Organization:European Space Agency

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Short description: European organization dedicated to space exploration
European Space Agency
ESA Patch 2022.png
European Space Agency logo.svg
Views in the Main Control Room (12052189474).jpg
European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) Main Control Room, Darmstadt, Germany
Agency overview
  • ESA
  • ASE
  • EW
Formed30 May 1975; 48 years ago (1975-05-30)
TypeSpace agency
HeadquartersParis, Île-de-France, France
[ ⚑ ] : 48°50′54″N 02°18′15″E / 48.84833°N 2.30417°E / 48.84833; 2.30417
Official languageEnglish, French and German (working languages) [1][2]
AdministratorDirector General Josef Aschbacher
Primary spaceportGuiana Space Centre
  •  Austria
  •  Belgium
  •  Czech Republic
  •  Denmark
  •  Estonia
  •  Finland
  •  France
  •  Germany
  •  Greece
  •  Hungary
  •  Ireland
  •  Italy
  •  Luxembourg
  •  Netherlands
  •  Norway
  •  Poland
  •  Portugal
  •  Romania
  •  Spain
  •  Sweden
  •   Switzerland
  •  United Kingdom
Annual budgetIncrease €7.8 billion

The European Space Agency (ESA)[lower-alpha 1] is a 22-member intergovernmental body devoted to space exploration.[7] With its headquarters in Paris and a staff of around 2,200 people globally as of 2018, ESA was founded in 1975. Its 2024 annual budget was €7.8 billion.[8][4]

ESA's space flight programme includes human spaceflight (mainly through participation in the International Space Station program); the launch and operation of crewless exploration missions to other planets (such as Mars) and the Moon; Earth observation, science and telecommunication; designing launch vehicles; and maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou (French Guiana), France. The main European launch vehicle Ariane 6 will be operated through Arianespace with ESA sharing in the costs of launching and further developing this launch vehicle. The agency is also working with NASA to manufacture the Orion spacecraft service module that flies on the Space Launch System.[9][10]



ESTEC buildings in Noordwijk, Netherlands. ESTEC was the main technical centre of ESRO and remains so for the successor organisation (ESA).

After World War II, many European scientists left Western Europe in order to work with the United States. 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 (Italy) and Pierre Auger (France), two prominent members of the Western European scientific community, met to discuss the foundation of a common Western European space agency. The meeting was attended by scientific representatives from eight countries.

The Western European nations decided to have two agencies: one concerned with developing a launch system, ELDO (European Launcher Development Organisation), and the other the precursor of the European Space Agency, ESRO (European Space Research Organisation). The latter was established on 20 March 1964 by an agreement signed on 14 June 1962. From 1968 to 1972, ESRO launched seven research satellites, but ELDO was not able to deliver a launch vehicle. Both agencies struggled with the underfunding and diverging interests of their participants.

ESA in its current form was founded with the ESA Convention in 1975, when ESRO was merged with ELDO. ESA had ten founding member states: Belgium, Denmark , France , West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain , Sweden, Switzerland , and the United Kingdom .[11] These signed the ESA Convention in 1975 and deposited the instruments of ratification by 1980, when the convention came into force. During this interval the agency functioned in a de facto fashion. ESA launched its first major scientific mission in 1975, Cos-B, a space probe monitoring gamma-ray emissions in the universe, which was first worked on by ESRO.

Later activities

Mock-up of the Ariane 1

ESA collaborated with NASA on the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE), the world's first high-orbit telescope, which was launched in 1978 and operated 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–Skjellerup. 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. Later 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 scientific and commercial payloads. Ariane 1, launched in 1979, carried mostly commercial payloads into orbit from 1984 onward. The next two versions 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[12] 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 112 successful launches until 2021. The successor launch vehicle, the Ariane 6, is under development and had a successful long-firing engine test in November 2023. The ESA plans for the Ariane 6 to launch in June or July 2024.[13][14]

The beginning of the new millennium saw ESA become, along with agencies like NASA, JAXA, ISRO, the CSA and Roscosmos, one of the major participants in scientific space research. Although ESA had relied on co-operation 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 co-operation with Russia. A 2011 press issue thus stated:[15]

Russia is ESA's first partner in its efforts to ensure long-term access to space. There is a framework agreement between ESA and the government of the Russian Federation on cooperation and partnership in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and cooperation is already underway in two different areas of launcher activity that will bring benefits to both partners.

