• Post category:Space Exploration
  • Reading time:5 mins read

In this newsletter, we will discuss on how and why ESA was created. Like NASA, the push was given by an outsider.

Key points:

  • Founded: 30 May 1975
  • Members (22 countries): Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
  • Headquarter: Paris
  • Primary spaceport: Guiana Space Centre
  • Director General: Josef Aschbacher
ESA Headquarters in Paris, France
ESA Headquarters in Paris, France

The European Space Agency (or ESA) is an intergovernmental organization that oversees space science and exploration. The ESA comprises 22 European countries that pool financial and scientific resources and are committed to the development of Europe’s space capabilities. Through space exploration and space science experimentation, the ESA seeks to expand the boundaries of knowledge and technology.

Principal components of the organization
(1) European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), located in Noordwijk, Netherlands, which houses the satellite project teams and testing facilities and is the agency’s main space science and technological research center
(2) European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), located in Darmstadt, Germany, which is concerned with satellite control, monitoring, and data retrieval,
(3) European Space Research Institute (ESRIN), located in Frascati, Italy, which supports the ESA Information Retrieval Service and the Earthnet program, the system by which remote sensing images are retrieved and distributed,
(4) European Astronaut Centre (EAC), located in Cologne, Germany, which is a training center, and
(5) European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), located in Villafranca del Castillo, Madrid, Spain, which holds scientific operations centers as well as archives.

ESTEC buildings in Noordwijk, Netherlands
ESTEC buildings in Noordwijk, Netherlands

In the early 1960s, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was in full swing. In order to have any chance at competing in the field of spaceflight with these two superpower nations, European scientists realized that they’d need to join forces and combine resources with scientists in other European countries. In 1962 a collective of European nations formed two different space agencies: the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO), which built satellite launch systems, and the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), which pursued space science research and developed spacecraft.

Logo for ESRO
Logo for ESRO

Over its first 10 years, ESRO rose to prominence in the field of space exploration, while ELDO never had the same success due to an array of technological setbacks, political disputes, and lack of funding. In 1975, ELDO’s struggles prompted the merger of the two agencies into one, and thus the European Space Agency was born with 10 founding countries.

Shortly before the ESA’s creation, ESRO partnered with NASA to create a reusable laboratory to use on space shuttle flights called “Spacelab.” Due to this partnership, NASA soon invited the ESA to submit astronaut applications to NASA. This led to the creation of the European Astronaut Corps.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, European astronauts went on to fly in several NASA space shuttle missions and Russia’s Soyuz missions. Notable ESA astronauts were Switzerland’s Claude Nicollier and Germany’s Thomas Reiter.

Some recent major ESA accomplishments along with some of the ESA’s plans for the future.

  • Columbus science laboratory (image on the left)
  • Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets (image on the right)
  • LISA Pathfinder
  • ExoMars program
  • Galileo GPS
  • BepiColombo mission
  • European Service Module
  • ATHENA mission 2031 (planned)

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