Bob Parkinson: the lengthy timescales of space engineering

Bob Parkinson discusses the timescales involved in developing a satellite based on his experiences at Matra Marconi and British Aerospace.

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Seventeen years on Envisat, between ’85 and 2002, when we actually launched it.

Is it frustrating or is it just part of the job?

[Laughs] Yes [laughs] it’s frustrating and it is part of the job.

It’s not – it’s not always like that. Envisat may have – and I’m not sure Envisat does actually hold the world record, I think Hubble probably held the world’s record, but it’s a – an extraordinarily long time, in part because people kept changing the requirements. The question about when did Envisat become Envisat is difficult to do, but I don’t think that, as it were, the contract was signed to build Envisat until about 1995, so perhaps ten years after we’d done the original bid for it. And it got put together in less than seven years. So the seventeen years, while it’s a long, long time, was because people kept changing the requirements and what it could do, and so forth. And all the way through that period it had – it had been changing, but nobody had actually cut hardware to – that you were committed to. It depends on how innovative, how different, and so forth. If you come along with a pile of dollars and want a new communications satellite, that’s probably about two and a half years. But the reason for that is that it’s a standard, what we call bus, it’s a standard design of satellite, it’s been tweaked a little bit or it’s been slightly modified to meet your requirements. But the basic thing is, is unchanged and we’ve flown fifty of them already, and so it’s just how quickly can we buy in the bits, assemble them, and plug them together and launch it. And even some scientific missions have been done with a fairly short timescale simply because we’ve known what we were doing, it wasn’t too complicated, and the requirement didn’t change. It works the same for military systems and space systems - the biggest cost inflatory is changing requirements. Ideally when the customer makes a request he should fire everybody on his team, which meant that they couldn’t interfere with it very much.

  • Interviewee Bob Parkinson
  • Duration 00:02:50
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 11/8/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/05

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