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European Space Agency

ESA headquarters in Paris © ESA/A. Gonin

The European Space Agency (ESA) is known as Europe's organisation to promote and develop space activities. By drawing up a long term plan for space and seeing it through, the agency shapes the future of space development in Europe. It ensures Europe's space capabilities continue to grow, bringing benefits to the citizen's of Europe.

The agency's activities have many goals - on the one hand, to find out more about Earth, its immediate space environment, the Solar System and the Universe; and, on the other, to develop satellite-based technologies and services, as well as to promote European space industries. It does not do all this alone, however, working closely with space organisations all over the world.

ESA now has 20 Member States: 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 also sits on the Council and takes part in some projects under a Cooperation Agreement. Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia are participating in the Plan for European Cooperating States (PECS), while other countries are in negotiation with ESA about joining this initiative.

Hungary, Romania and Poland are 'European Cooperating States'. And, Estonia and Slovenia recently signed cooperation agreements with ESA. Canada also takes part in some projects under a cooperation agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

Space policies and programmes are decided on at ESA's headquarters in Paris. The agency also has sites across Europe dealing with different aspects of space policy:

  • EAC, the European Astronauts Centre in Cologne, Germany
  • ESAC, the European Space Astronomy Centre, in Villafranca del Castillo, Madrid, Spain
  • ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany
  • ESRIN, the ESA centre for Earth Observation, in Frascati, near Rome, Italy
  • ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre, Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

There are also liaison offices in Belgium, the USA and Russia, as well as a launch base in French Guiana and ground/tracking stations in various parts of the world.

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