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Interview with Magali Vaissiere - new Head of ESA's Telecommunications Department

06 Feb 2006

Magali Vaissiere, 48, has taken over duties from Pietro lo Galbo in September 2005 as the new Head of the Telecommunications Department within the Directorate for EU and Industrial Programmes.

Before joining ESA, Mrs Vaissiere was responsible for the global management of Astrium's civil institutional accounts in France in liaison with EADS Space. She successfully managed various ARTES projects. Magali Vaissiere has an Executive MBA, a Master of Sciences in Electrical Engineering from the University of Stanford and studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications de Paris. She is a French native and has two daughters.
As the new Head of the ESA Telecommunications department, what do you see as your biggest challenge in the upcoming years?

Quite clearly the end objectives of ESA activities lie in the satellite telecom sector. The objective of ESA, together with its Member States, is to build and run the most efficient Telecom programme, and by that I mean the ARTES programme and all of its accompanying elements, to best support the competitiveness of the whole European industry on the world market. This is indeed a big challenge, since we have to succeed with an ESA ARTES budget which is modest when compared with the institutional budgets made available to the competitors of European industry. This is going to require the ESA telecom programme to adapt even more to the market environment and makes it particularly important that ESA succeed in continuing to build partnerships with private partners and other institutions.

 

Are you satisfied with the outcome of the recent ministerial conference in Berlin?

Most certainly, the outcome of the Berlin Conference allows ESA to proceed in the construction of new programmes such as Alphasat and the Small Satellite while pursuing necessary technology developments and focused competitiveness enhancements. However, coming back to the new programmes, I am very much aware that we need to keep on working this year to freeze the detailed missions requirements and define the most appropriate financing and operational scheme with the selected partners.

 

Before joining ESA you occupied several positions with EADS-Astrium and focused on the telecom business. How is your industry and marketing experience influencing your work at ESA?

My experience comes from 24 years in the industry dealing firstly with ground based radars and then with satellites. The major lesson that I learnt is that the market is always moving and its global nature means that changes are coming faster and faster. Competitiveness is an everyday challenge. The telecom satellite market is at the crossroads of two different worlds: the space business world is very much driven by Institutional policies while the telecom world is Global and a place of continuous innovation.

Intervention in the satcom market requires a deep understanding of these two worlds, which makes it possible to work in both according to their specific rules.

 

The satcom market, having undergone a major crisis, is expected to recover in the medium term. How is ESA reacting to this change in the market?

The currently proposed structure and content of the ARTES programme remains ESA's instrument for reacting to the market.

The ARTES Programme plan was first created as a continuation of past efforts, which defined a set of Elements (Elements 1, 3, 4, and 5) to enhance the capability and competitiveness of Industry in terms of systems, subsystems and equipments through a variety of focused actions. The programme plan also promotes satellite-based solutions related to the needs of commercial or institutional users groups through the set-up of several demonstrations of applications.

In addition, ARTES includes the implementation of two new programmes based on two new ARTES elements that I have already mentioned; namely the Alphasat mission programme and the small GEO satellite programme. These two mission programmes will enable the development of new space products like new GEO platforms to expand the current European offerings, new payload equipments and architectures as well as the emergence of new satellite services and applications to the European citizens. These two mission programmes require relatively larger budgets federating, along common objectives, several ESA Member States and their industry.

Several European States have deployed or are considering deploying operational Defence communications systems. The military market is limited and represents less than one satellite per year but the capability to deploy and operate satcom systems is an asset of considerable strategic importance. What role will ESA play in this market in the future?

We must recognize that the massive support provided by the US government to its industry in the development of advanced technologies under the Department of Defence programmes will enlarge the gap of capabilities that already exists between the American and European industries.

Therefore ESA, within the Telecommunications Programme, must keep on improving the provision of services to European institutions in response to specific needs, such as Data Relay services, and must also anticipate the provision of new systems and services, making the most of the development of dual use 'satcom' technologies.

