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ESA Space Programme

ESA's purpose 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

The ESA, European Space Agency (Agence spatiale européenne, ASE), was founded in 1975. Its headquarters are in Paris. It has an annual budget upwards of € 4 billion.

ESA's Ariane rockets are its main launch vehicles

The ESA operates orbtial missions, and participates in the ISS, the International Space Station. It has a strongly scientific agenda, and is very active in promoting understanding and education space technology, and the benefits which it brings.

Its launch operations use the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana (South America). Currently, its main launch vehicle is the Ariane 5 rocket, but a re-entry vehicle, the IXV space plane, is under development. It has operational and training centres scattered around Europe, as well as a global array of communication antennas.

The ESA is also very active in interplanetary probe exploration. It has sent an orbiter and lander to Mars, and currently has the only observation platform in orbit around a comet, and a lander.

ESA, with its Ariane 4, 5, and upcoming 6, rockets, is a world leader in commercial launches. along with many joint projects with NASA, the ESA has a cooperation agreement with the Russian Space Programme.


The idea of a West European space research and technology development organization was first mooted shortly after the Sputnik announcement in late 1957. In the 1960s, the ELDO (European Launch Development Organization) was founded to develop launching capabilities, and ESRO (European Space Research Organisation) was founded. By 1972, ESRO had launched several research satellites.

In 1975, the ESA was founded with the ESA Convention, merging ELDO and ESA, with 10 founding states (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK), and today 22 member states. The first major mission was the 1975 Cos-B, a probe which monitors gamma-ray emission from the universe.

Earth orbit

ESA IXV SpacePlane
ESA IXV SpacePlane


International Ultraviolet Explorer IUE

The IUE (International Ultraviolet Explorer) was a successful joint project between NASA, the UK Science Research Council, and the ESA. It is an astronomical observatory satellite, operating primarily in the UV range of the EMR spectrum.

Launch: Jan 26, 1976 (NASA Delta rocket).

Mission: geostationary orbit. Originally planned for three years operation, the satellite continued to send valuable data for 18 years, before being shut down in 1996. It remains in geosync orbit.

Hipparcos Star-Mapper

Launched 1989


1990s. In conjunction with NASA


1990s. In conjunction with NASA

Hubble Space Telescope

1990s. In conjunction with NASA



SMART-1 (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology-1) used an innovative gas ion acceleration propulsion system. It was launched 27 September, 2003 (Guiana), and orbited the Moon till 3 September, 2006, when it was impacted at high speed to obtain information about the sub-surface lunar soil composition.

The propulsion was a solar-powered Hall effect thruster. An electrostatic field ionized xenon and accelerated the ions to high speed. The thrust per mass of propellant is approximately three times that of chemical propulsion systems in standard rockets.

Deep Space Exploration


Giotto was an ESA robotic spacecraft launched on 2 July 1985 (Ariane 1). On 13 March, 1986, it arrived to a distance of 596 km from its primary target, Halley's Comet, then it flew by its second target, Comet Grigg-Skjellerup on 10 July 1992.

The spacecraft rendez-voused with the two comets by adjusting its position in Earth's orbit and waiting for the comet's to pass by as they looped around the Sun.

Giotto approached much closer than the Russian missions Vega 1 and 2, which had close encoutners on 6 and 9 March respectively, but approached to only 8,900 km.

Giotto's closer encounter was risky. It was struck twice by small particles. One impact cuased it to lose stability and temporarily lose communication with the Earth. A second impact caused fatal damage to the Multicolor Camera, but luckily this was not till after its had recorded the Comet from its closest approach.

After an Earth fly-by, it was hibernated till it was reawakened to be slingshot to the second comet, Grigg-Skjellerup, which it successfully reached to within 200 km on 10 July 1992.


Rosetta probe in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
  • Launch
  • March 2004

  • Agency
  • ESA, European Space Agency

  • Mission Objective
  • Study from orbit of, and landing of Philae lander on, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 12 November 2004

  • Research gains
  • Conditions at origin of solar system

  • Image
  • Taken by Philae lander on 7.10.14, from distance of 16 km from comet

    14 June 2015 Rosetta's lander Philae wakes up from hibernation



The European Earth Observation Programme


Satellite navigation programmes: Galileo and EGNOS.



The ESA participated with NASA to send the fourth probe to Saturn: Cassini–Huygens, launched October 15, 1997. It successfully landed the Huygens probe to land on the Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005.

It was not only the first landing on Titan, it was the first ever landing on an outer solar system body. It was designed to be able to land on land or water, but in the event it was solid surface where it successfully sent data for 90 minutes.

Sentinel 2 launch: 19 June 2015

IXV Spaceplane test on 11 Feb 2015. Re-entry vehicle.


Mars Express

Between 2006 and 2010, the ESA's Mars Express Orbiter made close fly-bys (460, 270, and 60 km) of one of the Martian moons Phobos, making accurate measurements of its mass and density, and attempting to answer the question of whether the moons are captured asteroids or originate from the Martian disk itself. The orbiter has revealed that Phobos is probably porous, containing large cavities or caverns. This opens the prospect of possibly using Phobos as a free space station, with humans protected from radiation inside the caverns.

MARSIS: Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding

MARSIS was used to probeb the composition of Phobos.

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