Library Index » Science Encyclopedia » Space Organizations Part 2: U.S. Military, Foreign and Private - U.s. Military Space Programs, Space Agencies Around The World, Russia, Europe

Space Organizations Part 2: U.S. Military, Foreign and Private - Europe

european probe agency cnes

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 fifteen member states:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

In addition, the ESA has agreements with Canada 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, The 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 2002 (the latest date available) the ESA employed nearly 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. One of the remarkable features of the rocket is that it can carry two satellites at once. Between 1979 and 2003 Ariane rockets were used in more than 130 successful launches. According to the ESA, the agency controlled 50 percent of the commercial satellite launch business during 2003.

As of February 2004 the ESA was participating in the ISS project and operating two interplanetary missions: Mars Express and the Huygens Probe. 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 spacecraft to head for the planet's surface, where it was due to land on December 25, 2003. ESA lost contact with Beagle 2 and, as of February 2004, had not been able to verify that the lander survived its journey.

The other major mission being operated by the ESA is the Huygens Probe. This probe was launched aboard the NASA spacecraft Cassini in October 1997 and is on its way to Saturn. The probe will leave the spacecraft and descend to the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. It is expected to arrive on Titan in 2005. The probe is named after Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695), the Dutch astronomer who discovered Saturn's rings and Titan. If successful, Huygens will be the first probe to ever land on a celestial body in the outer solar system.

France's space agency is called the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES). CNES plays a major role in the European Space Agency. CNES suffered from budget problems during the early 2000s. In April 2003 it pulled out of two major missions to save money: the Netlander mission and the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope, an observatory for studying black holes being planned by NASA and institutions in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden. France also announced that the CNES will suspend plans to fly experiments aboard the ISS.

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