase of the CEO’s development.
In parallel, the Commission, along with the SPOT partners, decided to sponsor an instrument development, Végétation, to fly on SPOT-4. Swedish industry is taking part in this development. It is also participating in the development of the ground segment for Végétation, with SSC as a sub-contractor.
At present, the Commission’s view of its role is evolving in preparation for its 5th Framework Programme for 1998-2002. It is clear, however, that the policies and plans of the Commission will become increasingly important to our remote sensing activities.
In the mid-1980s we had joked about setting up a "Birgitta Dahl Memorial Centre" in Kiruna as the next step after Satellitbild was established. Ms Dahl was the Minister of the Environment at the time, and we thought that she might like the idea that environmental information would be generated from satellite data.
The time to get serious about this came in 1991. Our studies, methodology development and demonstration projects in co-operation with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SNV) had demonstrated the potential of satellite technology for environmental applications. Political interest in monitoring environmental processes in the Nordic region was growing. - At a meeting in Nikkaluokta, Claes-Göran Borg challenged us to establish a "Processing and Archiving Facility" for environmental applications by 1995.
A period of intensive lobbying followed. A reference group for the project was formed, and a pre-study was initiated. In mid-1992, the pre-study was presented to the Ministry of the Environment. SNV received a 2 MSEK grant to proceed with further investigations. An interim Board for the Environmental Satellite Data Centre (MDC) was formed in 1993, and a local project manager was engaged in Kiruna - Åsa Domeij.
In parallel, the research community was prepared through presentations at symposia, and through the first CORINE pilot project, which was completed in 1994. The CORINE project demonstrated the interest of environmental information derived from satellite to a number of Swedish user agencies. - Another appetiser was the Baltic GIS pre-study.
In September 1994, during the election campaign, three Ministers publicly endorsed the establishment of an Environment and Space Institute in Kiruna. One month later, our formal application for funding to a Government research foundation was supported in a letter signed by nine directors general of user agencies!
By now the deft footwork of Claes-Göran and Stigbjörn Olovsson at SSC, and their comrades-in-arms at SNV, had created such momentum, that our main problem had become how to handle those who wanted to "join the bandwagon" in the hope of winning support for their own pet projects!
In 1995, the European Environmental Agency appointed MDC a European Topic Centre on Land Cover, with Ulf von Sydow as Project Manager. The final arrangements for financial support for MDC were approved by the Swedish Fund for Strategic Research (MISTRA) and the European Commission. - The following year, a massive remote sensing research programme called RESE was launched, with MDC as the contracting organisation.
In 1996, recruitment started in earnest. For the time being, MDC was organised as a wholly owned subsidiary of SSC and housed in Space House in Kiruna. Olle Nåbo became its Managing Director. The Centre was inaugurated by the Minister of Industry and the County Governor in August. - At the time of writing, MDC has 10 employees.
The vision of an Environmental Satellite Data Centre in Kiruna had been realised!
A classic rivalry came to an end in 1995, after more than 20 years. For all those years, the Norwegian Tromsø Satellite Station (TSS) had been duelling with our satellite station at Esrange for contracts to serve the world’s space agencies - especially those operating Earth Observation satellites. This competition could only benefit our customers, and by now it had become clear that neither side would surrender. At Esrange we had a commercially viable business going, and the Tromsö station enjoyed very strong political support. In addition, there were plans to set up a complementary station on Spitzbergen.
The time had come to bury the hatchet. In 1993, contacts were quietly made between SSC, TSS, and the Norwegian Space Centre. By now, the reorganisation of our satellite activities under the new Earth Observation Division (EOD) had simplified things on our side. From the administrative viewpoint, things were more complicated in Norway. But the good personal relations between the principal actors on both sides helped to overcome the administrative obstacles.
A solution was found: SSC and TSS would join forces. SSC would acquire a 50 % interest in TSS, and TSS would be managed as part of EOD. EOD would include Norwegian representatives in its Steering Group. Most important, it was agreed that the co-operation would be based on sound business principles. After all, "friendship based on business is better than business based on friendship", as the saying goes.
To work out the details of the agreement, and to ratify it, turned out to be a long and time-consuming process. At the political level in both countries, there was some residual apprehension: "We are not selling the crown jewels, are we?" But in 1995 the agreement was signed, and a new age of co-operation began!
In 1992, we completed a small demonstration project as part of a major governmental information technology programme, IT-GIS. Our objective was to demonstrate that technology was fast overcoming the obstacles to routine use of satellite data. We wanted to show that a high-resolution satellite image map of any part of Sweden could be presented on a PC screen within seconds. - Today this seems like a trivial exercise, but five years ago, such a demonstration still had a lot of impact. It may even have accelerated the adoption of satellite images as a standard information layer in Swedish military GIS systems.
As a spin-off of this project, a CD-ROM containing satellite images of Sweden was produced. It included high-resolution SPOT images of selected cities in Sweden, and stirred considerable interest among the general public. This was brought home to the author during a visit to a TV shop. When the young salesman found out that the author worked for SSC, he did not ask the usual: "You work for Esrange, then?", but rather: "Are you involved with the CD-ROM?"
What is "high technology"? A former managing director of Electrolux emphatically claimed that the production of vacuum cleaners is every bit as "high tech" as that of military aircraft: the latest production technology must be used to make a high-quality product with a competitive price.
