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RDT info logoMagazine on European research Special issue - February 2007   

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Title  European space without frontiers

The European Space Agency (1) has been a leading force in the fields of science and technology, and planning and implementing Europe’s presence in space, since 1973. The Agency is a collaborative organisation supported by a number of different Member States within the European Union (2), along with Switzerland and Canada.

Launching of the Giove-A satellite
Launching of the Giove-A satellite
ESA is engaged in the whole spectrum of activities in space. It manages the construction of Ariane rockets and their launching from the Kourou base in French Guiana, the design and development of satellites and their equipment, as well as the preparation and implementation of manned space flights. At the same time, it develops and implements large-scale scientific programmes and international projects – particularly those involving European participation in the International Space Station (ISS).

As Europe’s main scientific and technological tool for the implementation of an independent European space programme, ESA has built close links with the European Union. It operates in a broad range of fields: communications, navigation, environmental monitoring, development of new space technologies – in particular for the major ‘Galileo’ and ‘GMES’ (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security services) projects.

Paris, Noordwijk, Darmstadt, Frascati, Kourou

Employing around 1 900 people, ESA is a remarkable example of the operational implementation of a Europe without frontiers. Based in Paris, its political and executive headquarters coordinates close cooperation between the Agency and all the space centres of its national and global partners, managing the whole range of its scientific programmes. The European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESRTC) in Noordwijk (NL) is the focus for R&D activities, where most of the probes and new technologies to be sent into space are prepared and tested. In Germany the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) at Darmstadt is the control centre for European satellites in orbit, while at Cologne the European Astronauts Centre ( EAC) prepares the permanent team of European astronauts for their missions. Finally, the ESA Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN), located in Frascati (IT), collates, organises and distributes the data sent back by observation satellites and serves as the Agency’s main information centre. And we should not forget the Ariane launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, of course.

New cultural frontiers

The great adventure of space exploration plays a decisive role in the future of humanity. There is enormous public enthusiasm for all things to do with space, particularly among the young. Aware of the interest its activities hold for the general public, ESA does much to help promote scientific culture and education. Its well-designed website provides clear, lively, well-documented information and striking photographs. One of its most attractive features is the ESA kids page (available in several languages), which is a magazine for young people, combining education and entertainment.

ESA has also set up an educational Foundation (the International Space Station Education Fund – ISSEF) which distributes teaching materials for various educational levels (from primary school to university).

(1) The 17 members of the Agency are as follows: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada is involved in certain projects on the basis of a cooperation agreement. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania enjoy the status of European Cooperating States.

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