ESA Corporate News
ESA Corporate News
• 07 April 2021: ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher has worked with our Member States to define new priorities and goals for ESA for the coming years. 1)
Figure 1: As of 1 March 2021, ESA has a new Director General: Dr Josef Aschbacher, who has taken up duty at ESA Headquarters in Paris, France (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
- The Director General has set high ambitions for space in Europe – while ESA has a huge role to play, it also requires cooperation with the European Union, space industry and scientific community and the co-creation of a new vision for Europe in space.
- ESA Agenda 2025 outlines the challenges ahead – in the first instance for the next four years – but also for the longer term in maintaining and growing Europe’s role in the space economy. This means working with the European Union and with companies of all sizes involved in the space industry, as well as inspiring and encouraging educators, entrepreneurs and the next generation of space scientists and engineers, and all the professions needed to make great space missions. It also means developing the kind of programs and missions that ESA Member States can be proud of – new flagship missions in cooperation with European Union member states, and ESA-led missions to expand our knowledge as well as protecting Earth and its orbit.
- “Where does Europe want to be in 15 years from now?” asks the Director General. “Europe means of course the European Space Agency but also all the stakeholders in Europe – Member States, industry, the European Commission.
- “We have defined an Agenda, which for the next four years, puts ESA and puts space on track so we can be among the top space agencies in the world.”
- Read the Executive Summary, outlining five immediate priorities for ESA and a vision for the next four.
- Read the full Agenda 2025 document.
• 18 March 2021: ERS-1 satellite replica, now at the entrance of ESA/ESTEC. — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, essential testing for future space missions continues in ESTEC's laboratories and its full-sized satellite Test Centre. 2)
Figure 2: A replica of Europe's first radar satellite ERS-1 stands beside the entrance of ESA's largest establishment and technical heart: ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands (photo credit: ESA, G. Porter)
• 15 March 2021: This is ESA is an illustrated guide to what ESA is and what we do. It shows a range of our activities and missions at the cutting edge of space design and technology, from making space safer to monitoring climate change and exploring our Solar System. Available in all Member State languages, the brochure comes with an attractive space poster – both can be downloaded here. 3)
Figure 3: This is the visual component of the brochure, which takes you on a journey through ESA’s activities, showcasing how ESA is making space work for the benefit of humankind. The poster encapsulates these achievements in one dynamic image. But integrating our diverse space activities, including past, present and future missions, into one cohesive color poster was a challenge. In this interview, the poster’s designer explains how he achieved this and where he found his inspiration (image credit: ESA) 4)
- The poster represents some of ESA’s most influential space missions spanning the past 30 years, as well as some of the ambitious science and discovery programs planned for the next decade. The brief was given to designer Attilio Brancaccio, who also designed ESA’s Columbus anniversary posters and our collection of Space Safety and Security images.
- He explains that the initial approach to designing the poster was very much a collaborative process with the ESA team: “Initially we experimented with greater separation of the different areas representing the past, present and future missions, in terms of composition and layout. However, the main challenge was to create fluidity between the storylines and to get it to work in a balanced way.”
- The next approach was to create a visual timeline: “Of course, it’s not an exact timeline because there are areas where the past and present merge together. For example, the International Space Station (ISS) is shown near to Orion, which is an upcoming mission and above we have Rosetta, which is a mission that ended in 2016.”
- To create a cohesive image, diagonal lines were used to separate the different types of missions, while maintaining a fluid and dynamic feel. “If you look at the poster, you see there are five different bands – but you see it as just one design,” says Attilio. He adds that he then focused on balancing the different elements to find the best way to visually represent ESA’s story and heritage.
• 05 March 2021: Do you want to visit all ESA establishments and see what we’re doing to explore space and protect our planet? Now you can, by taking virtual tours from your own homes, thanks to the #DiscoverESA interactive experience. 5)
- #DiscoverESA gives you an opportunity to explore the full range of ESA’s activities through a set of thematic journeys: Sending Europe to the Moon, Improving Life on Earth, Building the Best Tools, Protecting our Environment, Safeguarding Space Activities and Understanding our Universe. During each journey, you will see how our various establishments work together to achieve our agency’s goals.
- #DiscoverESA provides you with a chance to visit all eight of our ESA establishments across Europe, including some unique insider views, something that would not be feasible otherwise. Many of these Establishments have not previously opened their doors to the public, making this experience all the more special.
- The #DiscoverESA platform offers a dynamic experience, with visitors choosing which journey to embark on, with the possibility of stopping, skipping or going further to learn more. Visitors can actively determine what they watch and learn, and pursue the paths that most interest them.
- Start your virtual journey here!
• 03 March 2021: Why does ESA send missions beyond our Earth? To explore unknown worlds, and better understand our place in the Universe. But that answer only gives part of the picture. The first thing people do when they first reach space is to turn back to see our homeworld. Looking down on our planet from above allows ESA with its global partners to monitor climate, disasters and environmental changes – to work together to protect our home. 6)
Figure 4: And danger comes from above as well as below: a close eye on our stormy Sun is vital to gather early warning of harmful space weather, while keeping an eye out for incoming asteroids. ESA has a responsibility to preserve the space environment into the future, by tackling the problem of orbital debris. Space connects us, powers our economies and improves all our lives, as well fostering innovation and inspiration. So ESA works to care for space, just as we do for Earth and its citizens (video credit: ESA)
• 01 March 2021: As of today, 1 March 2021, ESA has a new Director General: Dr Josef Aschbacher, who has taken up duty at ESA Headquarters in Paris, France. 7)
- The ESA Council appointed Dr Aschbacher in December 2020 as the next Director General of ESA, for a period of four years. He succeeds Prof. Jan Wörner, whose term of office ended in February 2021.
- Dr Aschbacher was previously ESA Director of Earth Observation Programs and Head of ESRIN, ESA’s centre for Earth Observation in Frascati, near Rome.
Figure 5: Photo of Josef Aschbacher (image credit: ESA)
• 10 February 2021: Our new brochure introduces ESA’s R&D department: the engineers charged with inventing the new technologies needed for Europe to push further out into space, and develop the novel services improving our lives here on Earth. 8)
- From hypersonic flight to space debris removal, lunar caving to asteroid mining, we’re working on it. When most people hear about topics like these, they think of science fiction; our engineers see puzzles to be solved.