In line with this logic, we had nothing to be ashamed of when we added some lowly photographic cameras to our high-tech MSS system in 1992. Well, not so lowly in fact - they were Nikon and Hasselblad cameras! And they were fully integrated with the aircraft navigation system. Navigation data was recorded on each film frame. - We soon sold a number of these systems as stand-alone products to the Italian and Canadian coast guards.
In 1993 we sold a complete MSS system to Poland, and the following year two further systems to the Portuguese Air Force. They now use five of our MSS systems to monitor fishing activities, to combat oil pollution, to discourage smuggling, and to perform search and rescue activities.
The following year we scored a major success. We were selected to develop the next-generation MSS for the U.S. Coast Guard in partnership with an American company! This involved a three-year effort of unprecedented scale for our MSS unit. - At the time of writing, we have just sold the new generation system to the Norwegian Coast Guard. The MSS unit continues to be profitable overall and faces a bright future.
The CORINE (Co-ordination of Information on the Environment) programme was initiated by the European Commission in 1985. Its aim is to give information on the environment, through the creation of a geographical database describing vegetation and land use within the European Union. The database is planned to be updated every 5 to 10 years.
When Sweden joined the Union, discussions naturally started on whether and how CORINE should be implemented in Sweden. Although, clearly everybody would be pleased to see Sweden act as a "good girl" and do its part, a better reason was that Swedish users agreed that they needed a CORINE-type database. So SSC stepped in and did some demonstrations in co-operation with SNV, using satellite data. Our database had a higher resolution than the standard CORINE classification, and more vegetation classes, but it could easily be generalised for compatibility.
With the creation of MDC, it was agreed that the Swedish CORINE database should be hosted by them. At present, SSC is developing the methodology through the pilot production phase. Although, the financing of full-scale production remains to be worked out with the Commission, it is extremely helpful that both the Swedish Land Survey and SNV agree that CORINE Land Cover will be considered as general landscape information.
If this important work comes to fruition, we will have established the first sustained, operational programme in Sweden to generate geographic information from satellite data!
Amid high-profile achievements, such as the establishment of MDC, most of us soldiered on in less glamorous day-to-day activities. A new generation of image-processing tools based on work stations was installed. From time to time, desperate shrieks could be heard, when some vital data file had disappeared into "cyberspace".
On occasion the methodical step-by-step development of new methods and software was interrupted by expeditions to faraway and exotic places. Olov Fäst was constantly looking for new customers for the MSS system around the globe, and we continued to support Satellitbild and SIDA in projects in countries such as Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Kenya. Åke Rosenqvist has spent several years with NASDA in Tokyo. - Our colleagues often came back with wonderful and hair-raising stories.
In Solna, work conditions improved a lot in 1995-96, when Lennart Björn joined the Remote Sensing Technology Division. Until then, a full-time manager able to give his undivided attention and support to the Remote Sensing Services business unit had been missing. - Another improvement was a changed work environment which resulted from an in-house project known as "Workin’ Space". - Our Q25 quality programme encouraged a more professional attitude to work, without hampering creativity and initiative.
Even more important than these steps, there is a renewed faith that Remote Sensing is finally starting to have an impact in modern society, and that our work will be important in making that happen. With new data sources, new processing tools and communications infrastructure, and with the cost of processing and communicating dropping all the time, new opportunities will surely arise.
Despite some impressive successes in the first years of operation, life at Satellitbild was still a daily struggle against unfavourable odds. The world market for satellite data developed more slowly than expected. This had a negative impact on Satellitbild both directly and indirectly. Directly, because the market available to us was developing more slowly than expected. Indirectly, because the services we were doing for our French partners were being cut back. Fewer SPOT "scenes" than expected were being archived in Kiruna for CNES, and fewer products than projected were being produced on behalf of Spot Image. Moreover, Spot Image was ordering a lot of "level zero" data from us, which meant less processing income.
We also suffered from reduced satellite capacity, following failures of the on-board recorders on SPOT-1 and SPOT-2. The smooth functioning of the tape recorders was of particular importance to us, as our main role was to "land" data acquired over all parts of the world. Our insurance policies, which protected us against such events, could only give us partial compensation for the direct and indirect effects of technical anomalies.
So it became more important than ever to find new sources of income through our own efforts. And in fact, we managed to win a large number of contracts, mostly in developing countries. But as our customers often represented "the poorest of the poor", we not only had to offer them a superior product at a competitive price - we also had to organise the financing and administration of projects - projects which often included much more than just the satellite data.
At times, Lars Bjerkesjö and our sales force must have felt like the proverbial immigrant, who had been told that the streets in the new country were paved with gold. They quickly found out
In 1994 it became evident that the survival of Satellitbild was threatened by the weak market growth, which was further dampened by a world-wide economic recession. It became necessary to reduce staff substantially. Unfortunately, this could not be accomplished without forced layoffs - a procedure that is deeply painful in general, and in SSC in particular, where until that point we had always been expanding.
To their credit, the staff and the unions at Satellitbild understood the necessity for drastic action. Despite the pain of having to see some of their colleagues having to go, who had been working just as hard and enthusiastically as the rest, the spirit of Satellitbild was not broken. People worked just as hard as before, and they accepted the difficult challenge of delivering essentially the same output as before with a much reduced work force. They also kept their faith in the long-term prospects of the company.
In the end, a reduction of the work force from 75 to 55 was effected. Most of the reduction was accomplished on a voluntary basis. Some found positions at Esrange and Salmijärvi. Only a handful remained unemployed.
