Satellites, complex systems and societal security
A microsatellite that discerns how we can prevent the earth from being struck by comets – that is an everyday task for Anton Lomaeus. He is the systems engineer from Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), who, via the Master’s programme in Innovation, Defence and Security, has landed in the space industry. His primary interest is unsurprisingly societal security and advanced technology.
What is so fascinating with complex systems?
“First of all, you need to differentiate between complex and complicated systems. Complex systems include elements that cannot be predicted, often because humans are part of the picture. What is fascinating can be the analytical work using different models that are required on order to establish sufficient understanding to be able to assess the result and validity of the system.”
“Following my Bachelor’s degree at KTH, I worked with marine management systems in a consultant assignment for Saab. Until then, I was rather aiming for specialisation in different areas. However, there my interest in the systems role was sparked with a broader view and understanding of systems instead of the deeper details.”
What was the attraction of the boarder view?
“I wanted to get a better overall understanding of how systems work and develop efficient products. During the development of high-quality products several key decisions must be made. These decisions need to be well-founded and that can only be achieved when the determinant elements are identified and their influence is evaluated. For that, you need the overall picture. Furthermore, you need to carry out a balancing exercise in order to ensure that utility and efficiency is maximised through the decision taken.”
“It was actually on Saab’s intranet that I discovered that the Swedish Defence University had developed the Master’s programme Innovation, Defence and Security. That, for me, was a clear sign that the overall perspective was generally needed in the market. Since I wanted to work with complex systems and contribute to societal security, taking this opportunity to get an insight into how Swedish security functions was a given as well as how societal systems are built to reinforce security.”
“I was in the first programme and finished in the summer of 2021.”
How would you describe the Master’s programme Defence and Security Systems Development?
“People that are experts in their respective areas and very narrow in their roles are needed for present advanced technological systems. However, in order for a system to become a functional product it needs to be put together in a balanced way. This requires a broader perspective and optimisation at a high systems level. The Master’s programme provides the foundation for being the spider in the web, the person that connects all parts and makes them into a well-functioning unit.”
What is the best part of your professional role?
“The fact that many incredibly fun and interesting technology projects require this role. I learn new things all the time in so many areas. Technology has always been a leisure time interest and a hobby of mine and now I’m in touch with many exciting different perspectives. I want to continue develop in the systems engineering role and carry on working with complex socially important projects.”
Tell us more about your work at the technology consultancy AFRY. What do you do?
“At the moment, I’m working with an assignment at GomSpace, which will deliver the microsatellite Juvenas. Assigned by the European Space Agency, ESA, Juventas will assess potential technologies to prevent dangerous comets on a collision course with the planet earth. In 2024, Juventas will be tested when ESA launches the research satellite Hera with two microsatellites, of which one is Juventas.”
“Juventas will, for example, contain a gravimeter, deep penetration radar and cameras to analyse what occurs when different projectiles hit the comet. It will, for example, be interesting to discover what comets consist of and the amount of material that’s released when they are struck by projectiles.”
“I’m responsible for Juventas’ propulsion system. My role is systems engineer and I also contribute to the role of project manager. This assignment combines my interests in societal security and complex technology. Systems engineers differ from many other engineers that work more with ones and zeros. We work more with scales without clear-cut rights and wrongs. This has to do with the fact that people constitute an essential part of the system. This interaction must be assessed in order to reach an optimal system.”
The satellites themselves will be distance-managed without people that will interact all that much in the systems.
“Well, in this case the systems will, of course, after launch be managed at an incredibly far distance so the human interaction will be unusually small. But the human aspect is there all the way – from initial development to the end of the assignment. I’m in touch with actors that need to collaborate to achieve a reliable system. To a great extent, this involves listening, understanding and ensuring that all perspectives are considered and discussed.”
“Along the way, during the process, knowledge is gained and must be utilised. That is my role to observe, analyse and assess why the observations you make are in a certain way and record these in an easily accessible way. It’s really important with traceability in the lessons we make. They need to be passed on.”
How do you know when a complex system is completed?
“Test, test and test in scenarios that emulate reality in order to verify that all components work and then test that subsystems work when the components are connected. You never know with 100 percent certainty – there is always a risk – but then you’ve minimised the probability of problems occurring.”
“This is a trade-off and the assignment involves balancing cost and time. If a problem is discovered when the satellite is still on the ground, it’s only a question of a more costly and time-consuming measure to get it fixed. But as soon as the satellite is in space there is seldom any opportunity to rectify the problem – and then you’ve most likely lost the entire system.”
“If our system was to fail in a manner that it damages surrounding systems that would be catastrophic. This involves many millions of SEK and just can’t be allowed to happen. In this case it’s about research. But if this had been a real assignment for what we’re exploring, the consequences would be detrimental.”
It seems like you particularly like risk analyses.
“Yes, the absolutely most rewarding is to participate in the risk analyses meetings and drive discussions with experts in different areas. There is so much to learn from these discussions but also to see the interest and passion among participants. Everyone wishes to deliver well-functioning systems and feel an immense pride in the product. I also think that many are extra motivated by the common good that this product brings.”
How did the Master’s programme prepare you for this?
“The course “Methods for Defence and Security Systems Development” was especially rewarding and I use this knowledge almost daily. To a great extent it’s the risk analysis that I bring with me in practical work. To view the components of the system from the demand perspective and subsequently develop the systems concept while examining risks associated with the system and which actors are affected. And bring that back into the process: Who should be permitted to influence how the system works? How do you connect them so that they have a voice, gain from their knowledge and develop a system that is not the best for one person alone but for all? And to add knowledge in order to avoid risks of weaknesses.”
Which attributes are important in your professional role?
“Thoroughness and accuracy, because if you are sloppy in your role that can have serious implications. But also, to possess social skills, be open to different points of views and perspectives. You need to realise what you don’t understand so that you acquire the knowledge that you lack. It’s about posing the right questions and assessing whether you have received the answers needed and when those answers are sufficient to make the right decisions.”
Note that Innovation, Defence and Security is the new name of the Master's Programme formerly named Defence and Security Systems Development.