The European Space Agency, known also as ‘ESA’, is an intergovernmental organization that deals with the exploration of space. Founded in 1975, it currently has 18 member states and a staff roster of over 2,000 and an annual budget of 3.9 billion Euros. Its headquarters are stationed in France.
The European Space Agency has a flight programme which includes human space flight but this is largely through the International Space Station programme. It also involves the launch of unmanned exploratory missions to the moon, other planets in our solar system and space. It also has dealings in Earth observation, scientific research, telecommunications and maintaining and running the Guiana Space center at Kourou, a major spaceport and French Guiana. To this end they also deal with the design of launch vehicles, the main one of which is named ‘Airane 5’.
While the European Space Agency has its base in Paris, aspects of these missions are stationed throughout Europe. The science missions are based in Noordwijk, Netherlands, the Earth observation missions in Frascati, Italy, training for astronauts in Cologne, Germany and the European Space Agency mission control is based in Darmstadt Germany.
Following World War 2 a lot of Western European scientists migrated to work with the US or the Soviet Union. During this time and even after the 1950s boom national European projects would not have the funding or the technology to compete with these two superpowers. Thus in 1958 Pierre Auger and Edoardo Amaldi – prominent in the European scientific community – considered the foundation of a joint Western European Space Agency. At first there were two different agencies which concerned developing a launch system (the European Launch Development Organization – ELDO) and overseeing other projects (the European Space Research Organization – ESRO and the predecessor of the European Space Agency) respectively. During this time the ESRO carried out several successful missions but all using US launch systems before Ariane.
In 1975 however the ESRO and ELDO were merged to form the European Space Agency, at the time with 10 founding members. In 1979 Ariane 1 was launched – the first European launch vehicle. In 1988 the Ariane 4 – a successor to the Ariane 1 and the director precursor to the current Ariane 5, established the European Space Agency as a major player in commercial space launches.