The failure of the onboard tape recorder of SPOT-2 interwoven with the difficulties on the world market and the changing relationship between CNES and Spot Image created a difficult situation when the co-operation agreement between Satellitbild and Spot Image was due for revision in the early 1990s. After prolonged discussions, which also involved SNSB, the Swedish National Space Board, an agreement was finally reached in 1994.
Although this agreement provided for a reduced French financial contribution to Satellitbild compared to earlier years, it also gave a much needed stability and removed the persistent short-term cash flow problems. The company’s stock capital, which had been eroded while negotiations were in progress, was reinstated.
Another important development was the signing of the contract for a new-generation SPOT processing system. The new system was designed to support the SPOT-4 mission, but it was taken into operation already with the earlier SPOT satellites in 1996.
In many companies, it is customary to refer to the sales force as the soldiers on the front, while the people back home serve them in a supporting function. In the case of Satellitbild, this picture sometimes seemed to be particularly appropriate. On one occasion, Wladyslaw "Ludde" Ludkiewicz found himself in the middle of internal strife in Nigeria, as he was travelling by car through the country on his way to Ghana to deliver a business proposal. His car was repeatedly stopped by angry mobs armed with sticks and stones!
Somehow he managed to bribe his way out of these situations, and some similar but less life-threatening ones. Travelling through four countries in one day, he managed to deliver the offer just one hour before the deadline! The next day he found out that there had just been a coup d’état in Nigeria. The whole experience did his ulcer no good, and one has to sympathise with the question he kept asking himself: "What the hell am I doing here?"
But not all trips were that bad. In most cases the inevitable hardships and frustrations that accompany travel in developing countries were rewarded with the deeply satisfying experience of meeting foreign cultures and people, thereby getting a new perspective on our own lifestyle. - Of course, the greatest thrill of all was to return with a signed contract!
The relentless pursuit of new business continued. In co-operation with Spot Image, we established an outpost in Singapore in 1993. Björn Ohlsson spent several years there as our representative. He was relieved by Christer Colliander in 1996. - In 1995, Christer Andersson took over from Dan Rosenholm as Head of Sales within the Marketing Department headed by Jörgen Hartnor.
A breakthrough occurred in 1993, when we received important contracts to provide satellite image maps of the newly independent Baltic republics. - In the following year, we concluded an agreement with Russia to receive and distribute medium-resolution Resurs data.
By 1995, a new business area was growing rapidly. The providers and operators of cellular telecommunications systems discovered that they needed good vegetation and terrain maps to model wave propagation, and thereby determine the best locations for relay masts. This was an application that nobody had even thought of when the SPOT system was defined, but now it rapidly became one of the most important sources of income. - Probably, there is a moral for all of us hidden away somewhere there...
Despite these developments, it became increasingly clear that Satellitbild needed additional sources of income to survive. Overall, things seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. ESA’s resolve to continue supporting "third-party" missions in Kiruna seemed to be weakening. We lost the contract to serve the Indian remote sensing satellite IRS-1C to the Germans. The British were planning to add high-resolution data from Japanese satellites to their portfolio. SPOT-3 ceased operations in 1996, so Satellitbild would largely have to live off its one-million scene SPOT archive until SPOT-4 was launched in 1998. The future of the SPOT system seemed endangered, when SPOT-5 was descoped and delayed. On top of that, Spot Image and CNES were stalling signature of the SPOT-4 and SPOT-5 agreements.
We needed a second leg in addition to our SPOT business. Perhaps even more?
One such leg was to support the emerging American commercial very-high-resolution satellite systems. The availability of data at an order of magnitude higher resolution than current SPOT data is expected to open up a whole new market for satellite data. The main competitor in this segment is thought not be lower resolution satellite data, but rather aerial photography.
The most solid of these initiatives appeared to be Space Imaging’s 1-metre resolution system, due for initial launch in late 1997. In early 1997, we managed to sign a contract with them for a "store-and-forward" service; i.e. we would receive data from the onboard recording device and forward the data to the satellite operator. - The possibility of Satellitbild acting as a distributor of the data within Europe is still under discussion.
Another leg was to provide complete coverage of Europe. Our Kiruna station offered the advantage of frequent opportunities to contact the satellite, but it had the drawback that its coverage area did not include the Mediterranean countries. This put us at a disadvantage in comparison with stations in Germany and Italy. One solution was to open a second station in southern Sweden which would be connected to Kiruna by a high-speed data link, and which would essentially be operated by remote control from Kiruna.
This scheme was approved by the Board of SSC in March 1997. At present a one-year procurement and implementation phase is in progress. No less than 80 municipalities in southern Sweden have offered to host "Kiruna South" and win the right to call themselves "Space Centre"! Next year, Satellitbild should be able to offer any satellite operator complete support over the whole European region!
...to seek a newer world
It would be nice to find a relaxed and comforting ending for this chapter. The truth is that the struggle to make a success out of Satellitbild is just as challenging as ever. Today, we can see vast new opportunities opening up, but the obstacles are also formidable. Hic sunt leones!
So, perhaps the most appropriate ending is: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
Actually, it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon of 6 October 1992 when Freja was launched. But such a headline would sound slightly flat, wouldn’t it? What must be conveyed is the spine-tingling wait for the showdown in the simmering desert heat. It had been a long wait. Our team had been at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre for 48 days preparing for the launch. Adding to the pressure, a Swedish VIP group had arrived to witness the launch.
Our team had coped well with the strain of staying in such a remote place. They had overcome the difficulties of unfamiliar food, an incomprehensible language, and cultural deprivation. Perhaps there had been depravation as well under the desert stars - at least, two of our team, Peter Rathsman and Anna Laurin, later got married!
