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 Paris, ESA has a staff of close to 2,000 with an annual budget of about €3.6 billion in 2009.
ESA's main spaceport is the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana. It is close to the equator, hence commercially important orbits are easier to access. ESA became the market leader in commercial space launches in the 1990s. In recent years, ESA has also established itself as a major player in space exploration.
ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany and the European Space Astronomy Centre for space science ESAC is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, close to Madrid in Spain.
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, and ESRO (European Space Research Organisation) that was established on 20 March 1964 by an agreement signed on 14 June 1962. From 1968 to 1972, ESRO celebrated its first successes. Seven research satellites were brought into orbit, all by US launch systems. Ariane didn't exist at that time.
ESRO's successor organisation ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre, based in Noordwijk, Netherlands) is still a part of ESA, though ESA itself is a much bigger organisation today. ESA in its current form was founded in 1975, when ESRO was merged with ELDO. ESA had 10 founding members: the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. ESA launched its first major scientific mission in 1975, Cos-B, a space probe monitoring gamma-ray emissions in the universe.
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-Skejllerup. 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 NASA. 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 beginning of the new millennium saw ESA become, along with agencies like NASA, 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 mission as well as the development of the Ariane 5 rocket.
Goals and aims
Since the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union'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:
ESA has ambitious space plans that may be divided into three broad categories. First, ESA will maintain its scientific and research projects (e.g. tests and developments of new propulsion systems), try to find ways to reduce costs for its rocket fleet while enhancing its capacities, honour its commitments regarding the ISS and engage in further space exploration like the Venus Express mission that was launched in late 2005. The second category has many parallels to NASA's plans and consists of astronomy-space missions such as the Planck Surveyor studying the cosmic microwave background (2009), the Herschel space observatory (2009), and the Darwin interferometer.
While the projects described above are more or less similar in their structure and aim as NASA's and other space agencies' plans, the ESA's Mars project is different. The Aurora Programme lays out a time table for future missions to Mars, however in contrast to NASA's plans there is no emphasis on manned or unmanned lunar missions, it rather includes several flagship missions designed to develop and test technology needed for a manned European Mars mission currently planned for 2030. Among these flagship missions is ExoMars, a mission involving a Mars rover. Until 2005 ExoMars was planned to be a joint mission between NASA and ESA, however obstacles such as American technology law that prohibits sharing of classified space technology information led to ESA deciding to go for it alone. The mission is currently planned to launch in 2013. An even more ambitious Mars project is the Mars Sample Return Mission, that is planned as a follow-up mission to ExoMars. It will involve the first time a probe will return of samples from another planet, making it necessary to construct an ascent module that is capable of starting into Mars orbit and dock with the original probe.
Among the actions for returning the investment to society, they have developed the SCOS 2000 satellite control centre, and they allow the use of it free of charge to any European firm.
To increase the human value of the participating countries, ESA also develops collaborative training programmes for students, young graduates and Post Doctorals. Some countries have their own bilateral agreements with ESA like the Portuguese trainees or the Spanish Trainees programmes. The return of the trainees to their respective country aims to stimulate their national space industry.
Cosmic Vision 2015-2025
In October 2007, ESA announced candidate projects for Cosmic Vision 2015-2025, blueprint of the future scientific program, including the Europa Jupiter System Mission, the Titan Saturn System Mission, Cross-scale near-Earth space environment study, Marco Polo asteroid sample return mission, Dune and SPACE dark-energy study, Plato new planet finder, SPICA infrared telescope, and XEUS X-ray telescope.
Member countries and structure
ESA is an intergovernmental organisation of 18 member states, that participate to varying degrees in the mandatory (23% of total expenditures or €667 million in 2005) and optional space programs (72% of total expenditures or €2138 million in 2005):
According to the Resolution 8, Annex 1, of the Convention for the establishment of the European Space Agency. all meetings of the agency are held in English, French and German, with translation provided in 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.
Since 1 January 1979, Canada 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. Despite that the provisions in the ESA Convention do not show restrictions that only European states can join the ESA Council implements such rule de facto and that is why Canada has only the status of associate member. Nevertheless it is as tightly integrated with the ESA institutions as possible for a non-member state.
After the decision of the ESA Council of 21/22 March 2001 the procedure for accession of the European states was detailised 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 (see below). The agreement is normally followed by a Plan for European Cooperating states (or PECS Charter). This is a five year program of basic research and development activities aimed at improving the nations' 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:
Hungary has been an ECS state since April 2003. It signed the PECS Charter on 5 November 2003 and it got extended for another five years on 26 September 2008.