- ESA’s Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality is one of ten Directorates making up the Agency. Our engineers know how to make otherwise impossible missions happen and keep Europe competitive in the global tech race.
Figure 6: Protective goggles. Engineer Giuditta Montesanti is pictured wearing protective goggles while preparing for a test firing of space thrusters in ESA’s Propulsion Laboratory. Lasers are used to align plasma-measuring probes within thruster plumes. Based at ESA’s technical centre ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the Propulsion Laboratory specializes in the testing of ion engines and other thrusters that operate outside Earth’s atmosphere (image credit: ESA, Guus Schoonewille)
- When the majority of new ESA missions are dreamt up, the technology that makes them possible does not exist – yet. It is our job to identify the enabling innovations required, make them real and bring them up to a sufficient state of performance and reliability so that the right technology is ready at just the right time.
- We host an impressive range of in-house expertise on space technologies, made up of specialists covering every aspect of the space environment, and work in partnership with many of Europe’s most advanced companies and research institutions.
- Our experts set the course of research and development internally, and in projects done with industry and academia, from leading aerospace firms to tiny, smart start-ups.
- This is a crucial role, not just for future ESA missions but also for the wider European space industry.
- Innovation is an essential element of competitiveness and European industry must compete to survive, winning contract after contract on the global open market. Unlike many others, Europe’s space sector receives minimal government or military subsidies and more than pays its own way. If it didn’t, most ESA missions would swiftly become unaffordable, as would ESA itself.
- Advanced missions need advanced testing. To save time and money we offer industry unique infrastructure, which would not make economic sense to develop multiple times at multiple places for separate missions. We have pooled resources to make world-beating space laboratories and satellite-scale test facilities available to all European space (and indeed non-space) companies.
- From lab experiments to industrial prototypes, from dazzling ideas to reliable instruments, it’s imagination and dedication that drives our innovation.
• 28 January 2021: While most ESA personnel work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, essential activities continue to take place on site across Agency establishments while following social distancing protocols. 9)
Figure 7: In ESA’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory – one of a suite of labs based at the ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands – testing has continued on critical elements for several missions and projects (image credit: ESA, Nuno Dias)
- For instance, the lab supported the ‘bakeout’ of the Filter Wheel Assembly for the PROBA-3 formation flying mission’s main ASPIICS instrument – which will image the Sun’s ghostly surrounding atmosphere, or ‘corona’ from one satellite while another satellite blocks out the blinding solar disk.
- The development of this payload was on the critical path, and the test had to be performed at very short notice just before Christmas. The successful bakeout took place with full personal protection measures in place, in order to host the customers arriving from abroad with the flight hardware.
- Focusing on mission external elements, thermal endurance tests are currently underway on multilayer insulation (MLI) materials and solar cell assemblies. These tests are being carried out using the XTES (eXtreme Temperature Exposure System) and XTES2 facilities – this latter facility having been procured and commissioned during the pandemic – which can reach and maintain incredibly high temperatures for long periods of time. For example, components of an MLI for the JUICE mission to Jupiter are undergoing a three-month test to address their thermal stability under mission representative conditions.
- The lab is also supporting the development of new radiation-resistant coatings, by exposing them to ultraviolet and vacuum-ultraviolet light in the Synergistic Temperature Accelerated Radiation 2 (STAR2) facility).
- All the environmental tests are aided by materials characterization and analysis with state-of-the-art equipment, such as microscopic and spectroscopic analysis, thermo-optical measurements, thermal analysis and more. So the lab’s work has not halted, despite COVID-19 restrictions, but is proceeding as smoothly as possible.
• 05 January 2021: ESA Preview 2021. 10)
Figure 8: As the world leaves annus horribilis 2020 behind it looks towards 2021 with a mixture of relief and expectations. And so it goes for the European Space Agency, ESA who’s future looks bright and very much exciting. 2021 will be a year in which Vega-C will make its maiden flight, two ESA astronauts start long-duration missions aboard the International Space Station, BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter rendezvous at Venus and ESA says goodbye to its Director General Jan Wörner as his tenure ends (video credit: ESA)
• 27 December 2020: An agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union will allow the UK to remain in the Copernicus Earth observation program after it formally exits the EU. 11)
- The UK and EU announced a broad agreement Dec. 24 governing the UK’s relationship with the EU once the country formally withdraws from the European Union, a process known as Brexit. The UK was facing a Jan. 1 deadline to complete a deal governing its relationship with the EU on issues such as trade, law enforcement and participation in EU-led programs.
- That agreement, more than 1,200 pages long, includes participation in some EU space programs. Specifically, it allows the U.K. to participate in Copernicus through the seven-year span of the EU’s latest multiannual financial framework, which starts in 2021.
- Under the deal, the UK “shall participate in the Copernicus component of the Space program and benefit from Copernicus services and products in the same way as other participating countries.” This includes the Copernicus Security Service, which uses Copernicus satellite data for border and maritime surveillance. A separate agreement between the EU and UK is required to define the UK’s use of that service.
- The deal ends uncertainty about what role, if any, the UK would have in EU space programs. Copernicus was particularly complicated because it is a joint program between the EU and European Space Agency, with both organizations contributing funding. While the UK is leaving the European Union, it remains a member state of ESA.
- “We hope that the UK can join the program in Brussels. This is the default option and this is what we hope for,” said Josef Aschbacher, director of ESA’s Earth observation programs, at a Dec. 17 press conference to announce he would be the agency’s next director general, effective in July 2021.
- The situation is different with Galileo, the EU satellite navigation program, which is not covered by the Brexit deal. Those programs are “100% financed” by the EU, with ESA as the implementing agency, noted Jan Wörner, current ESA director general, at the Dec. 17 briefing.
- Copernicus, by contrast, features “mixed participation” with ESA funding development of initial satellites in the Sentinel series and the EU paying for later satellites. “There we have some issues, especially also with industrial participation,” he said.
- A third EU space program, albeit much smaller than Galileo and Copernicus, is the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking program for space situational awareness. The UK government and private satellite operators based there will continue to have access to those services under the deal.
