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The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 18 member states. Headquartered in Parismarker, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000 with an annual budget of about €3.6 billion in 2009.

ESA's space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observations, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centremarker at Kourou, French Guianamarker and designing launch vehicles. The main European launch vehicle Ariane 5 is operated through Arianespace with ESAmarker sharing in the costs of launching and further developing this launch vehicle.

ESA science missions are based at ESTECmarker in Noordwijkmarker, Netherlandsmarker, Earth Observation missions at ESRINmarker in Frascatimarker, Italymarker, ESA Mission Control (ESOCmarker) is in Darmstadtmarker, Germanymarker, the European Astronaut Centremarker (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germanymarker and the European Space Astronomy Centremarker is located in Villanueva de la Cañadamarker, Spainmarker.



ESTEC buildings in Noordwijk.
ESTEC is ESRO's successor organisation and still part of ESA

After World War II, many European scientists left Western Europe in order to work either in the United States or the Soviet Union. Although the 1950s boom made it possible for Western European countries to invest in research and specifically in space related activities, Western European scientists realised solely national projects would not be able to compete with the two main superpowers. In 1958, only months after the Sputnik shock, Edoardo Amaldi and Pierre Auger, two prominent members of the western European scientific community at that time, met to discuss the foundation of a common western European space agency. The meeting was attended by scientific representatives from eight countries, including Harrie Massey (UK).

The Western European nations decided to have two different agencies, one concerned with developing a launch system ELDO (European Launch Development Organisation) and the precursor of the European Space Agency, ESRO (European Space Research Organisation). The latter was established on 20 March 1964 by an agreement signed on 14 June 1962. From 1968 to 1972, ESRO carried out numerous successful projects. Seven research satellites were brought into orbit, all by US launch systems. Ariane didn't exist at that time.

ESA in its current form was founded in 1975, when ESRO was merged with ELDO. ESA had 10 founding members: Belgiummarker, Denmarkmarker, Francemarker, Germanymarker, Italymarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Spainmarker, Swedenmarker, Switzerlandmarker and the United Kingdommarker. ESA launched its first major scientific mission in 1975, Cos-B, a space probe monitoring gamma-ray emissions in the universe first worked on by ESRO.

End of space race

Beginning in the 1970s, when the space race between the US and the Soviet Union had cooled down and space budgets were cut dramatically in both superpowers, ESA established itself as a forerunner in space exploration. ESA joined NASA in the IUE, the world's first high-orbit telescope, which was launched in 1978 and operated very successfully for 18 years. A number of successful Earth-orbit projects followed, and in 1986 ESA began Giotto, its first deep-space mission, to study the Comets Halley and Grigg-Skjellerup. Hipparcos, a star-mapping mission, was launched in 1989 and in the 1990s SOHO, Ulysses and the Hubble Space Telescope were all jointly carried out with NASAmarker. Recent scientific missions in cooperation with NASA include the Cassini-Huygens space probe, to which ESA contributed by building the Titan landing module Huygens.

As the successor of ELDO, ESA has also constructed rockets for unmanned scientific and commercial payloads. Ariane 1, launched in 1979, brought mostly commercial payloads into orbit from 1984 onward. The next two developments of the Ariane rocket were intermediate stages in the development of a more advanced launch system, the Ariane 4, which operated between 1988 and 2003 and established ESA as the world leader in commercial space launches in the 1990s. Although the succeeding Ariane 5 experienced a failure on its first flight, it has since firmly established itself within the heavily competitive commercial space launch market with 40 successful launches as of 2009. The successor launch vehicle of Ariane 5, the Ariane 6 is already in the definition stage and is envisioned to enter service in the 2020s.

