European Space Agency (ESA)

Agence spatiale européenne
Organismo Espacial Europeo

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31 May 1975, when came into 'de facto' operation on signature of the ESA Convention, following meeting of ministers of 10 European countries, July 1973, Brussels (Belgium). Came into existence 'de jure' on ratification of the ESA Convention, 30 Oct 1980, by 11 European countries: Belgium; Denmark; France; Germany FR; Ireland; Italy; Netherlands; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; UK. Austria and Norway subsequently became associate member states, becoming full members on 1 Jan 1987. Finland became an associate member on 1 Jan 1987, and a full member from 1 Jan 1995. Portugal joined later. Ties exist with Canada under an agreement signed Dec 1981 and renewed in May 1989.

/Preceding organizations/: European Space Vehicle Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) - also referred to as 'Centre européen pour la mise au point et la construction des lanceurs d'engins spatiaux (CECLES)' - whose Convention entered into force on 28 Feb 1964, and European Space Research Organization (ESRO) - also referred to as 'Centre européen de recherches spatiales (CERS)' - whose Convention entered into force on 20 Mar 1964. ELDO and ESRO were provided for under a Convention signed 14 June 1962, Paris (France), which also came into force 20 Mar 1964. The ESA Convention resulted in the termination of the ELDO and ESRO Conventions. Prior to ELDO/ESRO, a European Preparatory Commission for Space Research -- Commission préparatoire européenne pour la recherche spatiale (COPERS), had been set up at an Intergovernmental Conference, 1 Dec 1960, Meyrin (Switzerland). European Space Conference (ECS) was formed in 1966. European Conference on Satellite Communications (CETS), convened for the first time in May 1963, ceased activity in 1970.

Statutes registered in 'UNTS 1/215241'.


Provide and promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, European cooperation in space research, space technology and their applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and operational space applications systems; define and put into effect a long term European space policy that allows Europe to become and remain competitive in the field of space technology.

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ESA carries out all tasks previously undertaken by its forerunners and also new tasks, particularly in the space applications field. It maintains:

 • European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), Noordwijk (Netherlands) - manages most European space projects (satellites and elements for human space flight), development phase of future projects, Space Technology Programme and Space Science Department.

 • European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) - responsible for all satellite operations and corresponding ground facilities and communication networks. Central control centre in Darmstadt (Germany), telemetry, tracking and control facilities and ground stations worldwide. Includes 'European Satellite Tracking Telemetry and Telecommand Network (ESTRACK)'.

 • ESRIN, full title 'European Space Research Institute', based at Frascati (Italy) - in charge of Earth Observation satellite mission management, exploitation of Earth observation data from space, project management of the VEGA launcher and for Agency's non-operational data processing and information systems.

 • European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) - hosts the science operation centres for ESA astronomy and planetary/solar system science missions together with their data archives.

 • European Astronaut Centre (EAC), Cologne (Germany) - home base of ESA astronauts; responsible for all European astronaut activities from selection to flight through training and medical support. Once ready for flight assignment, trained astronauts become members of European Astronaut Centre.

 • Autonomous mechanism, but financially supported by ESA: European Centre for Space Law (ECSL), aimed at improving space law research, education and practice in Europe.

Elaborates and implements a long-term space policy; recommends space objectives to member states; coordinates policies of member states with respect to other national and international organizations and institutions; elaborates and implements activities and programmes in the space field; coordinates the European Space Programme and national programmes, integrating the latter progressively and as completely as possible into the European Programme, in particular as regards the development of applications satellites; elaborates and implements the industrial policy appropriate to its programme and recommends a coherent industrial policy to the member states. Instrumental in drawing up: Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space; Convention on the International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects; Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

'Activities and Programmes'

Mandatory programmes: science and basic technology. Optional programmes: navigation; telecommunications; earth observation; microgravity; launchers; human spaceflight activities.