• 17 December 2020: Today, the ESA Council appointed Dr Josef Aschbacher as the next Director General of ESA, for a period of four years. He will succeed Prof. Jan Wörner, whose term of office ends on 30 June 2021. 12)
- Dr Aschbacher is currently ESA Director of Earth Observation Programs and Head of ESRIN, ESA’s center for Earth Observation near Rome.
- Born in Austria, Dr Aschbacher studied at the University of Innsbruck, where he obtained Masters and PhD degrees in Natural Sciences. He has over three decades of experience working in international organizations, including ESA, the European Commission, the Austrian Space Agency and Asian Institute of Technology.
Figure 9: Photo of Josef Aschbacher (image credit: ESA)
• 15 December 2020: Despite the challenges of 2020, ESA maintained its momentum on key missions and saw the launches of Solar Orbiter, Vega’s 16th flight and Sentinel-6, which are all covered in this full-color publication. It was a good year for amazing space pictures, with unprecedented images of the Sun, selfies taken by BepiColombo as it swung by Earth and then Venus, as well as incredible images of deep space from Hubble, which marked its 30th anniversary. Highlights 2020 also includes in-depth articles on the evolution of Vega launchers, ESA’s telecoms Partnership Projects and our future space weather missions. ESA Highlights 2020. 13)
• 18 November 2020: ESA’s Hertz radio frequency test chamber will be playing a supporting role in a forthcoming production at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. 14)
- The cavernous foam-lined space – located in ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands – was filmed by a team from filming company WE ARE WILL, along with a neighboring clean room, to serve as a futuristic backdrop to the events on stage.
- In next year’s Upload, a father and daughter travel to a very special clinic. The parent wants to give up his physical body and have his mind uploaded into a digital version of himself, to try and escape past trauma and achieve immortality. But why did he make this choice, and how will this change his relationship with his daughter?
- “The show is a hybrid of styles, set well into the future,” explains Michel Van der Aa, composer and director of the opera.
- ‘Hertz is an amazing, very theatrical looking space – which doubles in our production as the clinic’s scanning chamber. Then, for our climax, final stage of the uploading takes place in the other chamber we filmed at ESTEC, a clean room for satellite storage inside the Test Centre.”
Figure 10: Upload receives its premiere in Amsterdam on 20 March 2021 (photo credit: ESA-SJM Photography)
• 13 November 2020: Today, ESA signed contracts with Thales Alenia Space in France and in Italy, and Airbus in Spain to build three of the new high-priority Copernicus satellite missions: CHIME, CIMR and LSTM, respectively. Each mission is set to help address different major environmental challenges such as sustainable agriculture management, food security, the monitoring of polar ice supporting the EU Integrated Policy for the Arctic, and all will be used to understand climate change. 15)
- There are six Copernicus high-priority Sentinel Expansion missions planned to complement the current capabilities of the Sentinels and address EU policy priorities and gaps in Copernicus user needs.
- The development and operations of these Sentinel Expansion missions will be co-financed between the European Commission and ESA, subject to budget availability. These new industrial contacts kick off the key design phases for the missions, with the continuation to be confirmed in 2021.
- ESA has recently signed contracts for the development of two of the other six missions: the Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission and the Copernicus Polar Ice and Snow Topography Altimeter mission.
- These three new contracts also come at a time when industry and business are suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs, Josef Aschbacher, said, “We are thrilled to sign these contracts with industry today. Not only because once built, each mission will address real environmental challenges and further Europe’s flagship Copernicus program, but also because we need to help keep our industrial partners in good shape during COVID-19, which has brought untold damage to the economy and employment security.
- “Despite the issues surrounding COVID-19, it is critical that we continue forging new space technologies, and continue developing, building and launching satellites that lead to new knowledge and services that ultimately benefit all humankind.”
- With a contract worth €455 million, Thales Alenia Space France will lead the development of the CHIME (Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission for the Environment). The contract was signed in the presence of Bruno Le Maire, French Minister of the Economy and Finance. The mission will carry a unique visible to shortwave infrared spectrometer.
- It will provide routine hyperspectral observations to support new and enhanced services for sustainable agricultural and biodiversity management, as well to characterize soil properties, which is key to vegetation health. The mission will complement Copernicus Sentinel-2 for applications such as land-cover mapping.
- ESA signed the contract for the development of the CIMR (Copernicus Imaging Microwave Radiometer), mission with Thales Alenia Space Italy in the presence of the Under Secretary of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Riccardo Fraccaro. The contract is worth €495 million.
- Carrying a novel ‘conically-scanning’ multi-frequency microwave radiometer, the mission will measure sea-surface temperature, sea-ice concentration and sea-surface salinity. It will also observe a wide range of other sea-ice parameters such as sea-ice thickness and sea-ice drift. CIMR is being developed in response to high-priority requirements from key Arctic user communities and will support the EU Integrated Policy for the Arctic.
- The contract, worth €380 million,for the Copernicus LSTM (Land Surface Temperature Monitoring) mission, was signed with Airbus Spain in the presence of Pedro Duque, Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation.
- It marks the first time that Spain will lead the development of a Copernicus Sentinel mission. LSTM will carry a high spatial-temporal thermal-infrared sensor to deliver observations of land-surface temperature. Satellite data analysis for mapping, monitoring and forecasting Earth's natural resources helps to understand what, when and where changes are taking place. In particular, this mission will respond to the needs of European farmers to make agricultural production more sustainable as water shortages increase and changes in the environment take place.
- While these contracts are for the development of these three new exciting missions, full implementation relies on further agreements. This includes an agreement between ESA and the European Commission, including a joint positive decision by the Commission and ESA and their Member States to go from Phase B2 to Phase C/D for the prototype missions and to procure the recurrent satellite units. This decision point is planned in the second half of 2021.
- The European Copernicus flagship program provides Earth observation and in situ data, as well as a broad range of services for environmental monitoring and protection, climate monitoring and natural disaster assessment to improve the quality of life of European citizens.
- Copernicus is the biggest provider of Earth observation data in the world – and while the EU is at the helm of this environmental monitoring program, ESA develops, builds and launches the dedicated satellites. It also operates some of the missions and ensures the availability of data from third party missions.
- The European Commission’s Head of Unit for Earth Observation, Mauro Facchini, said, “Built on cooperation between the European Commission and ESA, Copernicus has been an outstanding success not only for Europe, but also for the rest of the world. Key environmental data and derived products are freely available for services and data users to improve the daily lives of all citizens. We are extremely pleased that these contracts are an important step towards the expansion of the suite of satellites delivering critical information, furthering the Copernicus program as a whole.”