New missions, namely ELINT and SIGINT have been identified at a European level as priorities for the European Defence and this reinforces the importance of satcom competences in Europe. The challenge for ESA and its Member States is to determine the best response to these new needs within the European frame of political, operational and financial constraints which prevail in this strategic field.

 

What role will applications play in the future?

Of course, since they address the needs of the citizens and create demand for capacity and services, applications must receive significant and dedicated support. However, in this field I believe that a key success factor for ESA is to support the emergence of new applications with relevant partners on a case by case basis.

Obviously, active cooperation with the European Commission in this field will be decisive.

 

What importance do satellite telecommunications missions have in the ARTES programme plan?

ESA intends to support Satellite Telecommunication Missions: These missions allow the demonstration and qualification of new technology, the introduction and promotion of new services and also address the needs of institutions and citizens that are not covered by commercial service provision. Through the support of missions, ESA can provide a more substantial effort to industry.

 

Specifically, what kind of scenarios does ESA have in mind for the implementation of missions?

ESA is neither a telecom satellite operator nor a satellite service provider. Therefore telecom missions will be either on board new dedicated satellites such as Alphasat, the small GEO satellite, or piggy-backed on private satellites requires partnership with Industry, Operators and/or Institutions.

 

What will the Alphasat mission consist of and why is it such a unique opportunity?

Alphasat is an ambitious mission which aims to demonstrate new services in the areas of broadband multimedia to fixed terminals and broadcasting and interactive communications to mobile terminals. Alphasat will also enable the full qualification of the Alphabus platform in orbit along with the relevant payload and system technologies and equipment.

Realising a first mission using the new platform is essential in increasing customer confidence in the Alphabus product and presents a unique opportunity for demonstrating new technologies, systems and services in orbit.

The Alphasat mission comprises a core pre-operational mission/payload which constitutes the main justification for launching such a satellite. The technology package takes benefit of the in-flight opportunity offered by the maiden flight of Alphabus.

At the end of 2005, ESA chose three Potential Partners through an open selection contest. Based on a MoU between ESA and each Potential Partner (PP), ESA is currently launching three Phase A studies, each dedicated to the mission scenario of each PP. Selection of the final Partner will be done at the end of the Phase B study by the end of 2006. This will allow time to build compatibility for the launch of the Alphasat satellite in 2010.

 

Besides Alphasat, ESA is also pursuing the small GEO satellite initiative. Why and how will this be structured?

In the context of probing the market with a new service or an existing service in new conditions such as in a new geographical area, operators are searching for a satellite with a limited capacity and low cost.

To answer this need, the ARTES programme plan now encompasses a small GEO satellite initiative which will be implemented through a new dedicated ARTES-11 Element. This new programme will have a similar structure as ARTES-8 and will allow the development of a small European GEO platform in the low end range of the platform products (< 3kW payload power). Ultimately, the first protoflight model developed by ESA will provide further opportunities to fly innovative technologies, products and/or services, complementing the Alphasat Mission.

 

With all the recent developments, interest in space is growing. Based on your long experience, what would you advise anyone wanting a career in the space sector?

Not to have a pre-conceived view of his or her complete career. Rather, undertake a professional career with the ability to adapt to the fast changing world of technology. Hard work is important, but so too is not taking anything for granted and a willingness to remain open and flexible. There is no one way. A student interested in the space sector could either start in the institutional space programmes such as the Science Programme of ESA or start working for a few years with a telecom operator or equipment manufacturer and later on bring his or her experience into the satcom sector.

 

You went to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications de Paris, have a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in The United States and an Executive MBA from the Centre de Perfectionnement aux affaires. What is your experience with the different education systems in the US and Europe?

At the time I studied, the two education systems were different and yet complementary. I believe that since then, the European education system has evolved somewhat towards the US one. In the future I hope that we will keep in our European system what has always been good. By that I mean a wide 'general' culture and solid theoretical knowledge but still being open to adopt the strong features of the US system which is based on pragmatic and concrete training. And in addition, any education system, whether inside or outside Europe must develop a spirit of openness towards others and inquisitiveness towards innovations.
Last Update: 06 Feb 2006
 
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