The countdown clock inexorably counted off the hours, minutes and seconds, although at the VIP site nothing was heard. There was only Chinese music on the loudspeaker until the rocket suddenly blasted off! Sven Grahn gave a live commentary by telephone for the benefit of our anxiously waiting Esrange team. Peter Rathsman got so excited that he was invited by his polite Chinese hosts to please not make so much noise on the intercom system! One by one the scheduled events occurred. The main satellite separated. The launch vehicle turned to eject Freja into a slightly different trajectory, avoiding collision. Freja separated.
After one full orbit, a signal was heard. It sounded familiar, but Sven Grahn fretted that it might come from a Russian satellite. Finally, all doubt dissolved when the signal cut off an agonising 23 seconds behind schedule.
The success was complete, when during the following months and years Freja performed like clockwork, gathering valuable scientific data for the different research groups. By the way, data were not just collected at Esrange. A Japanese satellite station on an island just off Antarctica also collected data.
Freja finally ceased to function in 1996 after more than four years of operation - twice its design lifetime.
Another impressive achievement was chalked up by the wizards in SSC’s Space Science Division when they developed and launched our first "microsatellite" in just one year, and at a total cost, including launch, of less than 10 MSEK. Astrid was named in honour of Sweden’s famous author of books for children, Astrid Lindgren. The project manager was Anna Rathsman.
Astrid was a small spin-stabilised satellite weighing just 27 kg. Despite its small size, thanks to micro-miniaturisation, Astrid carried three scientific experiments developed by the Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna. They were named after some of Astrid Lindgren’s characters, including PIPPI! SSC was responsible for the platform, the integration of the satellite, and the ground segment. Astrid was controlled from Esrange.
Astrid was launched "piggyback" on a Russian Kosmos-3M rocket (see picture below right) from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in January 1995 into a 1000 km circular orbit. Valuable scientific data were collected for more than one month. The power supply for the scientific instruments failed in March 1995. Technological experiments continued through 1995, including automatic sun-pointing of the microsatellite.
Astrid was a precursor for more ambitious microsatellite missions, and its success led to the go-ahead for the Astrid-2 mission.
Astrid-2 is currently being prepared for a summer 1997 launch. Again we will use a Russian rocket launched from Plesetsk into a 1000 km circular orbit. The total mass of Astrid-2 is less than 35 kg. The spin-stabilised, solar-pointing platform will carry four scientific experiments for particle and field measurements related to auroral phenomena. The data reception and control station will be installed at SSC’s Solna office.
Interestingly, the satellite and ground station are designed for extended periods of unattended operation. If a problem should develop, a beeper will go off in the pocket of the responsible technician, who will normally be able to devote his time to other tasks! The scientific data are stored on a server and accessed via the Internet by the Principal Investigator.
Odin is a small Viking-class satellite for astronomical and atmospheric research. It uses the same instrument, a microwave radiometer, for both purposes - a very innovative approach! In the astronomy mission, the physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium will be studied. The aeronomy mission will address scientific problems in the stratosphere and mesosphere by measuring various trace constituents.
Odin is scheduled to be launched in 1998 on a Russian Start-1 launch vehicle from Svobodny in the Far East of Russia into a circular, sun-synchronous 600 km orbit.
The antenna of the principal instrument, the microwave radiometer, has a 1.1 metre diameter. The radiometer has one receiver at a wavelength of 3 mm, and four receivers working in the sub-millimetre band. It is complemented with an optical spectrometer with four wavelength bands from UV to near-IR.
The Odin satellite has a mass of just 250 kg and has a two-year design lifetime.
Odin represents a big step forward in complexity and the use of advanced technology compared to Viking and Freja - yet it will be a small, inexpensive satellite just like its predecessors. The same recipe is being used for Odin as for Freja: a small development team, a close working relationship with the Science team, maximum use of off-the-shelf equipment, and competitive procurement. - From the technical point of view, the attitude control subsystem is a particularly challenging development. Odin will be stabilised in three axes. The pointing accuracy is 15 arc seconds in staring mode.
Odin will be integrated and tested for SSC by Saab Ericsson Space. Our project manager is Fredrik von Scheele.
Our skills and experience in developing and building sounding rocket payloads, micro-satellites and mini-satellites, are now being made available as a business service for all comers. We have started to advertise off-the-shelf subsystems and components in the international trade journals. At the same time, we are dealing a blow to the prejudice that satellites have to be big, complex, and expensive in order to do something useful!
When you stop to think of it, one measure of our success is that nobody finds it very remarkable anymore that SSC should design, build and operate its own satellites!
A bit of background is needed before we get to the heart of this story. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is an American satellite system which uses dozens of satellites in orbits of several thousand kilometres altitude to send signals which allow the exact position of a ground receiver to be determined. Actually, the receiver need not be on the ground. It can equally well be mounted in a vehicle such as a satellite or an airplane. And the term "exact position" needs to be qualified. The system is a military one, and it was deliberately designed to give only a modest accuracy for civilian use. But special reference stations on the ground allow the restrictions to be overcome, and anyway its use has now become such a booming success that even the military have become dependent on civilian receivers.
Today, small inexpensive receivers enable anyone to determine their position to within a few tens of metres or so. GPS receivers are common on trucks, pleasure boats, even golf courses. GPS compasses are available which point you towards your parked car when you have become lost in the forest picking mushrooms or berries. And this is just the start. In a few years we shall all know exactly where we are. To decide where to go is another matter...