Notable ESA programmes include SMART-1,[16] a probe testing cutting-edge space propulsion technology, the Mars Express and Venus Express missions,[17][18] as well as the development of the Ariane 5 rocket and its role in the ISS partnership. ESA maintains its scientific and research projects mainly for astronomy-space missions such as Corot, launched on 27 December 2006[19], a milestone in the search for exoplanets.

On 21 January 2019, ArianeGroup and Arianespace announced a one-year contract with ESA to study and prepare for a mission to mine the Moon for lunar regolith.[20]

In 2021 the ESA ministerial council agreed to the "Matosinhos manifesto" which set three priority areas (referred to as accelerators) "space for a green future, a rapid and resilient crisis response, and the protection of space assets", and two further high visibility projects (referred to as inspirators) an icy moon sample return mission; and human space exploration.[21][22] In the same year the recruitment process began for the 2022 European Space Agency Astronaut Group.[23]

1 July 2023 saw the launch of the Euclid spacecraft, developed jointly with the Euclid Consortium, after 10 years of planning and building it is designed to better understand dark energy and dark matter by accurately measuring the accelerating expansion of the universe.[24]


The agency's facilities date back to ESRO and are deliberately distributed among various countries and areas. The most important are the following centres:


The treaty establishing the European Space Agency reads:[25]

The purpose of the Agency shall be 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…

ESA is responsible for setting a unified space and related industrial policy, recommending space objectives to the member states, and integrating national programs like satellite development, into the European program as much as possible.[25]

Jean-Jacques Dordain – ESA's Director General (2003–2015) – outlined the European Space Agency's mission in a 2003 interview:[26]

Today space activities have pursued the benefit of citizens, and citizens are asking for a better quality of life on Earth. They want greater security and economic wealth, but they also want to pursue their dreams, to increase their knowledge, and they want younger people to be attracted to the pursuit of science and technology. I think that space can do all of this: it can produce a higher quality of life, better security, more economic wealth, and also fulfill our citizens' dreams and thirst for knowledge, and attract the young generation. This is the reason space exploration is an integral part of overall space activities. It has always been so, and it will be even more important in the future.

Activities and programmes

ESA describes its work in two overlapping ways:

  • For the general public, the various fields of work are described as "Activities".
  • Budgets are organised as "Programmes".

These are either mandatory or optional.


According to the ESA website, the activities are:

  • Observing the Earth
  • Human and Robotic Exploration
  • Launchers
  • Navigation
  • Space Science
  • Space Engineering & Technology
  • Operations
  • Telecommunications & Integrated Applications
  • Preparing for the Future
  • Space for Climate[27]



Every member country (known as 'Member States') must contribute to these programmes:[31] The European Space Agency Science Programme is a long-term programme of space science missions.

  • Technology Development Element Programme[32]
  • Science Core Technology Programme
  • General Study Programme
  • European Component Initiative


Depending on their individual choices the countries can contribute to the following programmes, becoming 'Participating States', listed according to:[33]


As of 2023, ESA employs around 2200 people, and thousands of contractors. Initially, new employees are contracted for a expandable four-year term, which is until the organization's retirement age of 63. According to ESA's documents, the staff can receive myriad of perks, such as financial childcare support, retirement plans, and financial help when migrating. ESA also allows employees prevent any private documents or correspondences from disclosure to outside parties. Ars Technica's 2023 report, which contained testimonies of 18 people, suggested that there is a widespread harassment between management and its employees, especially with its contractors. Since ESA is an international organization, unaffiliated with any single nation, any form of legal action is difficult to raise against the organization.[34]