The beginning of the new millennium saw ESA become, along with agencies like NASAmarker, JAXA, and Roscosmos, one of the major participants in scientific space research. While ESA had relied on cooperation with NASA in previous decades, especially the 1990s, changed circumstances (such as tough legal restrictions on information sharing by the United States military) led to decisions to rely more on itself and on cooperation with Russia. A recent press issue thus stated:

Most notable for its new self-confidence are ESA's own recent successful missions SMART-1, a probe testing cutting-edge new space propulsion technology, the Mars Express and Venus Express missions as well as the development of the Ariane 5 rocket and its role in the ISS partnership. ESA maintains its scientific and research projects mainly for astronomy-space missions such as Corot, launched on 27 December 2006, a milestone in the search for extrasolar planets.

Mission statement

Since the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Unionmarker's "iron curtain," space agencies around the world had to refocus and revise their visions and goals. In an interview with JAXA, the Japanese national space agency, Jean-Jacques Dordain ESA's Director General (since 2003) outlined briefly the European Space Agency's mission:

Article II, Purpose, Convention of establishment of a European Space Agency, SP-1271(E) from 2003 also defines ESA's mission statement:

Member countries and budget

Membership and contribution to ESA

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation of 18 member states. Memberstates participate to varying degrees in the mandatory (25% of total expenditures in 2008) and optional space programmes (75% of total expenditures in 2008). The total budget in 2008 amounted to about €3.0 billion and in 2009 to about €3.6 billion.

The following table gives an overview of all memberstates and adjunct members and their contributions to ESA in 2008:

Member state ESA membership National program Mandatory contr. (mill. €) Total contr. (mill. €) Total contr. (%)
CNES 556.49 %
DLR 533.47 %
ASI 343.04 %
BNSCmarker 264.90 %
INTA 152.83 %
BIRA 138.40 %
SRON 98.02 %
SSO 87.13 %
SNSB 54.67 %
DNSC 23.91 %
SI 13.30 %
NSC 43.95 %
ASA 32.80 %
TEKES 16.40 %
CEP 16.60 %
ISARS 11.40 %
11.10 %
CSO 5.1
CSA 20.00 %
Total Member states 2418.5 %
Income Members pvs. yrs 350.00
Other income 260.00
Total ESA 3028.5

Associate Members

Currently the only associated member of ESA is Canadamarker. Previously associated members were Austriamarker, Norwaymarker and Finlandmarker, all of which later joined ESA as full members.


Since 1 January 1979, Canadamarker has had the special status of a Cooperating State within ESA. By virtue of this accord, the Canadian Space Agency takes part in ESA's deliberative bodies and decision-making and also in ESA's programmes and activities. Canadian firms can bid for and receive contracts to work on programmes. The accord has a provision ensuring a fair industrial return to Canada.


After the decision of the ESA Council of 21/22 March 2001 the procedure for accession of the European states was detailed as described here.Nations who want to become a full member of ESA do so in three stages. First a Cooperation Agreement is signed between the country and ESA. In this stage the country has very limited financial responsibilities. If a country wants to cooperate more fully with ESA it signs a European Cooperating State (ECS) Agreement. The ECS agreement makes companies based in the country eligible for participation in ESA procurements. The country can also participate in all ESA programmes, except for the Basic Technology Research Programme. While the financial contribution of the country concerned increases, it is still much lower that that of a full member state. The agreement is normally followed by a Plan for European Cooperating states (or PECS Charter). This is a five-year programme of basic research and development activities aimed at improving the nation's space industry capacity. At the end of the five-year period the country can either begin negotiations to become a full member state or an associated state or sign a new PECS Charter. ESA is likely to expand quite rapidly in the coming years. Many countries, most of which joined the EU in both 2004 and 2007, have started to cooperate with ESA on various levels:

Applicant state Cooperation agreement ECS agreement PECS charters National program
1st: 5 November 2003

2nd: 26 September 2008
1st: 16 February 2007 ROSA
1st: 28 April 2008 CBK-PAN
 and   have also announced their intention to participate in the activities of ESA.

