European Space Agency

"FileMaker Go and the iPad have opened up important new paths to us. Our ground operations team is now equipped with iPads and FileMaker Go." - Richard van Holtz, Operations Engineer at the ESOC

The European Space Agency ESA control centre now guarantees global ground operations monitoring with FileMaker Go and iPads
Earthquakes in Japan, volcano eruptions in Iceland – ESA satellites supply support agencies with vital information for use in disasters


  • ESOC uses a FileMaker Go database with iPads for monitoring and continuous documentation of satellites


  • Air- and space travel


  • FileMaker Server Advanced as central component, FileMaker Pro for production and updating and FileMaker Go for iPad for document viewing.


  • Routine synchronization, network independent backups, practical search options even in the event of network failure, mobility.
The deep space parabolic antenna in Cerebros.

ESA, the European Space Agency, is Europe's gateway into space. Its objective is to develop, coordinate and promote European space travel. 19 member states currently belong to the ESA. By pooling the finances and expertise of the individual countries it is able to implement projects which none of the member states could afford individually.

Projects include researching the earth and its immediate environs, researching the solar system and the universe, developing technologies and services and promoting various European high-tech industries. The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt is responsible for ensuring that the necessary satellites find and remain in their correct orbits, and that everything runs smoothly.

And for monitoring and continuous documentation, ESOC employees use a FileMaker Go database with iPads.

The satellites and ground operations are monitored from the ESA control centre in Darmstadt.

A worldwide network of ground operations is centrally monitored and controlled from the ESOC control centre in Darmstadt

Satellites supply us with valuable information and facilitate important new findings. Thanks to the earth observation satellites for instance we can compare the dimensions of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan and the before and after situations. This knowledge enables us to draw up strategies for dealing with disasters. Satellites supply us with important and objective information for example about the development of the rainforests over time or the melting of the icecaps and literally force us to act. The satellites require a massive amount of technology and equally massive control and monitoring apparatus.

The ESA ground operations around the world are imposing structures with massive 15- to 35-meter antennas as in Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Australia and French Guyana for example, where the satellites are launched into outer space. From the moment the satellites separate from the carrier rockets they are controlled by the ESOC in Darmstadt. Darmstadt maneuvers the satellites into their final orbits and subsequently conducts continuous monitoring to ensure that they remain in their designated flight path. "The control centre in Darmstadt is in constant contact with the whole of the ESA's ground operations network. From here we monitor the antennas which are used to get in touch with the satellites and initiate remote servicing if necessary. If for instance one of the deep space antennas suffers a failed compressor, which ensures that the reception amplifier is cooled constantly to below -20 degrees celsius, the operator on duty in Darmstadt follows a pre-determined action plan (procedure) to remedy the problem promptly" explains Richard van Holtz, Operations Engineer at the ESOC. It is absolutely essential that such steps take place in the right order and at the right time so that contact with the satellites is not affected .

iPads and FileMaker Go could make us a totally paperless environment in the long term.

— Richard van Holtz, Operations Engineer at the ESOC

From bits of paper to the iPad with FileMaker

These procedural steps are documented in a FileMaker database which allows decentralized access to the documents. To guarantee access to the latest status of the procedures irrespective of the actual availability of the Office network, it has always been necessary to create additional print-outs. This process was extremely convoluted and searching through papers could waste precious time in an emergency. FileMaker Server Advanced is the central component of the database solution. It is used for ground operation monitoring and centrally manages all documents which are assigned specific keywords. The 15 FileMaker Pro Clients are responsible for the production and updating of documents. All these documents can then be searched and viewed using FileMaker Go for iPad.

"FileMaker Go and the iPad have opened up important new paths to us. Our ground operations team is now equipped with iPads and FileMaker Go. Data is routinely synchronized when the Office LAN is available. In the event of a network failure we can still access the respectively current procedures on several iPads. Therefore we use several backups and practical search options, which are independent from the network availability and what in addition keeps us mobile", says van Holtz of the new approach, "iPads and FileMaker Go could make us a totally paperless environment" .


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