Member states, funding and budget

Membership and contribution to ESA

  ESA member states
  ESA associate states
  ESA cooperating state
  ESA ECS states
  ESA Cooperation Agreement states

By 2015, ESA was an intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states.[7] Member states participate to varying degrees in the mandatory (25% of total expenditures in 2008) and optional space programmes (75% of total expenditures in 2008).[35] The 2008 budget amounted to €3.0 billion whilst the 2009 budget amounted to €3.6 billion.[36] The total budget amounted to about €3.7 billion in 2010, €3.99 billion in 2011, €4.02 billion in 2012, €4.28 billion in 2013, €4.10 billion in 2014 and €4.33 billion in 2015.[37]

English and French are the two official languages within ESA. Additionally, official documents are also provided in German and documents regarding the Spacelab are also provided in Italian. If found appropriate, the agency may conduct its correspondence in any language of a member state.

The following table lists all the member states and adjunct members, their ESA convention ratification dates, and their contributions in 2022:[38]

Member state, or source ESA convention National programme Contributions
M€ % of total Per capita (€)[39][full citation needed]
Full member states
European Union Austria[note 1] 1986 FFG 49.8 1.0% 5.55
European Union Belgium[note 2] 1978 BELSPO 238.7 5% 20.52
European Union Czech Republic[note 3] 2008 Ministry of Transport 45.4 0.9% 4.32
European Union Denmark[note 2] 1977 DTU Space 33.8 0.7% 5.75
European Union Estonia[note 3] 2015 ESO 2 0% 1.5
European Union Finland[note 3] 1995 Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 28.7 0.6% 5.17
European Union France[note 2] 1980 CNES 1,178.2 24.5% 17.37
European Union Germany[note 2] 1977 DLR 1,017.5 21.1% 12.22
European Union Greece[note 3] 2005 Hellenic Space Center (el) 20 0.4% 1.89
European Union Hungary[note 3] 2015 HSO 21.2 0.4% 2.19
European Union Ireland[note 1] 1980 Enterprise Ireland 22.9 0.5% 4.53
European Union Italy[note 2] 1978 ASI 680.2 14.1% 11.53
European Union Luxembourg[note 3] 2005 LSA 47.5 1% 73.6
European Union Netherlands[note 2] 1979 NSO 99.6 2.1% 5.66
Template:Country data EFTA Norway[note 1] 1986 NSA 71.8 1.5% 13.23
European Union Poland[note 3] 2012 POLSA 44.8 0.9% 1.19
European Union Portugal[note 3] 2000 PT Space 25.2 0.5% 2.43
European Union Romania[note 3] 2011 ROSA 39.4 0.8% 2.07
European Union Spain[note 2] 1979 AEE 220.7 4.6% 4.65
European Union Sweden[note 2] 1976 SNSA 75 1.6% 7.18
Template:Country data EFTA  Switzerland[note 2] 1976 SSO 174.7 3.6% 20
 United Kingdom[note 2] 1978 UKSA 437.9 9.1% 6.53
Others N/A N/A 216.1 4.5% N/A
Non-full members
 Canada[note 4] 1979[48] CSA 16.9 0.4% 0.43
European Union Latvia 2020[50] LSO 1.1 0% 0.59
European Union Lithuania 2021[51] LSO 3 0.1% 1.07
European Union Slovakia 2022[52] SSO 0 0% 0
European Union Slovenia 2016[53] Ministry of Economic Development and Technology 2.7 0.1% 1.28
Members and associates total 4,814.8 67.3%
 European Union [note 5] 2004[54] EUSPA 2,030.6 28.4% 4.54
EUMETSAT N/A N/A 171.6 2.4% N/A
Other income N/A N/A 350.35 4.9% N/A
Other institutional partners total 2,335.2 32.7%
Grand total 7,150.0 100%
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 These nations are considered initial signatories, but since they were members of neither ESRO nor ELDO (the precursor organisations to ESA) the Convention could only enter into force when the last of the other 10 founders ratified it.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Founding members and initial signatories drafted the ESA charter which entered into force on 30 October 1980. These nations were also members of either ELDO or ESRO.[40]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Acceded members became ESA member states upon signing an accession agreement.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47]
  4. Canada is a Cooperating State of ESA.[48][49]
  5. Framework Agreement establishing the legal basis for cooperation between ESA and the European Union came into force in May 2004.