• 04 November 2020: Hungary celebrates its fifth anniversary in ESA after becoming ESA’s 22nd and most recent Member State on 4 November 2015. 16)
- Hungary was the first central European State to sign a Cooperation Agreement with ESA in 1991. But by the time this cooperation began, Hungary could already look back on an extended tradition in space activities. With its participation in the Interkosmos program, Hungary sent the first Hungarian cosmonaut, Bertalan Farkas, into space on 26 May 1980.
Figure 11: Flag of Hungary (image credit: ESA)
- Hungary also became the first European Cooperating State with the signing of the ECS (European Cooperating State) Agreement on 7 April 2003. This was followed shortly after by the signing of the PECS Agreement (Plan for European Cooperating States) on 5 November 2003, which was extended until Hungary’s accession to the ESA Convention. The signing ceremony took place at the Palace of Arts in Budapest on 24 February 2015 and the ratification instrument was deposited with the Government of France on 4 November 2015.
- Today, Hungary is an active and successful member of the ESA family. This was shown at the Space19+ conference, where the Hungarian contributions to ESA optional programs made a significant leap forward in strongly focusing on Human Spaceflight, Space Safety, Earth Observation and Telecommunications. Compared to the 2016 Ministerial Council with a contribution of €16.1 million, Hungary’s participation rose to €97 million at Space19+ (Figure 43).
- Most recently, the first Hungarian Industry Days were organized in Budapest in October 2020. These were a big success, with 118 participants and great opportunities for Hungarian organizations to deepen their knowledge on ESA technology and application programs, and to also develop their network with the large European space companies.
- Aside from industrial involvement, Hungary has also taken part in several ESA educational activities, including ESA radar courses, student parabolic flight campaigns and the European Student Moon Orbiter project. Hungary’s first satellite, MaSat-1, a CubeSat-type satellite, developed and built by students at the Technical University of Budapest, was launched on the Vega rocket maiden flight in 2012.
- Since becoming ESA’s 22nd Member State in 2015, Hungary has proved to be an active and reliable member of ESA and the European space community with its involvement in more than 60 ESA projects, and an additional 114 contracts awarded during the preceding 12-year period of the PECS Agreement.
• 27 October 2020: Space technologies and satellite applications are poised to power green economic development in Europe in the coming years, creating jobs and boosting prosperity. 17)
- ESA has several green initiatives to foster economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic while promoting clean living and digital transformation. They seek to use disruptive technologies to transform urban green areas, improve air quality and offer space-based services for marine energy.
Figure 12: Space technologies and satellite applications are poised to power green economic development in Europe in the coming years, creating jobs and boosting prosperity (image credit: ESA)
- The agency is also planning to use space and 5G technologies to enable intelligent transport services. In smart cities, circularity can be enhanced by using space technologies to support public transport shifts towards zero carbon emissions and the dynamic mapping system of roads and traffic signals.
- “I strongly believe that remote sensing and further smart technologies will help humanity to fix the live-threatening impacts from climate heating and biodiversity loss,” says Alfred Schumm, Director of Innovation, Science and Technologies at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Germany.
- “Time is running out and actions are a must. Soon we will be able to monitor indicators for a sustainable economy, so that society will be able to take informed decisions for the benefit of nature and people.”
- Following the pandemic-induced economic crash, the European Commission proposed a major recovery plan that incorporates an earlier initiative called the Green Deal, which aims to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050, alongside an effort for digitization transformation.
- In response, ESA is inviting companies to start work on initiatives that will ignite the European economy while promoting green development and supporting the shift to digital services. It is offering financial and business support to entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses to bring their ideas to market.
- The initiatives cover areas ranging from energy efficiency to responsible agri-tech, from smart buildings and the management of urban green spaces, to transportation and restoring biodiversity.
- ESA is working with the Mirpuri Foundation, which supports sustainable development. “At the Mirpuri Foundation, we believe in the power of innovation and technology, working towards a more sustainable future. As partner of ESA, we can only praise its green initiatives and hope that they will ultimately generate a positive impact on the planet,” says Ana Agostinho, its Head of Public Relations.
- For example, satellites applications can be used to help plan, monitor, predict and improve renewable energy production, especially when complemented by artificial intelligence, the internet of things and remotely piloted aircraft systems.
- Green construction can make use of space-based data and internet-of-things sensors to locate new buildings in ecologically safe zones, conserve energy, reduce the heat island effect and support green renovations.
- Digital technologies, satellite navigation and satellite communication can improve smart mobility and logistics services, and help develop versatile transport plans improving air quality and energy efficiency.
- Finally the “Farm to Fork” program, enabled by satellite navigation, can enhance supply chains and reveal the origins of food to consumers. Satellite applications can improve responsible food production, prevent waste and food loss, and aid sustainable food processing and distribution.
- Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer at the Enel energy group, says: “Partnering with ESA gives Enel the opportunity to further boost the energy transition, by unlocking the tremendous value that can be generated through the application of space technologies in the energy sector.
- “We are committed to addressing what we call ‘global innovability challenges’. We will keep on striving for our planet, that’s why we want our network of partners to be composed of innovative, sustainable and open-minded members.”
- Rita Rinaldo, Head of the Partner-led and Thematic Initiatives in ESA’s Downstream Business Applications Department, said: “Over the past decade, ESA has initiated about 90 activities that relate to the EU’s Green Deal objectives. This represents an investment by National Delegations of more than €40 million, which doubles if industry’s contribution is considered.
- “ESA is well placed to use space to promote green growth in Europe and beyond, thanks to the extended network of partners that we have established, from Municipalities, to corporate networks, industrial associations and foundations active in the green economy. Entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises can access financial and business support to bring their ideas to market. We look forward to working with our partners, industry and other stakeholders to revitalize the European economy.”