A well-known Swedish inventor, Håkan Lans, has come up with a way to use the GPS system for traffic control. The concept is called GP&C, for Global Positioning and Communication. His system uses a single radio frequency channel to exchange GPS-derived positions between a whole fleet of vehicles and a base station. The radio channel is cut up into small time slots where each vehicle automatically transmits its position. In this way, a complete picture can be built up and updated every second.
Needless to say, this concept has stirred the interest of the air traffic control authorities. It promises to give vastly improved precision in traffic monitoring, and much better capabilities for each pilot to be aware of nearby traffic. Similar interest has been expressed by the maritime authorities. - In time, land vehicles are expected to create a vast market for GP&C services.
When SSC learnt about Håkan Lans’ concept, we quickly realised its potential. After all, we were familiar with GPS technology, and we had worked with aircraft navigation systems in the context of our Maritime Surveillance System. Our management decided that we should take advantage of this opportunity. After we had participated in experiments and demonstrations for a few years, in 1993 we bought the right to use the Lans patent in partnership with CelsiusTech. We set up a group of around 10 people to develop and produce GP&C equipment.
We co-operated closely with the Swedish Civil Aviation Board, and in 1995 we also signed a co-operation agreement with the Swedish Maritime Authority.
The GP&C activity has a rather special character. For instance, it involves the fabrication of standard electronic equipment in large numbers with stringent quality requirements. In recognition of this, of the particular market conditions in this field, and of the business risks involved, SSC in 1996 decided to create a wholly owned subsidiary, GP&C Sweden AB, to handle this activity. Håkan Kangert was appointed Managing Director. At the time of writing, eight people work in the new company.
At present, intensive efforts are in progress to convince international authorities to adopt GP&C as an approved international standard. SSC developed equipment has been extensively used in various demonstrations of the technology.
The successful launch of Tele-X in 1989 was no more than a milestone in the struggle to make the project a success. Tele-X could still easily become an orbiting monument to failed political aspirations!
In addition to the technical operation of Tele-X, SSC was awarded the responsibility for marketing Tele-X services in 1989 (with the exception of public TV). We scrambled to develop these services and find paying customers. In one respect, this was easy: we had a functioning satellite in orbit which had been fully paid. On the other hand, in the absence of backup capacity, many customers would be reluctant to become dependent on a system that could conceivably fail at any time.
We soon snared our first customers for data transmission and video services. The market for the services quickly expanded, partly due to a strong and unexpected surge of demand in eastern Europe.
But the real battle was on the TV front. The responsibility for marketing TV rights was retained by the Nordic Satellite company (NSAB), the state-owned company which owned Tele-X. Demand quickly soared. Already in 1991, the TV capacity of Tele-X was sold out. Even the backup transponder and part of the data transmission capacity was soon allocated to TV traffic!
So the initial phase of Tele-X operations had been remarkably successful. At the same time, a race was in progress to reach "critical mass" in TV programming. Cable companies and individual TV viewers were not going to invest in systems which lacked long-term credibility. S.E.S in Luxembourg with its Astra satellites and EUTELSAT were struggling for supremacy by offering a large number of channels on high-powered satellites. We could easily fail in the market despite our success in attracting the first wave of TV broadcast companies.
We had to find a way to build, buy or steal a second satellite to complement Tele-X!
The option to build and launch another Tele-X did not appear realistic. We could not count on another dose of government money just to repeat Tele-X, so the financing would have to be arranged on the basis of market expectations. Despite our early market success, this did not seem to be on the cards.
However, an unforeseen turn of events came about. In Britain, two companies were engaged in a cut-throat battle for the TV direct broadcast market: Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB). After some 10 billion SEK had been spent in the struggle to gain the upper hand, in 1990 Sky emerged as the winner. A new company was formed, BSkyB, which decided to use Astra satellites. As a result, the two BSB satellites, Marco Polo 1 and 2 were in principle no longer needed. An agreement was reached with the British licensing authority that one of the satellites would continue to serve British viewers through 1992, and that the authorised British distributor, later converted into a company called National Transcommunications Limited (NTL), would have an option to buy one of the satellites. Thus, except for the option, Marco Polo 2 and, later, Marco Polo 1 would be up for sale.
As soon as SSC picked up rumours that the Marco Polo satellites might be up for sale, we went into overdrive. These satellites had the same relatively high power characteristics as Tele-X, which meant that the same small ground terminals could be used. We immediately started technical investigations which showed that the satellites could be moved to "our" position of 5° E and provide good coverage of the Nordic zone. In parallel, it was ascertained that frequency co-ordination, which is necessary to avoid signal interference between different satellites and transponders, would not pose a problem.
Based on these findings, an initial contact with BSkyB was taken in February of 1991, and in July a formal application was submitted to the Swedish authority responsible for frequency allocation for a satellite system called Sirius at 5° E. This application was passed on to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in August 1991.
The question of frequency allocation was very complex from the formal point of view. The frequency allocation plan agreed by ITU at the WARC conference in 1977 had to be modified, and in principle this required the approval of every single ITU member in the world! In practice, only those administrations who were directly affected had to be consulted, but it was a lengthy process to formally determine who they were. In our case, the only ones affected were Denmark and Finland. Following negotiations, the necessary modifications were agreed, and in May 1992 it seemed highly probable that frequency co-ordination could be successfully finalised.
During the ratification process, Norway raised objections, but these were disregarded by ITU, as Norway’s rights were not affected by the modification. - Finally, in October 1993, 26 months after our application had been submitted to the ITU, it was formally confirmed.