Non-full member states

Previously associated members were Austria, Norway and Finland, all of which later joined ESA as full members. As of November 8, 2023 there are five associate members: Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Canada. The first four members have shown interest in full membership and may eventually apply within the next years.


Since 2016, Slovenia has been an associated member of the ESA.[53] In November 2023 Slovenia formally applied for full membership, and it is expected that the final decision will be made by the ESA Council in 2024.[55]


Latvia became the second current associated member on 30 June 2020, when the Association Agreement was signed by ESA Director Jan Wörner and the Minister of Education and Science of Latvia, Ilga Šuplinska in Riga. The Saeima ratified it on 27 July.[50]


In May 2021, Lithuania became the third current associated member.[56] As a consequence its citizens became eligible to apply to the 2022 ESA Astronaut group, applications for which were scheduled to close one week later. The deadline was therefore extended by three weeks to allow Lithuanians a fair chance to apply.[57]


Slovakia's Associate membership came into effect on 13 October 2022, for an initial duration of seven years. The Association Agreement supersedes the European Cooperating State (ECS) Agreement, which entered into force upon Slovakia's subscription to the Plan for European Cooperating States Charter on 4 February 2016, a scheme introduced at ESA in 2001. The ECS Agreement was subsequently extended until 3 August 2022.[52]


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.[58] The most recent Cooperation Agreement was signed on 15 December 2010 with a term extending to 2020.[59][60] For 2014, Canada's annual assessed contribution to the ESA general budget was €6,059,449 (CAD$8,559,050).[61] For 2017, Canada has increased its annual contribution to €21,600,000 (CAD$30,000,000).[62]

Budget appropriation and allocation

European Space Agency 2016 budget by domain out of a total budget is 5250M€.

ESA is funded from annual contributions by individual states as well as from an annual contribution by the European Union (EU).[63]

The budget of ESA was €5.250 billion in 2016.[64] Every 3–4 years, ESA member states agree on a budget plan for several years at an ESA member states conference. This plan can be amended in future years, however provides the major guideline for ESA for several years. [citation needed] The 2016 budget allocations for major areas of ESA activity are shown in the chart on the right.[64]

Countries typically have their own space programmes that differ in how they operate organisationally and financially with ESA. For example, the French space agency CNES has a total budget of €2015 million, of which €755 million is paid as direct financial contribution to ESA.[65] Several space-related projects are joint projects between national space agencies and ESA (e.g. COROT). Also, ESA is not the only European governmental space organisation (for example European Union Satellite Centre and the European Union Space Programme Agency).


After the decision of the ESA Council of 21/22 March 2001, the procedure for accession of the European states was detailed as described the document titled "The Plan for European Co-operating States (PECS)".[66] Nations that want to become a full member of ESA do so in 3 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 co-operate more fully with ESA, it signs a European Cooperating State (ECS) Agreement, albeit to be a candidate for said agreement, a country must be European. 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 than that of a full member state. The agreement is normally followed by a Plan For European Cooperating State (or PECS Charter). This is a 5-year programme of basic research and development activities aimed at improving the nation's space industry capacity. At the end of the 5-year period, the country can either begin negotiations to become a full member state or an associated state or sign a new PECS Charter.[67] Many countries, most of which joined the EU in both 2004 and 2007, have started to co-operate with ESA on various levels:

Applicant state Cooperation agreement ECS agreement PECS charter ESA Convention signature Associate membership National programme
European Union Slovenia 28 May 2008[68] 22 January 2010[69] 30 November 2010[70] 5 July 2016[53] 1 December 2016[53] through MoEDT
European Union Latvia 23 July 2009[71] 19 March 2013[72] 30 January 2015[73] 30 June 2020[50] 27 July 2020[50] LSO
European Union Lithuania 7 October 2010[74] 7 October 2014[75] 28 September 2015[76] 28 April 2021[51] 21 May 2021[51] LSO
European Union Slovakia 28 April 2010[77] 16 February 2015[78] 4 February 2016[52] 14 June 2022[52] 13 October 2022[52] SSO
European Union Bulgaria 11 June 2014[79][80] 8 April 2015[81] 4 February 2016[82] N/A N/A SRTI
European Union Cyprus 27 August 2009[83] 6 July 2016[84] 24 April 2017[85] N/A N/A through MoCW
European Union Croatia 19 February 2018[86] 23 March 2023[87] 16 August 2023[88] N/A N/A through MoSE
 Turkey 15 July 2004[89] N/A N/A N/A N/A TUA
 Ukraine 25 January 2008[90] N/A N/A N/A N/A SSAU
 Israel 30 January 2011[91] N/A N/A N/A N/A ISA
European Union Malta 20 February 2012[92] N/A N/A N/A N/A MCST
 Mexico 14 February 2023[93] N/A N/A N/A N/A AEM

During the Ministerial Meeting in December 2014, ESA ministers approved a resolution calling for discussions to begin with Israel, Australia and South Africa on future association agreements. The ministers noted that "concrete cooperation is at an advanced stage" with these nations and that "prospects for mutual benefits are existing".[94]

A separate space exploration strategy resolution calls for further co-operation with the United States, Russia and China on "LEO exploration, including a continuation of ISS cooperation and the development of a robust plan for the coordinated use of space transportation vehicles and systems for exploration purposes, participation in robotic missions for the exploration of the Moon, the robotic exploration of Mars, leading to a broad Mars Sample Return mission in which Europe should be involved as a full partner, and human missions beyond LEO in the longer term."[94]

In August 2019, ESA and the Australian Space Agency signed a joint statement of intent "to explore deeper cooperation and identify projects in a range of areas including deep space, communications, navigation, remote asset management, data analytics and mission support."[95] Details of the cooperation were laid out in a framework agreement signed by the two entities.

On 17 November 2020, ESA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). SANSA CEO Dr. Valanathan Munsami tweeted: "Today saw another land mark event for SANSA with the signing of an MoU with ESA. This builds on initiatives that we have been discussing for a while already and which gives effect to these. Thanks Jan for your hand of friendship and making this possible."[96]

Launch vehicles

The ESA currently has only one operational launch vehicle, Vega, and another, Ariane 6, in development. Rocket launches are carried out by Arianespace, which has 23 shareholders representing the industry that manufactures the Ariane 5 as well as CNES, at ESA's Guiana Space Centre. Because many communication satellites have equatorial orbits, launches from French Guiana are able to take larger payloads into space than from spaceports at higher latitudes. In addition, equatorial launches give spacecraft an extra 'push' of nearly 500 m/s due to the higher rotational velocity of the Earth at the equator compared to near the Earth's poles where rotational velocity approaches zero.


Main page: Engineering:Vega (rocket)
Vega rocket

Vega is ESA's carrier for small satellites. Developed by seven ESA members led by Italy, it is capable of carrying a payload with a mass of between 300 and 1500 kg to an altitude of 700 km, for low polar orbit. Its maiden launch from Kourou was on 13 February 2012.[97] Vega began full commercial exploitation in December 2015.[98]

The rocket has three solid propulsion stages and a liquid propulsion upper stage (the AVUM) for accurate orbital insertion and the ability to place multiple payloads into different orbits.[99][100]

A larger version of the Vega launcher, Vega-C had its first flight in July 2022.[101] The new evolution of the rocket incorporates a larger first stage booster, the P120C replacing the P80, an upgraded Zefiro (rocket stage) second stage, and the AVUM+ upper stage. This new variant enables larger single payloads, dual payloads, return missions, and orbital transfer capabilities.[102]

Ariane launch vehicle development funding

Historically, the Ariane family rockets have been funded primarily "with money contributed by ESA governments seeking to participate in the program rather than through competitive industry bids. This [has meant that] governments commit multiyear funding to the development with the expectation of a roughly 90% return on investment in the form of industrial workshare." ESA is proposing changes to this scheme by moving to competitive bids for the development of the Ariane 6.[103]

Future rocket development

Future projects include the Prometheus reusable engine technology demonstrator, Phoebus (an upgraded second stage for Ariane 6), and Themis (a reusable first stage).[104][105]

Human space flight

Formation and development

Ulf Merbold became the first ESA astronaut to fly into space.