• 21 October 2020: As space missions have become more complex, the teamwork needed on the ground has also become more sophisticated and challenging. Through almost four decades at the forefront of Europe’s voyages in space, Paolo Ferri went from Operations Engineer on the Eureca mission to Operations Manager of the four-spacecraft Cluster mission and then the Rosetta mission, followed by serving as Flight Director on Rosetta, Venus Express and GOCE. His career has been capped off by eight years as Head of Mission Operations for the Agency, overseeing all of ESA’s robotic mission operations. 18)
Figure 13: In five episodes of ‘Leadership at Mission Control’, Paolo takes us through major events in his career at ESA, covering cornerstone missions, first attempts, overcoming technical challenges, building diverse teams, working under pressure and solving the unexpected problems that are part of any space endeavor (video credit: ESA)
- In his third masterclass, Paolo shares what he has learnt going from an engineering expert with complete and specific knowledge of a single mission, to being responsible at a senior manager level for the success of dozens of missions operated by international teams each as diverse, unique and complex as the spacecraft they fly.
- With 36 years’ of experience at ESA, Paolo Ferri is responsible for mission operations, and he has played a leading role in ensuring the success of missions like Eureca, ESA’s first-ever reusable satellite; Cluster, one of the longest-flying science missions; Venus Express, Europe’s first exploration of Earth’s ‘evil twin’; and Rosetta, humanity’s first landing on a comet.
• 20 October 2020: A Madonna and Child painting with a history almost as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa’s smile has been identified as an authentic Raphael canvas by the Czech company InsightART, which used a robotic X-ray scanner to investigate the artwork. 19)
- The 500-year-old painting had long been attributed to Raphael, a contemporary of Leonardo Di Vinci and Michelangelo, but doubts about its authenticity occurred during its recent history.
- The Madonna and Child painting’s turbulent backstory encompasses some of Europe’s great historical figures, as well as violent fights and lucrative art deals. Commissioned by Pope Leo X, it has hung in the Vatican as well as passing through the hands of the French royal family and Napoleon. However at the end of the 19th century, the painting disappeared from the general consciousness. It is now part of a private collection.
- InsightART’s robotic X-ray scanner had earlier been used to identify a previously unknown painting by Vincent van Gogh. The machine uses a particle detector developed at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, that was repurposed for space exploration and manufactured by the Czech company ADVACAM.
Figure 14: That Raphael was in fact the creator of the masterpiece has been confirmed by expert studies from around the world as well as an international advisory board. This has now been further supported by InsightART, a start-up company based in the Czech Invest-operated ESA business incubation centre in Prague, which uses cosmic detector technology to examine artworks(image credit: Jiri Lautenkratz, InsightART)
- “This technology – which is also used to measure radiation at the International Space Station – is capable of detecting and counting single photons, as well as establishing their exact wavelength,” says Josef Uher, chief technical officer of InsightART.
Figure 15: Spectral X-ray images of the Madonna and Child painting (image credit: Jiri Lautenkratz, InsightART)
- “While the standard X-ray machine only creates a black and white image, the RToo scanner provides ‘color’ – or spectral – X-ray images, which allow the materials to stand out on the basis of their elemental composition,” he says.
- The artwork was scanned in great detail – from the foundation layers to the final glazes, revealing the internal structure of Raphael’s painting in detail.
- “During this process it became clear that the work was executed layer by layer by Raphael, without the aid of his workshop assistants and apprentices,” says Jiří Lauterkranc, an art restorer and co-founder of InsightART.
- The company received business advice and financial support from the ESA business incubation centre in Prague.
- “We are used to different kinds of technological applications which make use of satellite data, navigation systems, airplanes or satellites. However, the combination of space technology and art is very unconventional – this is the only project,” says Michal Kuneš, project manager of the ESA business incubation centre.
- The centre is part of ESA Space Solutions, which is the go-to place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Its mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of businesses using satellite applications and space technology.
Figure 16: Madonna and Child optical and X-ray images (image credit: Jiri Lautenkratz, InsightART)
• 18 September 2020: Europe’s space community came together through two days of virtual presentations and business-to-business meetings during ESA’s online Industry Space Days on 16–17 September. 20)
Figure 17: ESA’s Industry Space Days on 16–17 September 2020 brought Europe’s space community together through two days of virtual presentations, round table discussions and thousands of prescheduled business-to-business meetings (image credit: ESA)
- A record 1900 participants registered for the event. Companies, including hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises, from ESA Member States, Cooperating States and Associate States networked via an online platform in thousands of prescheduled meetings over both days.
- The Industry Space Days (ISD), organized by ESA's SME Office (Small & Medium-sized Enterprises), normally take place at ESA’s Technical Centre in Noordwijk in the Netherlands. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ESA moved it online for the first time since its inception in 1999.
- “Holding this event online has not deterred the enthusiasm and drive of our space-based community,” commented Eric Morel de Westgaver, ESA Director of Industry, Procurement and Legal Services.
- “Establishing business partnerships and working together to strengthen Europe’s space economy through common goals, is at the core of this event.”
- ESA’s Director General, Jan Wörner opened ISD 2020 followed by presentations on business opportunities on ESA’s wide variety of space programs and activities. Industry leaders and associations also contributed in round-table discussions and presentations. Listeners could send in questions, which were answered by presenters.
- The second day included additional ESA presentations and a one-hour workshop on additive and advanced manufacturing given by ESA’s directorate of Technology and Engineering.
- Participants in the EIB Advisory Space Finance Lab discussed how the COVID-19 crisis has affected the space industry and what could be done to improve the conditions for European space companies.
- ESA hopes to host its next Industry Space Days on site at its European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands on 8–9 September 2021.
• 11 September 2020: This year’s ESA Open Day at ESTEC in the Netherlands is taking place on an online basis. Continuing COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to let people on site in person, but participants will still enjoy virtual tours of the extensive establishment, get unique close-up views of space hardware and interact directly with astronauts and space experts. 21)
- This will be the ninth annual ESA Open Day at ESTEC, taking place on Sunday 4 October, and will be open to participants from across Europe and the world.
- The Open Day has become an annual highlight, and we regret not being able to welcome people into ESTEC this year,” comments Franco Ongaro, head of ESTEC and ESA’s Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality.
- “Instead we will use technology to make people feel like they are right with us on site. We have adapted to the situation as best we can, and our work has resumed its usual pace, so we have lots of exciting activities to share with the wider public.”
- Participants will sign in to a virtual auditorium, then be free to choose which ‘rooms’ they attend. Many of the most popular highlights of previous years will be on offer, including space careers talks from ESA Human Resources, details of ESA Education’s work with school and university students and Space Rocks and Space Story Tellers giving new perspectives on space and society.
