Part 2 Space Organizations: U.S. Military, Foreign, and Private - Europe
european probe express ariane
The European Space Agency (ESA) was formed in 1973 from two existing organizations, the European Space Research Organisation and the European Launcher Development Organisation. The ESA includes seventeen member states:
- The Netherlands
- United Kingdom
In addition, the ESA has agreements with Canada, Czech Republic, and Hungary to participate as members in some projects. Although the ESA is independent of the European Union (EU), it maintains close ties with the EU and the two organizations share a joint space strategy.
ESA headquarters are located in Paris, France. Other ESA facilities include the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, Netherlands; the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany; the European Astronauts Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany; the European Space Research Institute (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy; and liaison offices in Belgium, Russia, and the United States. The ESA operates a launch base in French Guiana, near the equator in South America. As of February 2005 (the latest date available) the ESA employed just over 1,900 people.
Each member state funds mandatory ESA activities based on that country's gross national product. Mandatory activities include space science programs and the agency's general budget. In addition, the ESA operates optional projects in which countries may choose to participate and fund.
During the 1970s the ESA developed the Ariane rocket to launch satellites into orbit. Ariane is the French name for the Greek goddess Ariadne. According to Greek mythology Ariadne gave a thread to Theseus that helped him find his way out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur. One of the remarkable features of the rocket is that it can carry two satellites at once. The Ariane 4 series of rockets was used between 1988 and 2003. According to the ESA, the agency controlled 50% of the commercial satellite launch business during this period. By the end of 2005 Ariane rockets had achieved 169 successful launches.
As of February 2006 the ESA was participating in the ISS project and three interplanetary missions: Venus Express, Mars Express, and the Huygens Probe.
The Venus Express was launched on a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, in November 2005. It was scheduled to arrive at Venus in April 2006 and assume an orbit around the planet. It is designed to perform sophisticated atmospheric studies and measure surface temperatures on Venus.
The Mars Express was launched on a Soyuz/Fregat rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, in June 2003 and went into orbit around Mars in December 2003. A landing vehicle named Beagle 2 left the orbiter to head for the planet's surface. ESA lost contact with the lander, and it was presumed lost. However, the orbiter continued to circle the Red Planet and collect data with its scientific instruments.
The ESA was also responsible for the Huygens Probe mission to Saturn. The probe was launched aboard the NASA spacecraft Cassini in October 1997. On December 25, 2004, Cassini released the probe for a three-week journey to the surface of Titan, Saturn's moon. It penetrated the thick cloud cover that hides the moon and touched down on January 14, 2005. The probe sampled Titan's atmosphere and provided the first photographs ever of its surface. The probe is named after Christiaan Huygens (1629–95), the Dutch astronomer who discovered Saturn's rings and Titan. Huygens was the first probe to ever land on a celestial body in the outer solar system.
In December 2005 the ESA announced a new space endeavor called the Aurora Exploration Programme. It will include robotic missions to Mars that will return samples to Earth. The first launch is expected in 2011.