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 uncrewed 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 Vladimír Remek who in 1978 became the first non-Soviet or American in space (the first man 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 co-operation programme, known as Intercosmos, primarily involved the participation of Eastern bloc countries. In 1982, however, Jean-Loup Chrétien became the first non-Communist Bloc astronaut 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. Some of these missions with Spacelab were fully funded and organisationally and scientifically controlled by ESA (such as two missions by Germany and one by Japan) with European astronauts as full crew members rather than guests on board. Beside paying for Spacelab flights and seats on the shuttles, ESA continued its human space flight co-operation 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 co-ordination with international partners, especially with regard to the International Space Station. As of 2006, the ESA astronaut corps officially included twelve members, including nationals from most large European countries except the United Kingdom.

In 2008, ESA started to recruit new astronauts so that final selection would be due in spring 2009. Almost 10,000 people registered as astronaut candidates before registration ended in June 2008. 8,413 fulfilled the initial application criteria. Of the applicants, 918 were chosen to take part in the first stage of psychological testing, which narrowed down the field to 192. After two-stage psychological tests and medical evaluation in early 2009, as well as formal interviews, six new members of the European Astronaut Corps were selected – five men and one woman.[106]

List of astronauts

The astronauts of the European Space Agency are:

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 have visited Mir
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2009 selection
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 have visited the International Space Station
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 now retired

Crew vehicles

In the 1980s, France pressed for an independent European crew 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 was comparable to early proposals for 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; 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 co-operation with Russia to build a next-generation space vehicle. Thus the Hermes programme was cancelled in 1995 after about 3 billion dollars had been spent. The Columbus space station programme had a similar fate.

In the 21st century, ESA started new programmes in order to create its own crew vehicles, 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 co-operation with the Russian Space Agency have emerged. Following talks with the Russian Space Agency in 2004 and June 2005,[107] a co-operation 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. 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 project was subsequently cancelled in 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 was pursued with Roskosmos instead of the cancelled Kliper proposal. A decision on the actual implementation and construction of the CSTS spacecraft was contemplated for 2008. In mid-2009 EADS Astrium was awarded a €21 million study into designing a crew vehicle based on the European ATV which is believed to now be the basis of the Advanced Crew Transportation System design.[108]

In November 2012, ESA decided to join NASA's Orion programme. The ATV would form the basis of a propulsion unit for NASA's new crewed spacecraft. ESA may also seek to work with NASA on Orion's launch system as well in order to secure a seat on the spacecraft for its own astronauts.[109]

In September 2014, ESA signed an agreement with Sierra Nevada Corporation for co-operation in Dream Chaser project. Further studies on the Dream Chaser for European Utilization or DC4EU project were funded, including the feasibility of launching a Europeanised Dream Chaser onboard Ariane 5.[110][111]

Cooperation with other countries and organisations

ESA has signed co-operation agreements with the following states that currently neither plan to integrate as tightly with ESA institutions as Canada, nor envision future membership of ESA: Argentina,[112] Brazil,[113] China,[114] India[115] (for the Chandrayan mission), Russia[116] and Turkey.[117]

Additionally, ESA has joint projects with the EUSPA of 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).