Budget appropriation and allocation

The budget of ESA was €2.977 billion in 2005, €2.904 billion in 2006 and grew to €3.018 billion in 2008 and €3.600 billion in 2009. Every 3–4 years, ESA memberstates agree on a budget plan for several years at an ESA memberstates conference. This plan can be amended in future years, however provides the major guideline for ESA for several years. The last major conference was held at the end of 2008, setting the budget for the years to 2012.

ESA's budget in 2009 attributes about 18% or €660 million to launchers development and operations (Ariane 5), 16% or €586 million to Earth observation research, 12.1% or €434 million to space-related science, about 11% or €385 million each to Human Spaceflight and to Space-based Earth navigation systems (e.g. Galileo positioning system) and 9% or €320 million to telecommunications. The rest of the budget consists of funds for microgravity research, technology development, robotic exploration (e.g. Mars Express) and general budget items and administration.

Countries typically have their own space programmes that differ in how they operate organisationally and financially with ESA. For example, the French space agency CNES has a budget double the amount it contributes to ESA. Several space-related projects are joint projects between national space agencies and ESA (e.g. COROT). Also, ESA is not the only European space organisation (for example European Union Satellite Centremarker).

Launch vehicle fleet

ESA has made great progress towards its goal of having a complete fleet of launch vehicles in service, competing in all sectors of the launch market. ESA's fleet will soon consist of three major rocket designs, Ariane 5, Soyuz-2 and Vega. Rocket launches are carried out by Arianespace, which has 23 shareholders representing the industry that manufactures the Ariane 5 as well as CNES, at the spaceport in French Guiana. Because many communication satellites have equatorial orbits, launches from French Guiana are able to take larger payloads into space than from other northern spaceports. In addition, equatorial launches give spacecraft an extra 'push' of nearly 500 m/s due to the higher rotation velocity of someone standing on the equator than near the Earth's axis where rotation velocity approaches nil.

Ariane 5

The Ariane 5 rocket is the primary launcher of ESA. Its maximum estimated payload is 6–10 tons to GTO and up to 21 tons to LEO. The launch craft has been in service since 1997 and replaced Ariane 4. The Ariane rocket exists in several specifications, the heaviest being Ariane 5 ECA, which failed during its first test flight in 2002, but has since made fifteen consecutive successful flights.

ESA's Ariane 1, 2, 3 and 4 launchers (the latter of which was ESA's long-time workhorse) have been retired.


Soyuz-2 (also called the Soyuz-ST) is a Russian medium payload (ca. 3 metric tons to GTO) launcher to be brought into ESA service in April 2010. ESA has entered into a €340 million joint venture with the Russian Federal Space Agency over the use of the Soyuz launcher. Under the agreement, the Russian agency manufactures Soyuz rocket parts for ESA, which are then shipped to French Guiana for assembly. ESA benefits because it gains a medium payload launcher, complementing its fleet while saving on development costs. In addition, the Soyuz rocket—which has been the Russian's space launch workhorse for some 40 years—is proven technology with a good safety record, which ESA might eventually even use for launching humans into space.Russia also benefits in that it gets access to the Kourou launch site. Launching from Kourou rather than Baikonurmarker will allow the Russians to almost double the Soyuz payload (3.0 tonnes vs. 1.7 tonnes to GTO), because of Kourou's closer proximity to the equator. Both agencies benefit from the long term strategic cooperation, which is also intended to enable future joint technology developments.


Vega is ESA's small payload (ca. 1.5 metric tons to 700 km orbit) launcher; its first launch is planned for 2010. The leading ESA member state for the Vega Programme is Italymarker, contributing 65% of the costs. Vega itself has been designed to be a body launcher with three solid propulsion stages and an additional liquid propulsion upper module to place the cargo into the exact orbit intended. For a small-cargo rocket it is remarkable that Vega will be able to place multiple payload into orbit.

Vega's first and main stage (P80) is a direct modification of the Ariane 5 EAP (solid boosters) developed by CNES, the French space agency.

