European Space Agency

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European Space Agency

(ESA), multinational agency dedicated to the promotion, for exclusively peaceful purposes, of cooperation among European states in space research and technology. Member states include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Great Britain; Canada, the Czech Republic, and Hungary participate in selected ESA programs. The financial contribution of each member is determined by the projects it wishes to support, and no member may undertake a project without inviting ESA's participation.

The headquarters of ESA are in Paris, with four major ESA facilities in other countries. The European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC), located at Noordwijk, the Netherlands, is the primary research center and manages the satellite projects. The European Space Operations Center (ESOC), located at Darmstadt, Germany, is responsible for satellite control, monitoring, and data retrieval. The European Space Research Institute (ESRIN), located at Frascati, Italy, supports the ESA documentation service and manages the data obtained from remote-sensing satellites. The European Astronaut Center (EAC), located at Cologne, Germany, is responsible for the selection and training of astronauts for space station missions. In addition to the major centers, ESA operates sounding-rocket launch stations in Norway and Sweden, a meteorological program office at Toulon, France, and satellite tracking stations in Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Major ESA programs include the development of the Ariane and Vega rockets, used for launching most ESA satellites from the Guiana Space Center at Kourou and Sinnamary, French Guiana. There also is a joint Russian-European launch program there that uses Soyuz ST rockets, a version of the Soyuz 2. ESA developed the Spacelab scientific workshop, which was transported into space more than 20 times by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationNational Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA), civilian agency of the U.S. federal government with the mission of conducting research and developing operational programs in the areas of space exploration, artificial satellites (see satellite, artificial), rocketry, and
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's (NASA) space shuttlespace shuttle,
reusable U.S. space vehicle (1981–2011). Developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and officially known as the Space Transportation System (STS), it was the world's first reusable spacecraft that carried human beings into earth
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; the Giotto space probe, which in a 1986 flyby examined the nucleus of Halley's cometHalley's comet
or Comet Halley
, periodic comet named for Edmond Halley, who observed it in 1682 and identified it as the one observed in 1531 and 1607. Halley did not live to see its return in 1758, close to the time he predicted.
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; and the SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) and ISO (Infrared Space Observatory) orbiting observatoriesobservatory, orbiting,
research satellite designed to study solar radiation, electromagnetic radiation from distant stars, the earth's atmosphere, or the like. Because the atmosphere and other aspects of the earth's environment interfere with astronomical observations from the
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, launched in 1995. A system of meteorological satellites, called Meteosat, has also been established, and a system of navigation satellites, known as Galileo, is under development. Among other ESA projects have been the Herschel Space Telescope, which observed (2009–13) infrared to submillimeter wavelengths with a 138-in. (3.5-m) mirror, the largest sent into space so far, and Planck, which observed (2009–13) the cosmic microwave background radiation. The member nations of ESA are also participating with Brazil, Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States in the International Space Station (ISS; see space stationspace station
or space platform,
artificial earth satellite, usually manned, that is placed in a fixed orbit and can serve as a base for astronomical observations; zero-gravity materials processing; satellite assembly, refueling, and repair; or, possibly, as weapons
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), and have developed components for the ISS; ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle was developed to resupply the ISS. Arianespace, the first commercial space transportation company, was established in 1980 as a subsidiary of the French space agency, and now conducts more than half of all commercial satellite launches.

The foundation of ESA was laid with the formation of the European Space Research Organization (ESRO) in 1962 and of the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) in 1964. ESRO consisted of ten European countries and Australia, which placed its rocket-firing range at Woomera at the organization's disposal; between 1968 and 1972 seven ESRO satellites—Iris (ESRO-2B), Aurorae (ESRO-1A), HEOS-1, BOREAS, HEOS-2, TD-1A, and ESRO-4—were launched on NASA rockets. ELDO, which consisted of seven European countries, developed Kourou's launch site. Intending to build the Europa 1 multistage launch vehicle—combining a British first stage, a French second stage, and a German third stage—to orbit an Italian satellite, ELDO was unsuccessful primarily because of organizational problems. By 1975 it was obvious that a new approach was required, and ESRO and ELDO were merged to form ESA.

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European Space Agency

(ESA) An international organization for coordinating, promoting, and funding Europe's space program. Following ministerial meetings in Brussels in 1972 and 1973, ESA was formed from the merging of the European Space Research Organization (ESRO) and the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO). It became operational at the end of May 1975. Originally consisting of 11 member countries, it now has a total of 15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. Greece was set to become a full member by the end of 2005. Canada is an associate member and participates in certain ESA projects, as does Hungary.

ESA has its headquarters in Paris. The European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) is at Noordwijk in the Netherlands and is concerned with management of science and applications programs. The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) is at Darmstadt in Germany and is concerned with satellite and spaceprobe operations and data acquisition and processing; it controls a network of ground stations for data reception from satellites and interplanetary probes. ESRIN (European Space Research Institute) at Frascati, Italy, houses a major information-retrieval service and handles data from remote-sensing satellites. The European Astronaut Centre (EAC) at Cologne, Germany, selects and trains people for missions aboard the International Space Station. ESA's launch base for its Ariane launcher is at Kourou, French Guiana. It also operates sounding-rocket launch stations in Norway and Sweden, a meteorological program office at Toulon, in France, and satellite-tracking stations in Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

The programs carried out under the general budget and the science program budget are mandatory for all member countries. Other programs are optional, and members are free to decide on their level of scientific and financial involvement. Several of ESA's missions are carried out in collaboration with other space agencies, notably NASA, and ESA has made essential contributions to such long-term projects as the Hubble Space Telescope. The Ariane series of launch vehicles, Spacelab, Giotto, SOHO, ISO, XMM-Newton, Mars Express, and the Huygens probe to Titan (see Cassini-Huygens) are among ESA's most successful ventures into space. Arianespace, the world's first commercial space transportation company and a division of ESA, now conducts more than half of all commercial satellite launches. See also Horizon 2000.

Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006
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