National space organisations of member states

  • The Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) (National Centre for Space Study) is the French government space agency (administratively, a "public establishment of industrial and commercial character"). Its headquarters are in central Paris. CNES is the main participant on the Ariane project. Indeed, CNES designed and tested all Ariane family rockets (mainly from its centre in Évry near Paris)
  • The UK Space Agency is a partnership of the UK government departments which are active in space. Through the UK Space Agency, the partners provide delegates to represent the UK on the various ESA governing bodies. Each partner funds its own programme.
  • The Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana or ASI) was founded in 1988 to promote, co-ordinate and conduct space activities in Italy. Operating under the Ministry of the Universities and of Scientific and Technological Research, the agency cooperates with numerous entities active in space technology and with the president of the Council of Ministers. Internationally, the ASI provides Italy's delegation to the Council of the European Space Agency and to its subordinate bodies.
  • The German Aerospace Center (DLR) (German: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e. V.) is the national research centre for aviation and space flight of the Federal Republic of Germany and of other member states in the Helmholtz Association. Its extensive research and development projects are included in national and international cooperative programmes. In addition to its research projects, the centre is the assigned space agency of Germany bestowing headquarters of German space flight activities and its associates.
  • The Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) (National Institute for Aerospace Technique) is a Public Research Organisation specialised in aerospace research and technology development in Spain. Among other functions, it serves as a platform for space research and acts as a significant testing facility for the aeronautic and space sector in the country.


ESA has a long history of collaboration with NASA. Since ESA's astronaut corps was formed, the Space Shuttle has been the primary launch vehicle used by ESA's astronauts to get into space through partnership programmes with NASA. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Spacelab programme was an ESA-NASA joint research programme that had ESA develop and manufacture orbital labs for the Space Shuttle for several flights on which ESA participate with astronauts in experiments.

In robotic science mission and exploration missions, NASA has been ESA's main partner. Cassini–Huygens was a joint NASA-ESA mission, along with the Infrared Space Observatory, INTEGRAL, SOHO, and others. Also, the Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA and ESA. Future ESA-NASA joint projects include the James Webb Space Telescope and the proposed Laser Interferometer Space Antenna.[citation needed] NASA has supported ESA's MarcoPolo-R mission which landed on asteroid Bennu in October 2020 and is scheduled to return a sample to Earth for further analysis in 2023.[118] NASA and ESA will also likely join for a Mars sample-return mission.[119] In October 2020, the ESA entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NASA to work together on the Artemis program, which will provide an orbiting Lunar Gateway and also accomplish the first crewed lunar landing in 50 years, whose team will include the first woman on the Moon. Astronaut selection announcements are expected within two years of the 2024 scheduled launch date.[120] ESA also purchases seats on the NASA operated Commercial Crew Program. The first ESA astronaut to be on a Commercial Crew Program mission is Thomas Pesquet. Pesquet launched into space aboard Crew Dragon Endeavour on the Crew-2 mission. ESA also has seats on Crew-3 with Matthias Maurer and Crew-4 with Samantha Cristoforetti.


In 2023, following the successful launch of the Euclid telescope in July on a Falcon 9 rocket, ESA approached SpaceX to launch four Galileo communication satellites on two Falcon 9 rockets in 2024, however it would require approval from the European Commission and all member states of the European Union to proceed.[121]

Cooperation with other space agencies

Since China has invested more money into space activities, the Chinese Space Agency has sought international partnerships. Besides the Russian Space Agency, ESA is one of its most important partners. Both space agencies cooperated in the development of the Double Star Mission.[122] In 2017, ESA sent two astronauts to China for two weeks sea survival training with Chinese astronauts in Yantai, Shandong.[123]

ESA entered into a major joint venture with Russia in the form of the CSTS, the preparation of French Guiana spaceport for launches of Soyuz-2 rockets and other projects. With India, ESA agreed to send instruments into space aboard the ISRO's Chandrayaan-1 in 2008.[124] ESA is also co-operating with Japan, the most notable current project in collaboration with JAXA is the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

International Space Station

ISS module Columbus at Kennedy Space Center's Space Station Processing Facility

With regard to the International Space Station (ISS), ESA is not represented by all of its member states:[125] 11 of the 22 ESA member states currently participate in the project: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Austria, Finland and Ireland chose not to participate, because of lack of interest or concerns about the expense of the project. Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Estonia and Hungary joined ESA after the agreement had been signed.

