Astronomy

The European Space Agency is born

The European Space Agency is born

In December 1960 some European scientists decided to form a commission to promote space research in Europe. This was the beginning of the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), an organization whose activities would be linked to the development of satellites.

Almost in the same period, some European governments wanted to start activities in the field of satellite transporters. This resulted in the birth of another organization, the European Space Vehicle Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) which had the primary purpose of developing the project of the great transporter Europe.

The two organizations became operational in early 1964. ELDO brought together the member states of the Western European Union and Australia, and other European countries such as Spain and Denmark, while neutral countries such as Switzerland and Sweden were excluded. ESRO regrouped all Western European countries with few and insignificant exceptions.

During the first years of activity (1966-68), ESRO carried out an investment program to equip laboratories, research centers, control centers, etc. Thus emerged two large technical establishments. On the one hand, the ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Center) in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, which would be responsible for the study, development and control of satellites and space vehicles built by European industry. On the other hand, the ESOC (European Space Operations Center) in Darmstadt, Germany, was responsible for controlling the operations of satellites in orbit.

In the same period, with the help of the European scientific community, ESRO developed its first scientific satellites: ESRO II (mission: cosmic rays and solar X-rays), ESRO I (ionosphere and polar auroras) and HEOS A1 ( solar wind and interplanetary space), which were launched by American transporters: the Scout and the Thor-Delta.

At the end of 1968 ESRO had 3 satellites in orbit and 22 ongoing experiments, which served as a qualification test for the organization. However, there had been difficulties. A budget cut forced ESRO to cancel the two largest scheduled missions (a large orbital astronomical observatory and a comet mission) and the TD2 satellite project.

TD1, on the other hand, becomes the first optional space project of ESRO and consists of a satellite for the study of ultraviolet rays. One solution, that of the optional participation in the projects by the member states, would later become one of the bases from which the ESA would emerge.

In the late 1970s ESRO reached a conclusion: provide evidence of technological maturity taking more care of the practical aspect than the research scientist. This created some confusion in space cooperation in Europe: some ESRO member states did not want to finance new projects.

The president of the ESRO Council, Professor Puppi, had to be called upon, who attempted a solution by achieving a compromise. Their proposals, after a thorough discussion, met in what became the global agreement of 1971, a package of proposals that was unanimously accepted.

This practice was also adopted in 1973, the year in which the global agreement launched three new projects: (Spacelab, Ariane, and Marots (a satellite for maritime communications). Also this year a fundamental decision was made for the future of space collaboration in Europe: to create a single European Space Agency (ESA).

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