Human space flight


At the time ESA was formed, its main goals did not encompass human space flight, rather it considered itself to be primarily a scientific research organisation for unmanned space exploration in contrast to its American and Soviet counterparts. It is therefore not surprising that the first non-Soviet European in space was not an ESA astronaut on a European space craft: It was Czechoslovak Vladimir Remek who in 1978 became the first non-Soviet European in space (the first European in space being Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union) — on a Sovietmarker Soyuz spacecraft, followed by the Pole Mirosław Hermaszewski and East Germanmarker Sigmund Jähn in the same year. This Sovietmarker cooperation programme, known as Intercosmos, primarily involved the participation of Eastern bloc countries, however in 1982, Jean-Loup Chrétien became the first western European on a flight to the Sovietmarker Salyut 7 space station.

Because Chrétien did not officially fly into space as an ESA astronaut, but rather as a member of the French CNES astronaut corps, the German Ulf Merbold is considered the first ESA astronaut to fly into space. He participated in the STS-9 Space Shuttle mission that included the first use of the European built Spacelab in 1983. STS-9 marked the beginning of an extensive ESA/NASA joint partnership that included dozens of space flights of ESA astronauts in the following years. Beside paying for seats on the Space Shuttle, ESA continued its human space flight cooperation with the Soviet Unionmarker and later Russiamarker, including numerous visits to Mir.

During the latter half of the 1980s, European human space flights changed from being the exception to routine and therefore, in 1990, the European Astronaut Centremarker in Cologne, Germanymarker was established. It selects and trains prospective astronauts and is responsible for the coordination with international partners especially with regards to the International Space Station. As of 2006, the ESA astronaut corps officially includes 12 members, including nationals from all the large Western European countries except the United Kingdommarker.

In the summer of 2008 ESA started to recruit new astronauts so that final selection would be due spring 2009. Almost 10,000 people registered as astronaut candidates till the registration ended in June 2008. 8,413 fulfilled the initial application criteria. Of the applicants 918 were chosen to take part in the first stage of psychological testing which narrowed down the field to 192. After two stage psychological tests and medical evaluation in early 2009 as well as formal interviews, 6 new members of the European Astronaut Corps were selected, 5 men and one woman.

Astronaut Corps

The astronauts of the European Space Agency are:

Manned launch vehicles

In the 1980s France pressed for an independent European manned launch vehicle. Around 1978 it was decided to pursue a reusable spacecraft model and starting in November 1987 a project to create a mini-shuttle by the name of Hermes was introduced. The craft itself was modelled comparable to the first proposals of the Space Shuttle and consisted of a small reusable spaceship that would carry 3 to 5 astronauts and 3 to 4 metric tons of payload for scientific experiments. With a total maximum weight of 21 metric tons it would have been launched on the Ariane 5 rocket, which was being developed at that time. It was planned solely for use in Low-Earth orbit space flights. The planning and pre-development phase concluded in 1991; however, the production phase was never fully implemented because at that time the political landscape had changed significantly. With the fall of the Soviet Unionmarker ESA looked forward to cooperation with Russiamarker to build a next-generation human space vehicle. Thus the Hermes program was cancelled in 1995 after about 3 billion dollars had been spent.

In the 21st century ESA started new programs in order to create its own manned spacecraft, most notable among its various projects and proposals is Hopper, whose prototype by EADS, called Phoenix, has already been tested. While projects such as Hopper are neither concrete nor to be realised within the next decade, other possibilities for human spaceflight in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency have emerged. Following talks with the Russian Space Agency in 2004 and June 2005, a cooperation between ESA and the Russian Space Agency was announced to jointly work on the Russian-designed Kliper, a reusable spacecraft that would be available for space travel beyond LEO (e.g. the moon or even Mars). It was speculated that Europe would finance part of it. However, a €50 million participation study for Kliper, which was expected to be approved in December 2005, was finally not approved by the ESA member states. The Russian state tender for the Kliper project was subsequently cancelled in the summer of 2006.