/Science Programme/

 • Past missions have included: 'International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE)', launched 1978 - observed UV light from celestial bodies for over 18 years; 'EXOSAT', launched 1983, made almost 2,000 observations of a wide variety of X-ray emitting objects; 'Giotto', launched 1985 - encountered Comet Halley in 1986 and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup in 1992; 'Hipparcos', launched 1989 - star-mapping mission measuring distance and position of over 1 million stars with very high precision; 'Infrared Space Observatory (ISO)', launched 1995 - provided new views of the infrared universe; 'SMART-1', launched 2003 - first European mission to the moon; 'Huygens', launched 1997 - atmospheric entry probe which landed on Saturn's moon Titan on 14 Jan 2005, in the framework of the joint NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission to the Saturn system; 'Ulysses', launched in 1990, collaborative ESA/NASA mission - explored solar wind in 3 dimensions, concluded 30 June 2009;

 • 'Chandrayaan-1' (India), launched 2008 - mission to the Moon with 3 instruments, involving complete surface mapping by remote sensing, contact lost 29 Aug 2009;

 • 'Double Star' (China), launched 2003-2004 - first ESA-China collaboration. Two spacecraft complementing the Cluster mission; spacecraft operations ceased end 2009.

 • Satellites in orbit include:

 • 'Hubble Space Telescope (HST)', launched 1990 - participation in NASA-led mission with Faint Object Camera, solar arrays and scientific support manpower in Baltimore MD (USA);

 • 'Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)', launched 1995 - part of 'Solar Terrestrial Science Programme', studies the sun; a collaborative ESA/NASA mission;

 • 'X-Ray Multimirror Mission (XMM-Newton)', launched 1999 - an X-ray observatory providing both imaging and high resolution spectroscopy;

 • 'Cluster' - four spacecraft launched 2000 - studies effects of solar wind on our planet and its magnetosphere;

 • 'International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL)', launched 2002 - gamma-ray observatory providing both imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy as well as optical and X-ray monitors;

 • 'Mars Express', launched 2003 and arrived Dec 2003 - first European mission to Mars, studying its atmosphere and geology;

 • 'Rosetta', launched 2004 - rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, includes lander and 'in-situ' sample analysis; fly-by of Asteroid (2867) Steins, 1 Sep 2008 and Asteroid (21) Lutetia, 10 July 2010;

 • 'Venus Express', launched 2005 and arrived Apr 2006 - first space probe to perform a global investigation of the Venusian atmosphere and the plasma environment of the planet;

 • 'Herschel', launched 2009, providing far-infrared and sub-millimetre images and spectroscopy of cosmic and solar system sources;

 • 'Planck', launched 2009, studying the cosmic microwave background radiation with unprecedented precision.

Participation in:

 • 'Cassini', launched 1997, continued participation in the NASA/ESA/ASI collaborative mission to study the Saturnian system;

 • 'CoRot' (international mission led by CNES), launched 2006, detects extrasolar planets and studies stellar oscillations;

 • 'Akari' (JAXA/ISAS - Japan), launched 2006, infrared astronomy satellite, ESA contribution - pointing reconstruction software, user support, ground station coverage;

 • 'Hinode' (JAXA - Japan with USA, UK and ESA contributions), launched 2006 - satellite equipped with 3 solar telescopes. ESA contribution: ground station (with Norwegian Space Centre), Science Data Centre (with Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Oslo);

 • 'Microscope' (CNES mission), to be launched in Apr 2015 - tests the Equivalence Principle.

Major projects under development include:

 • 'LISA Pathfinder' - Fundamental Physics Mission to explore high precision geodesic motion, preparatory for LISA, to be launched in 2015;

 • 'Gaia' - high-precision all-sky astrometric survey mission, launched Dec 2013;

 • 'BepiColombo' - mission to Mercury, in collaboration with JAXA, bringing two orbiters into Mercury orbit for a detailed study of the planet and its magnetosphere, to be launched in 2014;

 • Participation in the 'James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)' - studying the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems, optimized for infrared observations (0.6-29 microns); cooperative mission with NASA and CSA; to be launched no earlier than 2014;

Cosmic Vision:

 • Launch of the first Medium class mission (M1) - 2017; M2 - 2018;

 • Launch of a Large class mission (L1) - 2020.

M-Class candidates:

 • 'Euclid' - mission to study dark energy;

 • 'PLATO' - mission dedicated to exoplanet finding and asteroseismology;

 • 'Solar Orbiter' - mission to study the Sun from close-up, in collaboration with NASA.