Intensive discussions were conducted with potential customers in 1991. The incoming conservative Swedish government announced their intention to privatise NSAB which owned Tele-X. The FilmNet company then expressed its strong interest to become a major customer for Tele-X and Sirius, but declared that they then also wanted to become the principal owner of NSAB.
In the same time frame, the Norwegian telecom authority (NT) got wind of NSAB’s intention to buy Marco Polo 2. They enquired about the possibility to become a partner in NSAB along with FilmNet. Discussions in the spring of 1992 led nowhere. FilmNet declined to adopt NT’s business idea: that the satellite owners would sell "smart cards" for decoders which would use an NT-sponsored encryption system. FilmNet and SSC wanted to continue to sell capacity on the satellite to broadcasting companies, who would be free to set their own rules.
Following these discussions, our Government in early May 1992 agreed to transfer 85 % of the shares in NSAB to FilmNet, while SSC took a 15 % ownership. As part of the deal, FilmNet undertook to finance the procurement of a second satellite within a year. - Before the deal was finalised, NT had in April received an offer from the Swedish Government to replace FilmNet as a shareholder on identical conditions. There had been no reply.
In the meantime, SSC on behalf of NSAB had pursued its negotiations with BSkyB for the Marco Polo 2 satellite since the beginning of the year. But for the need for FilmNet to obtain approval from its owners, the deal could have been closed already in February 1992. In parallel SSC pursued the modification of the WARC Plan with ITU concerning frequency allocation.
The Marco Polo 2 contract was finalised with BSkyB during May and June 1992. It lay ready for signature on 24 June. A last-minute hitch developed when FilmNet’s South African owners became concerned that the U.S. Department of Commerce might not grant an export licence for the satellite control software and transfer of ownership. This seemed a far-fetched concern to all the legal experts, but it caused a further delay in signing the contract between NSAB and BSkyB.
As we had feared, NT was prepared to take advantage of the delay. On 24 June their Director General authorised the payment of the contract sum, £25 M, to BSkyB. An NT delegation arrived in London in the evening of the 24th. Negotiations with BSkyB were finalised during the night, and the contract was signed with the Norwegians at 4 o’clock in the morning of the 25th!
SSC sent a congratulatory message to NT. With a heavy heart the NSAB negotiating team returned to Sweden. Victory had been so-o-o close!
In the weeks following the London disaster, we started to suspect that the situation was even worse than we had imagined. Rumours circulated that NT had managed to insert clauses in the contract which were aimed to shut us out from procuring the other Marco Polo satellite as well! This led to a weakening of FilmNet’s resolve. They advocated that we should try to work out some kind of compromise with NT.
The weak link in the Norwegian armour was that their satellite, at 1° W, had not been frequency co-ordinated. Even if no objections were raised, they would have to operate on a "non-interference" basis until co-ordination could be achieved, i.e. they would have to shut down if somebody complained about interference. And it was by no means certain that there would be no complaints. After all, the geostationary orbit was getting crowded, and co-ordinated positions were becoming an increasingly valuable resource.
During the autumn of 1992 and winter of 1993, serious discussions were held between NT, NSAB, and SSC. Some progress was made, but in the end it did not prove possible to bridge the gap. It was clear that there would be continuing competition in the Nordic area between the Norwegian Marco Polo 2 satellite, renamed Thor, co-located with Intelsat at 1° W, and our own Tele-X at 5° E.
In the spring of 1993, it became clear that FilmNet would not be able to live up to its commitment to finance a new satellite in return for its shares in NSAB. FilmNet’s shares were therefore returned to the Swedish Government in July 1993. They were transferred to SSC, which thereby became the sole owner of NSAB, but only at book value. NSAB’s liquid assets, some 110 MSEK, were transferred to the Government in the form of dividends.
In the summer of 1993, SSC made a deal with Teracom Svensk Rundradio AB, a state-owned company formed from the broadcasting branch of the former Swedish Telecommunications Authority. If NSAB managed to procure a new satellite, Teracom would participate in the financing in return for the right to buy 50 % of the shares of NSAB. The new satellite might be the German TV-SAT 2, but more likely Marco Polo 1.
When discussions were resumed in the summer of 1993 with BSkyB concerning Marco Polo 1, the chief obstacle was the option for Marco Polo 1 that the Norwegian Telecommunications administration (NT) had managed to insert in their Marco Polo 2 contract. Moreover, there was a clause saying that Marco Polo 1 could only be sold to a client who undertook not to complain about interference from Marco Polo 2!
But there was a loophole. The British authorities had ruled that the British company NTL should have the right of first refusal to buy the satellite over any other customer. - So in July SSC contacted this company. It turned out that NTL had some additional business interest in a deal: they had a TV uplink station which they had tried to sell to the Norwegians, without success. This gave an opening for SSC. On behalf of NSAB, and in co-ordination with Teracom, we made a deal which included an undertaking by NTL not to transfer its option on any other prospective customer than NSAB!
The negotiations with BSkyB on the terms were concluded in August. However, the price was still an issue. After a waiting game, BSkyB finally signed a contract with NSAB on 11 November. However, there was a reservation relating to the options of NTL and NT. On 18 November, NTL was formally informed that they had 21 days to exercise their option.
Five days later, NT filed a suit against BSkyB in the British High Court of Justice in London! NT also requested and obtained from the Court an ex parte (that is without alerting BSkyB before the decision was taken) injunction, i.e. it prohibited the sale of Marco Polo 1 to NSAB or NTL. - As NTL only had a 21 day option on the satellite, the situation was hairy, to say the least! In this situation, NSAB and SSC petitioned the Court to be declared co-defendants along with BSkyB. This was approved.
