The European Space Agency (ESA) is dedicated to benefiting humankind by peacefully exploring space. Of the six largest space agencies in the world, the ESA is the only agency made up of a collective group of nations. The ESA is an intergovernmental organization that oversees space research and exploration. They promote economic growth in Europe by pushing the boundaries of science and technology.
“Shape the development of Europe’s space capabilities and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.”
Definition of Purpose
“ESA’s purpose shall be to provide for, and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology and their space applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications systems.”
The ESA is comprised of 22 Member States combining budgets and resources, this collaboration allows the ESA to undertake projects and missions that would be beyond the scope of a single European nation.
10 Founding Members:
Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
22 Member States:
Austria, Belgium, 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.
Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are Associate Members.
Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, and Malta have cooperation agreements.
ESA has eight locations throughout Europe and one location in French Guina, Europe’s Spaceport.
Europe’s History in Space
- 1945-1950: Many European scientist had left Wester Europe after World War II for work in the United States or the Soviet Union. European scientists realized that individual national projects would not be able to compete with those of the major world superpowers.
- 1958: Using CERN as a model, Pierre Auger and Edoardo Amaldi, recommended that European governments establish a ‘purely scientific’ joint organization for space research.
- 1962: The participating nations of Europe agreed to have two agencies, the European Launch Development Organization (ELDO), focused on developing a launch system, and the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), whose goal was to develop space craft.
- 1967: European Space Operations Center (ESOC) was established in Darmstadt, Germany.
- 1968: ESRO launched its first successful satellite, ESRO-2B, with the intention of studying cosmic rays and solar x-rays.
- 1973: NASA and ESRO collaborate to build Spacelab, the modular science package used on Space Shuttle flights.
- 1975: ELDO and ESRO is merged to form the ESA as it is known today. ESA launches its first major scientific mission, Cos-B, a satellite monitoring gamma-rays in the Universe.
- 1978: Canada joins as a cooperating State. ESA partners with NASA to launch the world’s first high-orbit telescope, the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE).
- 1979: Australia joins under an association agreement. Ariane I was launched, leading the family of expendable launch systems.
- 1980: Arianespace is formed to build and operate the remainder of the Ariane rockets. Ariane took mainly commercial payloads into orbit after 1984. The Ariane 4 established ESA as the world leader in commercial space launches during the 1990s.
- 1983: The first ESA astronaut flies on the US Space Shuttle.
- 1986: ESA’s first deep space mission, Giotto, targeted at studying the comets Hally and Grigg-Skjellerup.
- 1990s: ESA collaborated with NASA on Hubble Space Telescope, the Solara and Heliosphere Observatory, and Ulysses.
- 2003: ESA launched the Mars Express orbiter and its lander, Beagle 2. Mars Express is the first fully European mission to any planet.
- 2005: The first ever probe to land on an object in the outer solar system, ESA’s Huygens probe, lands on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
- 2008: ESA becomes a fully responsible partner for operations of the International Space Station (ISS), allowing ESA astronauts to be residents of the ISS crew. ESA’s Columbus laboratory is launched to the ISS.
- 2009: ESA astronaut Frank De Winne joins the ISS crew and becomes the first European commander of an ISS expedition.
Key ESA Accomplishments and Future Plans
The ESA focuses on building and launching rockets and satellites, conducting Earth observations, training European astronauts, studying the solar system, and the Universe. They also focus on developing satellite-based technologies to support European industries.
- The Hubble Space Telescope: ESA collaborated on Hubble which was the first of NASA’s four Great Observatories. Hubble has shown a light onto many mysteries of the Universe.
- Columbus Science Laboratory: ESA’s single largest contribution to the International Space Station, launched in 2008.
- LISA Pathfinder: The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder was launched in 2015. LISA’s goal is to test technology for a future ESA gravitational wave observatory.
- ExoMars Program: The ExoMars Program is ESA’s attempt to find life and water on Mars. The first part of this program was launched in 2016 and was a collaboration with Russia, placed the Trace Gas Orbiter satellite into Mar’s orbit. In 2022 the ESA plans to send a rover to Mar’s surface as the next step in the mission.
- Galileo GPS: The Galileo GPS system was built by the ESA so that Europe could stand independent from American or Russian GPS systems. The first Galileo satellites went live in 2016 and were fully operational in 2020.
- BepiColombo Mission: In partnership with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), ESA launched the BepiColombo Mission in 2018. The goal of this mission is to study Mercury’s surface structure, interior structure, and magnetic fields. The probe is expected to arrive on Mercury in December 2025.
- Ariane 6 and Vega-C Rockets: These rocket missions ensure that Europe has autonomous access to space.
The European Space Agency is a unique collaboration of many nations. This allows the ESA to combine budgets and resources to support missions that one nation could not alone. ESA has the technology to keep Europe at the heart of the new age of space exploration by helping bring humans back to the Moon and eventually to Mars.