- The Netherlands Space Office will present the work done by Dutch companies and researchers in the space sector. Participants can also go on a virtual backstage tour of the ESTEC Test Centre, which is specially equipped to check space missions are ready to fly into orbit. Guest astronauts will give talks and field questions – full details of the guest list will come later this month.
- The ESA Open Day at ESTEC 2020 will have the theme of ‘ESA and the Environment’. Space professionals knows the importance of sustainability: the finite resources of a space mission must be managed carefully to keep it running. The same is true down here on spaceship Earth.
- The virtual Open Day will focus on the many ways space is safeguarding the environment, through satellite-based Earth observation for environmental monitoring, as well as recycling technologies developed for astronauts in space habitats then applied to daily life.
- The efforts made to operate ESTEC and other ESA establishments in an environmentally friendly manner will also be highlighted – because we all live on the same blue planet.
- There will be an official registration for the online element of the Open Day, with a single ticket per household. More details will follow soon.
Figure 18: Photo of ESA’s ESTEC technical centre (image credit: ESA, SJM Photography)
- On the left of the image can be seen ESTEC’s Test Centre for full-scale testing of satellites, equipped with a suite of simulation facilities to reproduce every aspect of the space environment.
- In the centre is the main building, home to ESA laboratories and mission teams, distinguished by an almost 200-m long main corridor. To the right of the main building is the restaurant and tower complex built by renowned Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck in the late 1980s.
- On the other side of the car park is the two-tone square-shaped Erasmus building, focused on human spaceflight, and to its right is the T building, home to ESA’s Galileo team.
- This photo was taken during a weekend flight by ESA biomedical engineer Arnaud Runge.
- Come see ESTEC for yourself during the annual ESA Open Day on Sunday, 7 October 2020.
• September 2020: The view from the top of ESTEC, ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. 22)
- ESTEC is ESA’s largest establishment, the technical heart of the Agency. The site is devoted to program management, technology development and satellite testing. This year’s ninth ESA Open Day at ESTEC is taking place on Sunday 4 October on an online basis. To participate you need to register.
Figure 19: This picture east from ESTEC’s laboratory block towards the main entrance, with the flags of the ESA’s Member States seen flying to the right of center. To the left is the T-building, home of ESA’s Navigation Directorate. The set of rooftop antennas belong to ESTEC’s Telecom Laboratory (image credit: ESA, G. Porter)
• 01 September 2020: Estonia has a long tradition of space research, characterized by the Tartu Observatory, which was once one of the largest telescopes in the world and today is Estonia’s main research centre for astronomy and atmospheric physics. 23)
Figure 20: Estonia celebrates its fifth anniversary in ESA after becoming ESA’s 21st Member State on 1 September 2015 (image credit: ESA)
Since 2010, Estonia has been strongly involved in more than 50 ESA-related projects and has developed capabilities in the downstream sector, particularly in the area of Earth observation and PNT applications. In 2013, Estonia joined the group of spacefaring nations with the launch of its first indigenous small satellite, ESTCube-1, with the purpose of testing an electric solar-wind sail.
As the first Baltic state, Estonia’s cooperation with ESA started with the signature of a Cooperation Agreement on 20 June 2007 in Tallinn and was strengthened through the European Cooperating State Agreement signed on 10 November 2009.
Estonia took a further step in its relations with ESA by signing the Accession Agreement to the ESA Convention on 4 February 2015. The signing ceremony took place at the ESA Headquarters in Paris with the participation of, among others, then ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications responsible for Foreign Trade and Entrepreneurship Anne Sulling, Member of Parliament and Head of Estonian Space Committee Ene Ergma and the Estonian Ambassador in France Sven Jürgenson.
Following the signing, the process of ratification by the Estonian government began and was concluded on 1 September 2015, when Estonia deposited its instrument of ratification of the ESA Convention in Paris, to become officially ESA’s 21st Member State.
Ever since, Estonia has successfully proved to be an active, present and reliable part of ESA and the European space community.
• 23 June 2020: This is ESA — an illustrated guide to what ESA is and what we do. It shows a range of our activities and missions at the cutting edge of space design and technology, from making space safer to monitoring climate change and exploring our Solar System. 24) 25)
The brochure comes with an attractive space poster —both of the newest brochures (Czech and Polish) can be downloaded here.
Figure 21: This is ESA's behind the scenes poster — a visual component of the brochure, which takes you on a journey through ESA’s activities, showcasing how ESA is making space work for the benefit of humankind. The poster encapsulates these achievements in one dynamic image. But integrating our diverse space activities, including past, present and future missions, into one cohesive color poster was a challenge. In this interview, the poster’s designer explains how he achieved this and where he found his inspiration (image credit: ESA, Attilio Brancaccio)
The poster represents some of ESA’s most influential space missions spanning the past 30 years, as well as some of the ambitious science and discovery programs planned for the next decade. The brief was given to designer Attilio Brancaccio, who also designed ESA’s Columbus anniversary posters and our collection of Space Safety and Security images.
He explains that the initial approach to designing the poster was very much a collaborative process with the ESA team: “Initially we experimented with greater separation of the different areas representing the past, present and future missions, in terms of composition and layout. However, the main challenge was to create fluidity between the storylines and to get it to work in a balanced way.”
The next approach was to create a visual timeline: “Of course, it’s not an exact timeline because there are areas where the past and present merge together. For example, the International Space Station (ISS) is shown near to Orion, which is an upcoming mission and above we have Rosetta, which is a mission that ended in 2016.”
Figure 22: To create a cohesive image, diagonal lines were used to separate the different types of missions, while maintaining a fluid and dynamic feel. “If you look at the poster, you see there are five different bands – but you see it as just one design,” says Attilio. He adds that he then focused on balancing the different elements to find the best way to visually represent ESA’s story and heritage (image credit: ESA, Attilio Brancaccio)
On the left-hand side of the poster, three figures represent an astronaut, a scientist and an engineer, who gaze out across space. The female astronaut, who wears a patch containing the flags of ESA’s 22 member states, looks upwards towards the ringed planet Saturn, where the Cassini-Huygens mission is orbiting. The light from her EVA spacesuit shines on the spacewalker in the next section of the poster, who is attached to the ISS, flying 400 km above the green and blue shapes of planet Earth.
