J.Luis Cano, Planetary Defense Information Provision Coordinator

J.Luis Cano, Planetary Defense Information Provision Coordinator

16 May, 2023

September’s rentrée brings along new opportunities. For us, this month is a fresh start. The time to share new and interesting ideas and get to know interesting characters as the one of this week’s guest: Juan Luis Cano, Planetary Defense Information Provision Coordinator. His work is fascinating, so far away from the everyday life of any of us. Continue reading if you want to learn more about his perspective on Earthy matters.

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Could you explain briefly what you do in your institution and what your role is?

I have been working for the European Space Agency for 25 years, both directly and indirectly. I am one of those people who got the space bug after watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series in the early 80’s and I am still there. In the last fifteen years I have been specialized in an area we call Planetary Defense, which has to do with discovering and tracking the millions of asteroids orbiting the sun in the vicinity of the Earth (most of which we have not yet found) that could pose a danger to us. We also devise plans to mitigate future risks should we discover an object that may impact the Earth soon. My position is to coordinate several of these activities in our group and to be part of the “planetary defenders” community, even if it sounds a bit bombastic.

Living professionally on a sidereal scale, how do you adapt to personal errands outside of work? How do you combine such distant scales without getting bored by our pettiness?

All of us who work in the space sector: engineers, scientists, technologists, computer scientists, etc., are normal people, with our families and friends, our personal interests outside the work environment and our human goals. What I do see constantly is that the level of motivation that I generally find in our work environment is extremely high, because there is an intrinsic passion for space exploration and for improving people’s lives in what can be contributed from the space sector (telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, weather prediction, etc.) that is enormous. In the field in which I have been working for years, we have a particularly strong interest in protecting society from space threats, and we feel a strong commitment and motivation in doing so.

As you know Viccarbe has grown a lot over the years thanks to exporting its Mediterranean concept in a unique way to enhance collaboration, balance, and optimism. Do you think the Universe shares these values?

The Universe is a place that has a very particular and overwhelming beauty. Without the need to become an astronaut, I don’t know if many of your readers have been able to experience the sensation of spending a few hours under a completely dark night sky and feeling the incredible sensation of travelling in a spaceship, which is the Earth, through the starry sky. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to enjoy this spectacle due to the massive light pollution of our night skies. I certainly wish that our administrations would share the values of collaboration, balance and optimism promoted by Viccarbe to return to those dark skies and stimulated with the wonderful starlight that comes to us from deep space.

J.Luis Cano, Planetary Defense Information Provision Coordinator

What do you think the future of living and/or working spaces will be like? 

The paradigm of the ESA workspace is currently that of working in open, collaborative spaces, illuminated with lots of natural light, with bush and plant decoration and with a multitude of references to nature. I must say that I feel fortunate to be able to work in one of those environments that have recently been adapted according to these parameters and in which it is a pleasure to carry out the tasks we must perform. Without a doubt, I believe that these trends will have a long way to go and could also be extended to the family space, especially about the use of light and references to natural environments.

I have always thought that the solution to all evils lies in reading. What book could you recommend to our readers?

This is certainly a complex question, especially because in my case, I am a person interested in a multitude of fields such as scientific essays in different areas, narrative, novels, etc. and it is a bit difficult for me to choose between them. Let me share two recommendations, one for popular science and the other for narrative. For the first, and in the field of the study of climate change, I recommend the essay “Planetary Health” by Fernando Valladares, Xiomara Cantera and Adrián Escudero, in which the authors talk about the complex interactions that human beings have established with nature and the way of relating to it that we must address to conserve its biodiversity. In the narrative field, I really enjoyed the last book I read by Arturo Pérez Reverte, which he wrote a few years ago based on his experiences and thoughts about the Balkan war, and which is both stark and somewhat pessimistic: “El pintor de batallas” (The painter of battles).

J.Luis Cano, Planetary Defense Information Provision Coordinator

About Jose Luis Cano

Juan Luis Cano is an aeronautical engineer from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (graduating class of 1994) although he has devoted his entire career to the space sector. Between 1995 and 1997 he enjoyed a Research Staff Training (FPI) grant from the Ministry of Education and Science at ESA’s Research and Development Center (ESTEC) in Holland, where he worked on studies of aerothermodynamics and vehicle reentry into the atmosphere. He then joined the Spanish company GMV and was posted to ESA’s Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Germany where he stayed until 2000. During this period, he worked in the Mission Analysis section for the SMART-1 mission to the moon. After returning to Spain, he was co-founder in 2001 of the company Deimos Space working since then in the Mission Analysis discipline in application to a multitude of ESA missions such as: BepiColombo, Solar Orbiter, ExoMars, JUICE, Proba-3, etc. Between 2011 and 2015 he was responsible for the Mission Analysis section at Deimos. Since 2003 he has worked on several asteroid and planetary defense mission studies such as Don Quixote, Marco Polo, NEOShield, Stardust, Marco Polo-R and NEOShield-2. Since June 2017 he is the Operations Manager of ESA’s NEO Coordination Center at its Rome site (ESRIN) and since 2019 responsible for ESA’s NEO Information Service. In February 2022 he leaves Deimos Space after being hired directly by ESA to manage the European Union’s contribution to the Planetary Defense field.

Juan Luis Cano is author/co-author of more than 50 technical papers, lecturer and disseminator on Planetary Defense and ESA space missions in the Solar System.