The legal battle culminated on Friday, 3 December, when seven hours of pleas were entered. Judgement was passed the following Monday, just two days before NTL’s option expired. The defendants won a complete victory! NT was even obliged to pay the cost of legal assistance to NTL, NSAB, and SSC.
On 8 December, NTL formally informed BSkyB that they intended to exercise their option. NSAB procured Marco Polo 1 from NTL and formally became the owner of the satellite on 13 December, 1993. The deal with Teracom was completed, and in the following weeks Tele-X was joined by Sirius-1 at 5° E!
We now had a credible system in place, and Teracom fulfilled its commitment to take over 50 % of the shares of NSAB.
In 1995, the partnership was consolidated, when NSAB signed a contract with Aerospatiale for the Sirius-2 satellite, which was launched on 12 Novemberb 1997 (se picture on the right).
The situation was further stabilised in 1996, when Tele Danmark A/S became a 25 % shareholder in NSAB.
At the time of writing, the future of our Tele-X/Sirius system seems assured. It is true that overall capacity in Europe will expand dramatically in the next few years, as digital technology makes it possible to cram many more TV channels into a given transponder capacity. Major systems such as Astra and Eutelsat will be able to offer hundreds of TV channels to their customers. But our Sirius system will be able to expand capacity too. Overall, demand is projected to increase so fast that our "territory" at 5º E in geostationary orbit will continue to be an extremely valuable asset.
After the dark days when it seemed that Tele-X was destined to become just a temporary, technological success, it seems that we have finally turned the corner!
At least, that is what Aristotle thought. And a person’s, or an organisation’s, attitude to change tells us a lot about the character of that person or organisation, doesn’t it?
At SSC, we don’t just "accept" change, or "cope" with change, or "adapt" to change. - We love change! We cause it to happen! Our corporate purpose is to change the world!
Well, perhaps our Board and our Owner would have to think once or twice before writing that in stone. But it certainly is a philosophy that is widely shared within SSC. And it is only natural that the same people who are constantly working to change how the world communicates, navigates, manages the Earth’s environment and resources, and conducts scientific research; should also question the way we do things internally, and look for ways to improve them.
One way to change is to grow - in every sense of the word!
Perhaps one can liken the growth of SSC to that of a young person. We would then have to think of ourselves as a receptive school child in our Kronogård years. In our first decade as SSC, we were perhaps more similar to a brilliant, boisterous teenager, occasionally throwing a tantrum, but warm-hearted and certainly never dull! In our second decade, reaching the age of majority, we started to realise some of our childhood dreams, and in the 1990s we developed some of the maturity and social skills that a young adult should possess.
Another measure of growth is size and weight. As we have seen, the Space Technology Group grew from just a few individuals in the mid 1960s to around a dozen in 1970. At the same time, less than 30 Swedes worked at Esrange. By the time these two rivers merged in 1972, and SSC was created, we were just 50 people in total (or something of that order). Our strength reached 100 people around 1980. The big jump in space expenditure in that year led to a rapid expansion during the 1980s, when we started our remote sensing activities in earnest, including the formation of Satellitbild, and when we executed our satellite programmes, among other important tasks. Around 1990 we reached 300. We now appear to have found a temporary equilibrium at about 330 employees.
If you adopt the accountant’s perspective, growth is measured in SEK. Our turnover remained well below 100 MSEK until 1981. After some ups and downs mainly related to the satellite projects, we are now relatively stable in the 300 MSEK region, which can be considered quite normal for a company of our size.
Today, we are much more dependent on private and foreign customers than in the early years. One way to grow is to become less dependent on your parents!
In a high-tech environment such as ours, nobody raises an eyebrow over the fact that our technical tools are always improving. To quote Sven Grahn: "320 MHz, that is nothing! That is what my washing machine will have one of these days!" But it is not just the lab instruments and the image processing computers that are constantly changing. Just as in any company, our offices are changing too. This is easy to forget, so perhaps we should record that:
The Space Technology Group was organised as a department of the TUAB consulting company in 1965 at Englundavägen in Solna. One of the pleasures of working there was to inhale the aromatic vapours from a nearby coffee roastery.
After TUAB merged with TALAB and became Teleplan, we moved with them to new, roomier offices at Tritonvägen in Solna in 1971. The smell of coffee was replaced by the somewhat less pleasant fumes from a nearby brewery. We very much appreciated that the original plan to move us to Vintergatan in Sundbyberg had been scrapped. Would we ever have been able to win anybody’s confidence as Swedish Space Corporation, Vintergatan? (Vintergatan is the Swedish name for the Milky Way.)
In December 1984, we moved a few hundred metres south along Bällsta River to yet another brand new building: our present Solna office at Albygatan.
SSC was originally created with a specific purpose in mind: to execute the national space programme decided by the Swedish Board for Space Activities (nowadays Swedish National Space Board, SNSB). This included duties such as managing Esrange, providing input to the planning process of SNSB, and supporting SNSB in international negotiations.
In time, our work for SNSB allowed us to develop skills which could be used commercially. With the encouragement and support of SNSB, we started to market our services to other organisations, both nationally and internationally. This led to such activities as developing maritime surveillance systems, acting as consultants in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, selling image processing systems, etc. The creation of SSC Satellitbild was another example of spinning off a business from SSC’s core activities.
