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Established in 1975, the European Space Agency (ESA) is an multi-governmental organization that is dedicated to space exploration. The agency has its headquarters in Paris, has a staff of 2,000, and an annual budget of 3.6 billion euro. The ESA members include: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Austria, Finland, Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, and Canada.
The ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight through participation in the International Space Station(ISS), the launch and operations of unmanned exploration craft, along with telecommunications. The main European launch vehicle, Ariane 5, is operated as a co-venture through Arianespace. ESA has many of it functions spread across Europe, with science missions based at ESTEC in Netherlands, Earth observation at ESRIN in Italy, Mission Control in Germany, the astronaut center(EAC) in Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Center in Spain.
ESA has progressed significantly towards its goal of having a complete fleet of launch vehicles in service by competing in all sectors of the launch market. Soon, ESA’s fleet will consist of three major rocket designs: Ariane 5, Soyuz 2, and Vega. Rocket launches are carried out by Arianespace. Launches are done from French Guiana because many communication satellites have equatorial orbits, so launches from French Guiana are able to take larger payloads into space than from more northerly spaceports. In addition, equatorial launches give spacecraft an extra ‘push’ of nearly 500 m/s due to the higher rotation velocity on the equator than near the Earth’s axis where rotation velocity approaches nil.
The European Space Agency also works in cooperation other space agencies around the world and, hopefully, will be able to continue to make contributions to the overall understanding of the universe.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Launch Facilities. Listen here, Episode 161: Launch Facilities.