Just above the ISS, the Orion spacecraft can be seen on a future journey to the Moon. Rosetta and the icy grey comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko are seen in the upper central area of the poster. And in the next panel, we see the Ariane and Vega family of launchers, together with Space Rider, zoom up towards the top-right corner.
To the right of the rockets, a scene shows a futuristic Moon village, complete with the artist’s impression of a moon lander. This was inspired by the Prospect mission, a partnership between ESA and Roscosmos. In the same scene, BepiColombo can be seen on its journey to Mercury.
In the lower right corner, Rosalind the ExoMars Rover explores an imagined Martian city on the Red Planet, while the Mars Sample Return mission can be seen in the background heading back to Earth on board the Mars Ascent Vehicle.
So what was the designer’s technique and inspiration for creating this image? After researching images of the ESA missions and with input from the ESA editor and designers, Attilio then sketched different ideas and compositions. One of the challenges was to depict the past missions in a realistic way, while some artistic licence was needed to imagine the future programs. For example, the images of the Rosetta spacecraft and BepiColombo had to reflect the actual missions, while the Moon village and the futuristic Martian city required some creative thinking.
The final image is the result of experimentation with layout and color, both on paper and using digital design tools. The designer explains: “This process enabled me to find a balanced placement for the different images. Once we had agreed on the style of the illustration and the composition, then I started to create the final design with professional illustration software.”
One of the key factors in creating a poster that really encapsulates the spirit of ESA was to find the perfect match between theme and style. Posters from the golden age of space and Moon discovery were a strong influence. Attilio was then able to add a 21st century feel using a fresh, modern color palette. He says: “I found myself inspired by the style of the 1960s and 70s era of US and Russian space missions. During those years there were amazing designs about space using the visual element to create the dream of future space exploration.” More than half a century later, ESA is more focused than ever on making this dream a reality.
Figure 23: The designer's hand-drawn sketches show the creative development behind the poster (credit: Attilio Brancaccio)
• 30 May 2020: After celebrating the 50th anniversary of the European space cooperation in 2014, we now mark 45 years since the signing of the Convention for the creation of a single European Space Agency on 30 May 1975. 26)
- The idea of building an independent space capability in Europe dated back to the early 1960s when six European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) formed the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) to develop a heavy launcher, later called ‘Europa’.
- Those same countries, plus Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, established the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) soon after, to undertake mainly scientific satellite programs. Signed in 1962, their Conventions entered into force in 1964.
- In 1975, a convention was drafted at diplomatic and ministerial level to set up one ‘European space agency’, and broadening the scope of the agency’s remit to include operational space applications systems, such as telecommunications satellites.
- ESRO and ELDO operations ended, the activities of the former being continued under the name of ESA and taken as the core of the new organisation, while the latter, which had already terminated its programs, was dissolved.
- On 15 April 1975, at the last European Space Conference in Brussels, European ministers adopted the final version of the ESA Convention. This document was opened for signature until 31 December 1975.
- It was signed by the representatives of ESRO and ELDO at the European Space Conference in Paris on 30 May 1975, and Ireland signed in December the same year. The ESA Convention entered into force on 30 October 1980, with the deposit of the last instrument of ratification by France.
Figure 24: Signing of the ESA Convention on 30 May 1975 at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Paris, Mr Michel d’Ornano, French minister, signing the ESA Convention. From left, Danish ambassador Mr Paul Fischer, Spanish ambassador, Mr Miguel Maria de Lojendio e Irure, Mr d’Ornano, and Irish ambassador, Hugh McCann. Behind, Secretary of the European Space Conference, Mr Michel Bourély (image credit: ESA)
- Since then, the original members have been joined by Austria and Norway (1986), Finland (1995), Portugal (2000), Greece and Luxembourg (2005), the Czech Republic (2008), Romania (2011) and Poland (2012). The latest to join are Estonia and Hungary, which signed accession agreements in February 2015, to become the 21st and 22nd ESA Member States, respectively.
- Seven other EU states are European Cooperating States or have Cooperation Agreements with ESA: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia. Slovenia is now an Associate Member. Canada also participates in some programs under long-standing Cooperation Agreements, the first of which was signed in 1979.
- Many successes have been achieved in all areas of space activities since the creation of ESA, all successes of European space industry, laboratories and research centers.
- Over the past 45 years, for example, Europe has marked a series of firsts in the exploration of our Universe: from an encounter with Comet Halley in 1986 (Giotto), parachuting a probe on to Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005 (Huygens) and landing on a comet in 2014 (Rosetta/Philae), to studying our Sun in unprecedented detail (SOHO) and producing the most detailed map ever created of the Cosmic Microwave Background – the relic radiation from the Big Bang (Planck), to name a few.
- ESA has also developed a range of launchers (Ariane and Vega), using a European launch site in French Guiana (Europe’s Spaceport, CSG). To have access to space is the first enabling element in the utilization of space and the many benefits this brings.
- ESA has developed one of the most complex Earth observation satellites (Envisat), is managing the space component of Copernicus, the most ambitious Earth observation operational program to date, and has made many more breakthroughs and innovations in technology, navigation (Galileo) and satellite communications.
- European astronauts have been taking part in human spaceflight missions for over three decades, and ESA is a fully-fledged partner in developing and operating the International Space Station (having provided the Columbus lab module and five ATV supply vehicles, among other elements, for example). Today, ESA is developing the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, and is ensuring that Europe plays a key role in the future international exploration of space, including missions to the Moon and beyond.
- Over time, stakeholder interests and partnership expectations change. Geopolitical and space-related environments become increasingly interwoven. In the 1970s, ESRO and ELDO were transformed into ESA in response to different needs of the space arena of those days. ESA has carried forward this readiness and ability to respond to change by applying its ‘normative’ framework to new situations and in new ways.
- This framework has not lost its ability to adapt, putting us in the best position to serve the space community: enhancing the benefits delivered by space systems to more Member States and their citizens. ESA’s Convention was visionary enough to allow such evolution.
