European Space Agency

European organisation dedicated to space exploration

European Space Agency
  • Czech: Evropská kosmická agentura
  • Danish: Den Europæiske Rumorganisation
  • German: Europäische Weltraumorganisation
  • Estonian: Euroopa Kosmoseagentuur
  • French: Agence spatiale européenne
  • Finnish: Euroopan avaruusjärjestö
  • Greek: Ευρωπαϊκός Οργανισμός Διαστήματος
  • Hungarian: Európai Űrügynökség
  • Irish: Gníomhaireacht Spáis na hEorpa
  • Italian: Agenzia Spaziale Europea
  • Luxembourgish: Europäesch Weltraumorganisatioun
  • Dutch: Europese Ruimtevaartorganisatie
  • Norwegian: Den europeiske romfartsorganisasjon
  • Polish: Europejska Agencja Kosmiczna
  • Portuguese: Agência Espacial Europeia
  • Romanian: Agenția Spațială Europeană
  • Romansh: Agenzia spaziala europeica
  • Spanish: Agencia Espacial Europea
  • Swedish: Europeiska rymdorganisationen
ESA emblem seal.png
European Space Agency logo.svg
European Space Operations Centre.jpg
European Space Operations Centre
Agency overview
  • ESA
  • ASE
Formed30 May 1975; 47 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; 2.30417Coordinates: 48°50′54″N 02°18′15″E / 48.84833°N 2.30417°E / 48.84833; 2.30417
Official languageEnglish, French, and German[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 €7.2 billion

The European Space Agency (ESA; French: Agence spatiale européenne pronunciation (help·info), ASE;[5][6] German: Europäische Weltraumorganisation) is an intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states[7] dedicated to the exploration of space. Established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,200 in 2018[8] and an annual budget of about €7.2 billion in 2022.[4]

ESA's space flight programme includes human spaceflight (mainly through participation in the International Space Station program); the launch and operation of unmanned exploration missions to other planets 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 5 is 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 will fly 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 underfunding and diverging interests of its 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 is envisioned to enter service in late 2022.

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:[13]

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, a probe testing cutting-edge space propulsion technology, the Mars Express and Venus Express missions, 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, 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.[14]

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.[15][16] In the same year the recruitment process began for the 2022 European Space Agency Astronaut Group.[17]


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:[18]

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.[18]

Jean-Jacques Dordain – ESA's Director General (2003–2015) – outlined the European Space Agency's mission in a 2003 interview:[19]

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 Spaceflight
  • Launchers
  • Navigation
  • Space Science
  • Space Engineering & Technology
  • Operations
  • Telecommunications & Integrated Applications
  • Preparing for the Future
  • Space for Climate


  • Copernicus Programme[20]
  • Cosmic Vision
  • ExoMars[21]
  • FAST20XX
  • Galileo[22]
  • Horizon 2000
  • Living Planet Programme


Every member country must contribute to these programmes:[23] The European Space Agency Science Programme is a long-term programme of space science and space exploration missions.

  • Technology Development Element Programme[24]
  • Science Core Technology Programme
  • General Study Programme
  • European Component Initiative


Depending on their individual choices the countries can contribute to the following programmes, listed according to:[25]

  • Launchers
  • Earth Observation
  • Human Spaceflight and Exploration
  • Telecommunications
  • Navigation
  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Technology

[email protected]

ESA has formed partnerships with universities. [email protected] refers to research laboratories at universities. Currently there are [email protected]

Member states, funding and budget

Membership and contribution to ESA

  ESA member states
  ESA associate members
  European cooperating states (ECS)
  Signatories of the Cooperation Agreement