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The European Space Agency (ESA) was founded by 10 European states back in 1975 with the idea that “We can do more, together.” Today Europe’s gateway to space is a cooperative, intergovernmental organisation, with 20 European member nations representing 500 million citizens, coming together in their national interest and common good. On 20-21 November ESA’s space ministers are meeting in Naples to decide the Agency’s future course.
ESA’s purpose is: “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.”
As one of the world’s leading space agencies ESA manages to do a lot with very little, achieving results that no single nation could match. Its budget for 2012 is €4020 million. This is several times lower than its international counterparts. With a budget equivalent to the price of a cinema ticket for each European citizen it is one of the few organisations in the world active in all areas of space, from exploration to weather satellites, to space-based telecommunications, navigation and environmental monitoring technology and communication.
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada takes part in some projects under a Cooperation agreement. Poland exchanged Accession Agreements with ESA in September 2012 to become the 20th Member State. Other countries such as Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia have also signed cooperation agreements with ESA.
There are around 2,200 staff working for ESA, from all the Member States. These include scientists, engineers, information technology specialists and administrative personnel. ESA’s culture of diversity, collaboration and excellence and their long-term record of cooperative success has led to them working together with other international agencies such as NASA, Japan and Russia which in turn inspired a new ethos of cooperation among global space powers.
Here are just a few of milestones since ESA was formed 1975: That same year ESA launched its first major scientific mission, Cos-B, a satellite monitoring gamma-ray emissions in the Universe.
In 1978 ESA joined NASA and the UK to launch IUE, the world’s first high-orbit telescope. The Ariane program establishes ESA as the world leader in commercial space launches in the 1990s. In 1983 Ulf Merbold from Germany becomes first ESA astronaut to fly on a US Space Shuttle, during STS-9 Spacelab mission. In 1986 Giotto, ESA’s first deep-space mission, studied Comets Halley and Grigg-Skejllerup. SOHO, Ulysses and the Hubble Space Telescope were all jointly carried out with NASA.
Recent scientific missions in cooperation with NASA include Cassini-Huygens, to which ESA contributed the successful Huygens probe that landed on Titan the first ever to land on a world in the outer Solar System. In 2003 Mars Express orbiter and its lander, the ill fated Beagle 2, launched. In 2008 ESA’s Columbus laboratory is launched on Space Shuttle Atlantis to the ISS and ATV Jules Verne, ESA’s first Automated Transfer Vehicle, is also launched to take vital supplies to the ISS. In 2009 Herschel and Planck launched and ESA astronaut Frank De Winne joined the first ISS crew of six, and became the first European commander of an ISS expedition.
The meeting later this month will discuss future objectives and priorities for Europe in space and aims to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. Those benefits include a world-class industry, outstanding scientific discoveries and a stronger, richer European identity, all for about the cost of a cinema ticket per person!
Find out more about ESA here