Romania has been an ECS state since 17 February. 2006, It signed the PECS Charter on 16 February 2007.
Poland has been an ECS state since 27 April 2007. It signed the PECS Charter on 28 April 2008.
Turkey signed a Cooperation Agreement with ESA on 15 July 2004.
Estonia signed a Cooperation Agreement with ESA on 26 June 2007.
Ukraine signed a Cooperation Agreement with ESA on 25 January 2008.
Slovenia signed a Cooperation Agreement with ESA on 27 May 2008.
Possible future cooperation
Latvia has announced its intention to participate in the activity of ESA.
Lithuania has also announced its intention to participate in the activity of ESA.
2005 Example budget
The budget of ESA was announced as €2.977 billion for 2005 (a ten percent increase on 2004) and for 2006 is estimated at €2.904 billion. A large part of ESA's budget is invested in ESA's launch vehicles that are currently the most expensive part of ESA's activities (Twenty-two percent of the budget goes into launch vehicles; human space flight is second in budget expenditures). In 2005, the three largest contributors, together funding two thirds of ESA's budget, are France (29.3%), Germany (22.7%) and Italy (14.2%).
An important ministerial conference approved nearly all of ESA's budget requests in December 2005. The budget for the mandatory ESA programme, parts of the optional programme (i.e. optional for ESA's member states such as the ISS involvement) as well as important projects such as Aurora or the EU-backed Galileo navigation system have been approved. No decision has been reached with regard to ESA's involvement in the Russian Kliper project, a feasibility study worth €50 million was not approved. ESA's budget will stay at about the same, however inflation-adjusted, level as 2005 throughout the next 5 years.
Countries typically have their own space programs that differ in how they operate organizationally and financially with the ESA. For example, the French space agency CNES has budget of about $2.49 billion USD, while 779 million USD funded the ESA. Also, the ESA is not the only Euro space organization (for example European Union Satellite Centre).
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, a CNES subsidiary (a minority share is held by EADS as well), at CNES's 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 spacecrafts 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.
The Ariane 5 rocket is the primary launcher of the 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 the Ariane 4. The Ariane rocket exists in several specifications, the heaviest one of these is the Ariane 5 ECA that failed during its first test flight in 2002, but has since made fifteen consecutive successful flights.
Soyuz-2 is a Russian medium payload (ca. 3 metric tons to GTO) launcher to be brought into ESA service in 2009. 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 payloads 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 Baikonur will allow the Russians to almost double the Soyuz payload (3.0 tonnes vs. 1.7 tonnes), 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 2009. The leading ESA's member state for the Vega Programme is Italy 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 payloads into orbit.
Vega's first and main stage (P80) is a direct modification of Ariane 5 EAP (Solid boosters) developed by the 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 Soviet Soyuz spacecraft, followed by the Pole Mirosław Hermaszewski and East German Sigmund Jähn in the same year. This Soviet 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 Soviet 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 Union and later Russia, 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 Centre in Cologne, Germany 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 Kingdom.
In summer 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 2008-06-18. 8413 fulfilled the initial application criteria. From these individuals 918 were chosen to take part in the first stage of psychological testing which lead to 192 candidates in 2008-09-24. After two stage psychological tests 80 candidates will continue to medical evaluation in January/February 2009. 40 or so candidates will head to a formal interviews to select the four new members to European 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 Union ESA looked forward to cooperation with Russia 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.
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 Canada, nor envision future membership of ESA (as the states listed in the enlargement section): Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and Russia.
Additionally, ESA has joint projects with the European Union, NASA of the United States and is participating in the International Space Station together with the United States (NASA), Russia and Japan (JAXA).
ESA is not an agency or body of the European Union (EU), and has non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway 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. The EU's new Treaty of Lisbon would make space policy an area for voting in the European Council. This might lead to a more united stance on space policy, and strengthen ties between the EU and ESA.
Former Italian astronaut and now Member of the European Parliament Umberto Guidoni 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."
National space organisations of member countries
Since China 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 sent instruments into space aboard the ISRO's Chandrayaan in 2008.
The Hubble space telescope is a joint project of NASA and ESA
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 7,667 kilograms (16,900 lb). 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 agencies currently possess this automatic rendezvous and docking capability, considered key to future space exploration. With the Space Shuttle reaching its retirement age in 2010, until NASA has a replacement for it such as COTS (the CEV is not expected to make its first operational manned flight before 2012) the ATV together with Progress, Soyuz and the Japanese transporter HTV (which will be ready in 2009) will be the only links between Earth and the ISS.
Published in July 2009.
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