L-Class candidates:

 • 'EJSM-Laplace' - 2 spacecraft mission to the Jupiter system, with focus on Ganymede and Europa; cooperative mission with NASA;

 • 'LISA' - 3-spacecraft constellation to detect and measure gravitational waves using interferometry; cooperative mission with NASA;

 • 'Exploration Programme Aurora', set up in 2001. Primary objective is to create and implement a European long-term plan for robotic and human exploration of the solar system, with Mars, the Moon and asteroids as the most likely targets;

 • 'ExoMars' - consisting of 2 missions to be implemented in the framework of a cooperative programme between ESA and NASA: (1) the 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), including an orbiting spacecraft dedicated to the investigation of atmospheric trace gases of possible astrobiological relevance, having also a data relay capability for landed elements, and an ESA Entry, Descent, and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM); and (2) the 2018 dual rover mission, which will deliver ESA's ExoMars rover for performing a search for signs of life in Mars' shallow subsurface and a NASA rover for sample caching and surface astrobiology studies;

 • 'Mars Sample Return' - an international mission capable of returning carefully selected samples from the Martian surface to laboratories on Earth to address key scientific questions requiring sophisticated sample processing and analysis techniques; constitute the long-term goal of the ESA-NASA Joint Mars Exploration Programme.

/Observation of the Earth and its Environment/

Seven Meteosat first generation spacecraft launched into geo-synchronous orbit on the Gulf of Guinea have provided continuous meteorological data since end 1977. First two units of Meteosat second generation (MSG), developed by ESA for Eumetstat which is the s/c operator, successfully launched Aug 2002 and Dec 2004; renamed after the launch Meteosat-8 and -9. Two more units of MSG will follow in 2012 and 2014. In parallel development of MetOp series of satellites, always in partnership with Eumetsat, responsible for ground segment development and system operation, is being pursued. This new series of satellites provides observation from low polar orbits and embarks instruments developed by ESA, CNES, Eumetsat and NOAA. First unit, MetOp A, was successfully launched Oct 2006 and declared operational after 6 months in commissioning, on 15 May 2007; it will be followed by MetOp B and C in 2012 and 2016 respectively. Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) programme development started, 2009. Definition of a Post-EPS system together with Eumetsat.

Earth observation activities build on the experience gained with ERS-1 and ERS-2 spacecraft launched in 1991 and 1995, respectively. ERS-1 operations ended in Mar 2000, while ERS-2 is still operating together with Envisat, launched Mar 2002. Envisat is the world's largest environmental satellite. Global coverage to ENVISAT data acquisition ensured by ESA data relay satellite, Artemis, complemented by ESA and other ground stations. Envisat mission (extended until 2013), with its 10 instruments including an advanced synthetic aperture radar, addresses a set of objectives in earth science, including: climate and environment, global change, atmospheric chemistry, oceanography and glaciology; impact of human activities - land processes, coastal processes, atmospheric and marine pollution; contribution to disaster management coordinated through the 'International Charter on Space and Major Disasters', until now subscribed by 10 partners (ESA, CNES, CSA, NOAA, ISRO, CONAE, USGS, JAXA, DMC and CNSA).

Main pillars of ESA Living Planet strategy, drawn up in close coordination with the European Union (EU), Eumetsat, science community, users and industry, are the science-oriented Earth Explorer Missions and the meteorological missions (MSG, MetOp, MTG). 'Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)' is a joint initiative of the EU and ESA to establish a European independent capacity for global access to reliable, accurate and up-to-date information on environment and security issues, for European policy areas. ESA is in charge of implementing the space component of GMES (GMES Space Component, GSC) which includes: a series of ESA-built satellites (the Sentinels 1-5; prototype and follow-on satellites); coordination of other national and Eumetsat missions; development of a multi-mission ground segment; development of an appropriate service sector (GMES Service Element, GSE). Some developed services are being transferred to the EU as Fast Track Services (land monitoring, marine services, emergency respond - as initial set).