In June 2006 ESA member states granted 15 million to the Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) study, a two-year study to design a spacecraft capable of going beyond Low-Earth orbit based on the current Soyuz design. This project is pursued with Roskosmos instead of the previously cancelled Kliper proposal. A decision on the actual implementation and construction of the CSTS spacecraft is contemplated for 2008, with the major design decisions being made before the summer of 2007.

In the 47th press release of ESA in Autumn 2008 no plans to persuade an upgraded manned version of the ATV spacecraft had been mentioned. If and when exactly ESA will launch their own manned spacecrafts into space are therefor unclear.

Cooperation with other countries and organisations

ESA has signed cooperation agreements with the following states that currently neither plan to integrate as tightly with ESA institutions as Canadamarker, nor envision future membership of ESA: Argentinamarker, Brazilmarker, Chinamarker, Indiamarker (for the Chandrayan mission), and Russiamarker.

Additionally, ESA has joint projects with the European Union, NASAmarker of the United Statesmarker and is participating in the International Space Station together with the United Statesmarker (NASA), Russiamarker and Japanmarker (JAXA).

European Union

ESA is not an agency or body of the European Union (EU), and has non-EU countries such as Switzerlandmarker and Norwaymarker as members. There are however ties between the two, with various agreements in place and being worked on, to define the legal status of ESA with regard to the EU. There are common goals between ESA and the EU, and ESA has an EU liaison office in Brussels. On certain projects, the EU and ESA cooperate, such as the upcoming Galileo satellite navigation system. Space policy has since December 2009 been an area for voting in the European Council. Under the European Space Policy of 2007, the EU, ESA and its Member States committed themselves to increasing coordination of their activities and programmes and to organising their respective roles relating to space.

Former Italian astronaut Umberto Guidoni, during his tenure as a Member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2009, stressed the importance of the European Union as a driving force for space exploration, "since other players are coming up such as India and China it is becoming ever more important that Europeans can have an independent access to space. We have to invest more into space research and technology in order to have an industry capable of competing with other international players."

An independent report on the future of ESA, requested by its director-general, recommends further integration of ESA into the structures of the EU. Space policy would be decided by the European Council and ESA would be the de facto space agency of the European Union, not excluding the possibility of making it a formal EU agency. This would also help with co-operation between space policy and environmental or security policy, Galileo itself has a security dimension.

The first EU-ESA International Conference on Human Space Exploration took place in Prague on 22 and 23 October. A road map which would lead to a common vision and strategic planning in the area of space exploration was discussed. Ministers from all 29 EU and ESA members as well as members of parliament were in attendance. If a roadmap is accepted at the November 2010 Brussels conference as planned, it is estimated that an additional €3 billion annually would be made available for European space exploration activities by the European Commissionmarker.

National space organisations of member countries

  • The Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) (National Centre for Space Study) is the French government space agency (administratively, a "public establishment of industrial and commercial character"). Its headquarters are in central Parismarker. CNES is the main participant on the Ariane project. Indeed CNES designed and tested all Ariane family rockets (mainly from its centre in Evry near Parismarker)
  • The British National Space Centremarker (BNSC) is a partnership of the UK government departments which are active in space. Through the BNSC the partners provide delegates to represent the UK on the various ESA governing bodies. Each partner funds its own programme.
  • The Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana or ASI) was founded in 1988 to promote, coordinate and conduct space activities in Italy. Operating under the Ministry of the Universities and of Scientific and Technological Research, the agency cooperates with numerous entities active in space technology and with the president of the Council of Ministers. Internationally, the ASI provides Italy's delegation to the Council of the European Space Agency and to its subordinate bodies.
  • The German Aerospace Center (DLR) (German: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e. V.) is the national research centre for aviation and space flight of the Federal Republic of Germany and of other member states in the Helmholtz Association. Its extensive research and development projects are included in national and international cooperative programmes. In addition to its research projects, the centre is the assigned space agency of Germany bestowing headquarters of German space flight activities and its associates.
  • The Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) (Spanish:National Technical Institute for Aerospace) is the spacial agency for Spainmarker.