ESA takes 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.[126] 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.

ESA has developed the Automated Transfer Vehicle for ISS resupply. Each ATV has a cargo capacity of 7,667 kilograms (16,903 lb).[127] 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. Five vehicles were launched before the program ended with the launch of the fifth ATV, Georges Lemaître, in 2014.[128]

As of 2020, the spacecraft establishing supply links to the ISS are the Russian Progress and Soyuz, Japanese Kounotori (HTV), and the United States vehicles Cargo Dragon 2 and Cygnus stemmed from the Commercial Resupply Services program.

European Life and Physical Sciences research on board the International Space Station (ISS) is mainly based on the European Programme for Life and Physical Sciences in Space programme that was initiated in 2001.


Link between ESA and EU

The ESA is an independent space agency and not under the jurisdiction of the European Union, although they have common goals, share funding, and work together often.[131] The initial aim of the European Union (EU) was to make the European Space Agency an agency of the EU by 2014.[132] While the EU and its member states fund together 86% of the budget of ESA, it is not an EU agency. Furthermore, ESA has several non-EU members, most notably the United Kingdom which had left the EU while remaining a full member of ESA. ESA is partnered with the EU on its two current flagship space programs, the Copernicus series of Earth observation satellites and the Galileo satellite navigation system, with ESA providing technical oversight and, in the case of Copernicus, some of the funding.[133] The EU, though, has shown an interest in expanding into new areas, whence the proposal to rename and expand its satellite navigation agency (the European GNSS Agency) into the EU Agency for the Space Programme. The proposal drew strong criticism from ESA, as it was perceived as encroaching on ESA's turf.[133]

In January 2021, after years of acrimonious relations, EU and ESA officials mended their relationship, with the EU Internal Market commissioner Thierry Breton saying "The European space policy will continue to rely on ESA and its unique technical, engineering and science expertise," and that "ESA will continue to be the European agency for space matters.[133] If we are to be successful in our European strategy for space, and we will be, I will need ESA by my side." ESA director Aschbacher reciprocated, saying "I would really like to make ESA the main agency, the go-to agency of the European Commission for all its flagship programs." ESA and EUSPA are now seen to have distinct roles and competencies, which will be officialized in the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement (FFPA).[133] Whereas ESA's focus will be on the technical elements of the EU space programs, EUSPA will handle the operational elements of those programs.[133]

Security incidents

On 3 August 1984, ESA's Paris headquarters were severely damaged and six people were hurt when a bomb exploded. It was planted by the far-left armed Action Directe group.[134]

On 14 December 2015, hackers from Anonymous breached ESA's subdomains and leaked thousands of login credentials.[135]

See also

European Union matters

  • Agencies of the European Union
  • Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space
  • Enhanced co-operation
  • European Union Agency for the Space Programme


  1. French: Agence spatiale européenne About this soundpronunciation , Italian: Agenzia Spaziale Europea, Spanish: Agencia Espacial Europea ASE;[5][6] German: Europäische Weltraumorganisation


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Further reading

  • ESA Bulletin (ESA Bulletin ) is a quarterly magazine about the work of ESA that can be subscribed to European Space Agency free of charge.
  • Bonnet, Roger; Manno, Vittorio (1994). International Cooperation in Space: The Example of the European Space Agency (Frontiers of Space). Harvard University Press. ISBN:0-674-45835-4.
  • Johnson, Nicholas (1993). Space technologies and space science activities of member states of the European Space Agency. OCLC 29768749 .
  • Peeters, Walter (2000). Space Marketing: A European Perspective (Space Technology Library). ISBN:0-7923-6744-8.
  • Zabusky, Stacia (1995 and 2001). Launching Europe: An Ethnography of European Cooperation in Space Science. ASIN B00005OBX2[|permanent dead link|dead link}}]
  • Harvey, Brian (2003). Europe's Space Programme: To Ariane and Beyond. ISBN:1-85233-722-2.

External links