By 1984, the time was ripe to more formally organise ourselves according to business areas. SSC was split into a Space Division headed by Klas Änggård and a Remote Sensing Division headed by Håkan Kihlberg. Klas was an SSC veteran, while Håkan was a newcomer from IBM. Esrange was integrated in the Space Division, and Satellitbild in the Remote Sensing Division. - When Håkan left SSC in 1986, he was replaced by Claes-Göran Borg.
During the first decade of our existence - and a few crucial years before that - Swedish space strategy had been shaped by Fredrik Engström and the Chairman of SNSB Jan Stiernstedt. They complemented each other extremely well both in background and personality. Fredrik’s skill as a communicator and persuader was complemented by Stiernstedt’s deep understanding of how the Swedish Government works, and his extensive network of personal contacts. - Fredrik was succeeded by Lennart Lübeck in 1986, and Jan Stiernstedt by Kerstin Fredga in 1989. The new team also worked in harmony and complemented each other well, although sometimes in other areas than the old team.
An important meeting to plot SSC’s future direction took place in 1991 at Edsbacka just north of Stockholm. All the top managers of SSC and SNSB were present. Lennart’s objective was to find ways to overcome a certain malaise that was starting to spread in SSC; a feeling that we were heading for "more of the same". How could we convince the 30-year olds in our organisation that the same challenges and opportunities awaited them as SSC’s "pioneers"? How could we maintain our vitality and creativity?
The answer was found to be to push responsibility down to the lowest possible level in the organisation, and to focus even more on our customers. An extensive programme of business planning was initiated, based on the LOTS® method, which had been tried out by Satellitbild the year before. Every action and thought should be guided by the principle that we identify our customer, and explain to ourselves how this is going to help him. - This philosophy not only is a powerful antidote to the "blues" caused by working without a clear purpose, "in a vacuum". It actually makes good business sense!
A more controversial consequence of this process, which required additional preparation and consultation, was to reorganise the company according to who our customers were. This was accomplished in 1993, when five Divisions were created. The decision at first caused a good deal of anguish, especially at Esrange where our staff had a strong sense of cohesion, and where activities were now going to be split among three divisions. But gradually suspicions about the purpose of the reorganisation were laid at rest.
At present, the company, each of its five divisions, and the administration department, is headed by an SSC veteran having at least 20 years of experience in our organisation. Perhaps this gives a comforting sense of stability in the midst of constant renewal?
In 1994, a further step was taken to ensure that we did not become complacent. SSC established a Quality Policy. The full significance of this is only now becoming apparent.
Taken at face value, the Policy might seem to be just a collection of "motherhood statements" without any practical consequence. "Mandates and responsibilities shall be fully defined and documented", "SSC shall only make contractual engagements where the requirements have been fully defined", "Discrepancies shall be reported and documented", etc. - Ho hum, nice sentiments, but not very realistic, are they? After all, our company culture is one of "creative anarchy", isn’t it?
As it turns out, SSC is dead serious about gradually implementing its policy. The project has been code-named "Q25". This is a reference to SSC’s 25th anniversary in 1997, when our Quality System should be in place. - In the short term, the revolution is not so much in making us work differently - mostly we are just putting down on paper what we agree is the way we normally do business. Still, the effects are already noticeable. There are fewer violations of the principle "Look before you leap!". Project plans are completed before work is started in earnest. And projects are not considered finished until the results have been reported, and a "lessons-learned" report has been filed.
In the longer term, we now have a system under implementation that actively promotes change and provides a mechanism for implementing change. As part of each project, we now all have the obligation to evaluate how "the System" works, and how it should be improved. Stiff and unworkable rules may no longer collect dust on a shelf. We have a living tree where dead branches can be amputated and new ones can be grown!
So, far from constraining our creativity, our Quality System is a vehicle to actively encourage the development of new ideas!
We have come to the end of our journey. Among all the twists and turns of our story, have we found what we came looking for: the soul of SSC?
Our environment is very different today from what it was in the 1960s, when our pioneers launched the first Swedish rocket experiments. Who would have thought that more than 30 years would pass from the Apollo landings on the moon to the next visit? And in the midst of the squabbles of ESA committee meetings, it is easy to forget the visions that once inspired us to choose space as a career.
In other ways, progress has been breathtaking. Space activities have probably already shaped history more than we realise. Satellites have contributed immensely to international communications and commerce. The concept of "the global village" is on its way to being realised. The day of instant communications and navigation anywhere on the globe is fast approaching!
In the mid-1980s, at a time when our relations with the Ministry of Industry were at an all-time low, a thorough evaluation of SNSB’s and SSC’s role and work was done by a consulting company on behalf of the Ministry. The purpose of the investigation was not necessarily to find flattering facts - in fact, the study was done with a view to transfer the responsibility for space activities to the Board for Technical Development (STU).
Here is what the consultants had to say:
"Our overall impression is clearly positive. The space activities are managed in a professional manner by skilful people, mostly animated by great enthusiasm and a pioneering spirit."
Perhaps that captures the soul of SSC?
Today that enthusiasm is undiminished among our veterans, and it has clearly infected our relative newcomers, who are developing today’s scientific payloads and satellites, operating the "big birds" in geostationary orbit, developing new products and services from satellite signals, supporting satellites in polar orbit, and launching sounding rockets and balloons. - And one of the nice things about the space business is that we find ourselves right in the middle of exciting developments in other high-tech fields, such as information technology.
Or, as one of our present-day pioneers put it even more simply: "...and to think that I am actually getting paid for this!"
End of Part 4