Earth Explorer missions in space or under development: 'GOCE', launched in Mar 2009 - gravity field and ocean circulation; 'SMOS', launched in Mar 2009 - soil moisture and ocean salinity; 'Cryosat 2', launched in Apr 2010 - monitoring changes in the thickness of the polar ice cap and of floating sea ice (recovery missions; first satellite lost during launch failure in Oct 2005); 'ADM Aeolus', launch end 2011 - volumetric wind fields; 'Swarm', launch in 2011 - constellation to survey Earth's magnetic field; 'EarthCARE', launch in 2013 - climate and weather studies; 7th Earth Explorer mission under selection (3 remaining candidate missions); call for proposals for eight Earth Explorer issued in autumn 2009.

Sentinel missions in development: 'Sentinel-1', launch in 2012 - imaging radar mission; 'Sentinel-2', launch in 2013 - land monitoring (superspectral imaging); 'Sentinel-3', launch in 2013 - global ocean and land monitoring. Sentinel missions under study: 'Sentinel-4' and 'Sentinel-5' - atmospheric chemistry from geostationary and low Earth orbit, respectively. Sentinel 5 pre-cursor mission.

ESA is member of a worldwide intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and its EuroGEOSS.

ESA is also engaged in specific cooperation activities with NASA (eg, Earth Explorer missions), Japan (EarthCARE mission, access to ALOS data), India, Korea Rep, China (Dragon Project), Russia (Bear Project), Brazil and others. As a follow-up to the Johannesburg Summit (2002), ESA has launched the Tiger Initiative to assist African countries in monitoring and assessing water resources using EO technology.


Developed 2 series of operational satellites: 'European Communications Satellites (ECS)', leased to EUTELSAT; 'Maritime Communications Satellites (MARECS)', leased to INMARSAT. 'Olympus' experimental communications satellite, launched 1989, demonstrated until 1993 new applications in communications and broadcasting.

Basic objectives of the current space telecommunications programme are to put European industry in a position to be competitive on the world market and to promote and demonstrate new applications and technology in the field - mobile communications, satellite navigation, multimedia, inter-satellite links.

'Advanced Relay and Technology Mission Satellite (Artemis)', launched 2001, carries a land mobile and navigation payload, plus a data relay payload allowing communications with low-Earth orbit satellites in optical and radio frequency bands.

'AlphaBus', Europe's first 12-18 kW telecommunications satellite platform, started C/D development phase in 2005.

Telecommunications identified as one of the main engines to respond to EU needs. Therefore ESA programmes are customer oriented, providing technical answer to users' needs, with potential solutions to help bridging the digital divide.

/Satellite Navigation/

EGNOS Open Service available to all users since Oct 2009; it complements the existing GPS, improves its accuracy and adds an integrity message necessary for the Safety of Life services. EGNOS Safety of Life service made available by the EC to aviation community Mar 2011. Developed by ESA under a tripartite agreement with Eurocontrol and EC, the EGNOS infrastructure is under EC responsibility as of Apr 2009. As Europe's first Satellite Navigation System, it paves the way for Galileo, the first European global satellite navigation system. Interoperable and compatible with GPS, Galileo has been developed by ESA with EC funding, and will consist of a constellation of 30 satellites associated with a network of ground stations offering Europeans and the world at large an accurate and secured means of satellite positions.


Aims to: ensure Europe's independent access to space; develop European industry by improving industrial competitiveness and promoting innovation; create employment; promote collaboration between industry and between ESA Member States and countries worldwide. Current launcher strategy is focused on successful completion of Ariane-5 development programme, on development of Vega and Soyuz at CSG improving launch flexibility and competitiveness to meet commercial and institutional needs, on preparation of a future generation launcher and on initiating long-term cooperation on access to space.

'Ariane 5' is the workhorse of Europe for challenges of the new millennium; among them, launcher cost reduction while maintaining a high reliability is of major concern. Operating from Europe's spaceport in Kourou (Guiana Fr), Ariane 5 launches payloads into geostationary orbits (GEO), polar Earth orbit (PEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO) and low Earth orbit (LEO). Currently, this launcher fulfils several missions such as: ability to lift off large satellites in geostationary orbit and capacity to carry aloft space crafts and probes for interplanetary and deep space exploration; also since 2008, with the first launch of the European ATV freight vehicle, accessibility to low Earth orbit for servicing the International Space Station (ISS). First successful Ariane 5 launch took place on 30 Oct 1997; first operational flight in Dec 1999, when launched ESA's X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM). Increase of performance of the Ariane 5 ECA version, qualified on 12 Feb 2005, has enabled cost-effective dual launches of payloads up to 10 tons into GTO orbits. to maintain the competitiveness of Ariane 5 in the commercial market, ESA has begun to prepare a more powerful and versatile version of the launcher, Arian 5 ME (Mid-Life Evolution). To complement such a weightlifter, a small launcher, 'Vega', is currently under development in Europe as well as works near to completion to operate the Russian Soyuz launch system from Kourou (Guiana Fr). First Vega qualification flight will take place in the second hals of 2011 and Soyuz should be launched from Kourou in the third quarter 2011.

'Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP)', started in 2004, has as main objectives to evaluate next generation launcher designs and to prepare evolution of the existing family of launchers. Second period of FLPP includes key technology demonstrator and system studies of future expendable launchers.

/Human Spaceflight Activities/ and /Microgravity Research/ and /Exploration

ESA's aim in the field of human spaceflight and microgravity is to implement Europe's participation in development of manned space infrastructure, such as the International Space Station, which make it possible to perform experiments in an environment where weightlessness is the major characteristic. Also aims to support development of research and technologies in space, on the International Space Station, but also on the US Space Shuttle, Russian Foton capsules, European sounding rockets, parabolic flights or drop towers and tubes. ESA exploration programme 'Aurora' is part of Europe's strategy for space, endorsed by the European Union Council of Research and the ESA Council in 2001. This strategy calles for Europe to explore the solar system and the Universe, stimulate new technology and inspire young people of Europe to take a greater interest in science and technology.

 • 'Human Spaceflight Programme' - in partnership with the USA, Russia, Japan and Canada, Europe has a substantial share in the International Space Station which is the focus of the programme. ESA's contribution to the programme includes:

 • -'Columbus' - a multipurpose pressurized laboratory specializing in research into fluid physics, materials science and life sciences, scheduled to be added to the ISS in 2007. Its development owes much to the success of Europe's Spacelab, a reusable laboratory that first flew on the Space Shuttle in 1983 and continued through 21 more missions.

 • -'Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)' - unmanned, essential contribution to the re-supply and orbital operations of ISS, to be launched by Ariane 5.

 • -'Ground Segments' - two ground control centres are responsible for controlling and operating the European contribution to the ISS programme: Columbus Control Centre; Automated Transfer Vehicle Control Centre.

 • -'Astronauts' - ESA trains its own astronauts at the EAC. The first European to serve a tour of duty on the ISS went on mission to the ISS in April 2001. A total of 9 missions to ISS have been executed with 8 different astronauts (as of end 2006).

 • -'ISS Utilization' - comprises research, education and commercial activities using the ISS, primarily within the 'European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences and Applications in Space (ELIPS)'. Preparatory activities for the ISS-based research also carried-out using facilities which include ground-based research, drop towers, parabolic airplane flight campaigns, sounding rocket flights and short duration Soyuz flights to the ISS.

In the framework of bilateral agreements with the USA and Russia, ESA also providing European-built elements which will later fall under responsibility of NASA and Roscosmos:

 • Node 2 and Node 3 - ISS connecting modules supplied as part of a barter agreement with NASA;

 • Cupola - provides a pressurized observation and work area for the Space Station crew; also part of a barter agreement with NASA;

 • European Robotic Arm (ERA) - a robotic servicing system, to be delivered to Roscosmos, which will be used in assembly and servicing of the Russian segment of the ISS.

'Microgravity Programme' consists of:

 • Basic research programme covering continuation of studies, sounding rocket activities, parabolic flights, re-flight of existing facilities on precursor missions and flight of payloads on retrievable satellites;

 • 'Microgravity Facilities for the Columbus (MFC) Programme' - covers development of facilities necessary for carrying out microgravity experiments in the Columbus Laboratory, including: Fluid Science Laboratory; European Physiology Modules; biolab for biological experiments; Material Science Laboratory.

Organizes International Modeling of Casting, Welding and Advanced Solidification Processes (MCWASP) Conference.


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Relations with 12 inter-governmental organizations.
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Relations with 21 non-governmental organizations.
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Members in 19 countries
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Subjects *

  • Social Activity
    • Agency
  • Transportation, Telecommunications
    • Aerospace, Space

UN Sustainable Development Goals **



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