ESA has a long history of collaboration with NASA. Since ESA's astronaut corps was formed, the Space Shuttle has been the primary launch vehicle used by ESA's astronauts to get into space through partnership programs with NASA. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Spacelab program was an ESA-NASA joint research program that had ESA develop and manufacture orbital labs for the Space Shuttle for several flights on which ESA participate with astronauts in experiments.

In robotic science mission and exploration missions, NASA has been ESA's main partner. Cassini-Huygens was a joint NASA-ESA mission, the Infrared Space Observatory, INTEGRAL, SOHO, and others. Also, the Hubble space telescope is a joint project of NASA and ESA. Future unmanned projects that are in development right now and are ESA-NASA joint projects include the James Webb Space Telescope or the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. NASA and ESA will also likely join together for a Mars Sample Return Mission.

Cooperation with other space agencies

Since Chinamarker has started to invest more money into space activities, the Chinese Space Agency has sought international partnerships. ESA is, beside the Russian Space Agency, one of its most important partners. Recently the two space agencies cooperated in the development of the Double Star Mission.

ESA entered into a major joint venture with Russiamarker in the form of the CSTS, the preparation of French Guyanamarker spaceport for launches of Soyuz rockets and other projects. With India ESA agreed to send instruments into space aboard the ISRO's Chandrayaan in 2008. ESA is also cooperating with Japan, the most notable current project in collaboration with JAXA is the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

International Space Station

With regard to the International Space Station (ISS) ESA is not represented by all of its member states: 10 of the 18 ESA member countries currently participate in the project. ESA is taking part in the construction and operation of the ISS with contributions such as Columbus, a science laboratory module that was brought into orbit by NASA's STS-122 Space Shuttle mission and the Cupola observatory module that was completed in July 2005 by Alenia Spazio for ESA. The current estimates for the ISS are approaching €100 billion in total (development, construction and 10 years of maintaining the station) of which ESA has committed to paying €8 billion. About 90% of the costs of ESA's ISS share will be contributed by Germany (41%), France (28%) and Italy (20%). German ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter was the first long-term ISS crew member.

As of 2008, the spacecraft establishing supply links to the ISS are the Progress, Soyuz and Space Shuttle. ESA has developed the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) for ISS resupply. Each ATV has a cargo capacity of . The first ATV, Jules Verne, was launched on 9 March 2008 and on 3 April 2008 successfully docked with the ISS. This manoeuvre, considered a major technical feat, involved using automated systems to allow the ATV to track the ISS, moving at 27,000 km/h, and attach itself with an accuracy of 2 cm. No other spacefaring nations or space agency currently possess this level of autonomy in rendezvous and docking activities, considered key to future space exploration. With the Space Shuttle reaching its retirement age in 2010, until NASAmarker has a replacement for it such as COTS the ATV together with Progress, Soyuz and the Japanese transporter HTV will be the only links between Earth and the ISS.



According to Annex 1, Resolution No. 8 of the Convention for the establishment of a European Space Agency, English, French and German may be used in all meetings of the Agency, with interpretation provided into these three languages. All official documents are available in English and French with all documents concerning the ESA Council being available in German as well.


See also


Further reading

  • ESA Bulletin ( archive) is a quarterly magazine about the work of ESA that can be subscribed free of charge.
  • Bonnet, Roger; Manno, Vittorio (1994). International Cooperation in Space: The Example of the European Space Agency (Frontiers of Space). Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-45835-4.
  • Johnson, Nicholas (1993). Space technologies and space science activities of member states of the European Space Agency. .
  • Peeters, Walter (2000). Space Marketing: A European Perspective (Space Technology Library). ISBN 0-7923-6744-8.
  • Zabusky, Stacia (1995 and 2001). Launching Europe: An Ethnography of European Cooperation in Space Science. ISBN B00005OBX2.
  • Harvey, Brian (2003). Europe's Space Programme: To Ariane and Beyond. ISBN 1-85233-722-2.

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