Figure 25: An ESA astronaut patch with 22 Member State flags floats in the Cupola during Thomas Pesquet's Proxima mission on the International Space Station in 2017 (image credit: ESA/NASA)
• 27 May 2020: With most European states in lockdown because of COVID-19, ESA has continued to operate its space missions. Scientific, exploration, Earth observation, climate and technology testbed satellites are continuing to produce data and provide vital services. 27)
- Since early March, the majority of the workforce at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, have been working from home. But despite the constraints this involves, mission controllers have overseen complex maneuvers and procedures. These have included testing a laser space communications system, space debris avoidance maneuvers, a dramatic Earth flyby and even recovering a spacecraft after it experienced a major power failure.
Figure 26: This video includes Skype interviews with mission controllers in their home offices, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs and smartphone footage shot in the empty corridors of ESOC (video credit: ESA)
• 19 May 2020: With the Covid-19 pandemic halting our daily lives and forcing many countries and region into lockdown, the economic effects have been devastating. Closed borders have caused traffic jams and disrupted supply chains. 28)
Figure 27: In Europe, for example, the agriculture industry has suffered. Normally the industry relies on migrant labor to harvest crops, but as the lockdown continues, crops remain unpicked – putting farmers and the food supply under pressure. How can the food supply chain more sustainable? This video includes an interview with Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs (video credit: ESA)
• 28 April 2020: The Dutch royal family has formally honored the head of ESA’s largest site for his work forging links between ESA and the Netherlands, and helping make space a strong economic cluster within the nation. 29)
Figure 28: ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality Franco Ongaro also serves as Head of Establishment of ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands (image credit: ESA, G. Porter)
- ESA’s Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality Franco Ongaro, the Head of Establishment of ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESTEC, based in Noordwijk, has been appointed an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.
- This chivalric honor is awarded to individuals who make a special contribution to the country.
- On hearing the news, Director Ongaro said: “You can imagine my total surprise when the Mayor of Noordwijk Wendy Verkleij gave me the news about the Order of Orange-Nassau! I am delighted, happy and extremely proud because I see this as a reward for all in ESTEC and what we bring to the Netherlands.”
- ESA’s Director General Jan Wörner added his congratulations: “The order is open for people who have earned special merits for society. I congratulate Franco for this really high award from the Netherlands, paying tribute to Franco’s engagement for ESA’s establishment ESTEC, ESA’s largest site, which accommodates many programs and facilities.
- “Franco has been able to master several issues and develop the site to be much more than just a place for work, it is a place for interaction of ESA people internally but with the local community and the country at large. ESTEC is regularly hosting big conferences and attracts visitors from various countries.”
- ESTEC is ESA’s single largest site with around 2,700 employees, and the technical heart of the Agency. It hosts the teams managing most ESA space projects, and operates a full-scale test center for spacecraft, along with a suite of laboratories specialized in all aspects of space engineering.
- The site also supports the wider European space sector, working closely with universities, research institutes and companies, as well as national space agencies and partner organizations worldwide.
- During his tenure as Head of ESTEC, Director Ongaro has instituted annual Open Days to invite local people and the wider European public to see the innovative work performed there, with more than 8,000 visitors each year.
- He has also worked closely with local, regional and national authorities on the planned establishment of the Space Campus Noordwijk adjacent to ESTEC, and the addition of a new international meeting center on the site. Director Ongaro also serves on the Advisory Council of the Department of Aerospace Engineering of Delft University of Technology.
- Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, Director Ongaro will be presented with the Royal Declaration in person at a later date.
Figure 29: ESA research fellow Alexandre Meurisse and Beth Lomax of the University of Glasgow producing oxygen and metal out of simulated moondust inside ESA's Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory (image credit: ESA, A. Conigili)
• 28 April 2020: As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks vast changes on people’s daily lives, ESA is examining how space can help improve life on Earth both during and after the outbreak. 30)
- Experts in economics, geopolitics, psychology, medicine, data science and digital services will contribute to a series of online seminars organized by the agency and led by its Director General, Jan Wörner.
- The interactive sessions aim to leverage collective intelligence and expertise to build a better world.
- Life has changed profoundly since the arrival of the coronavirus. Many shops and restaurants have closed as people stay at home, and millions of people have lost their jobs. Schools have struggled to rapidly shift teaching online.
- Demand for delivery services is booming, but public transport has plummeted. Environmental pollution has fallen significantly, as industry and transport emissions reduce.
- Donatella Ponziani, Downstream Gateway Officer at ESA, said: “ESA is leading actions to leverage space to support the management of the crisis and contribute to the resilience needed in possible post-crisis scenarios. The world may experience an acceleration in technological developments such as digitalization, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, and the prioritization of axes of research such as healthcare and biotechnology.
- “Access to health, ubiquitous communication and remote access to education are no longer problems just for isolated areas; new business models and solutions are also needed for big cities.
- “Last but not least, the impact of the measures taken to contain the spread of the pandemic gives an outstanding demonstration of how slowing down society can have a tangible impact on the environment, as reported by the Earth observation data.”
Figure 30: NO2 concentrations over Europe. These images, using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, show the average nitrogen dioxide concentrations from 13 March to 13 April 2020, compared to the March-April averaged concentrations from 2019. The percentage decrease is derived over selected cities in Europe and has an uncertainty of around 15% owing to weather differences between 2019 and 2020 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/ESA)
- Five one-hour webinars have been scheduled so far, each featuring a range of invited guests. “Climate care: remote life, better life?” will take place on 4 May at 17:00 CEST. It will be followed by “Healthcare” at the same time on 20 May, “Post-millennials education and social life” at the same time on 3 June, “Working efficiently, working remotely” at 15:30 CEST on 9 June and “COVID-19: Reinvent your business model” at 17:00 CEST on 15 June.
• 16 April 2020: A start-up company that has repurposed upcycled solar cells to generate ultraviolet light to disinfect people’s hands has won €20 000 in a hackathon designed to share and rapidly develop ideas to combat the coronavirus pandemic. 31)
- More than 12,000 people from over 100 countries took part in the Global Hack, organized by Estonian-based Garage48 and sponsored by ESA’s business incubation center in Estonia. Entrants were kept motivated by a recorded message from ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. - The winners were announced on 12 April.
- A start-up company that has repurposed upcycled solar cells to generate ultraviolet light to disinfect people’s hands has won €20,000 in a hackathon designed to share and rapidly develop ideas to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Figure 31: The disinfection station uses light at wavelengths demonstrated to kill germs but to be safe for skin and eye contact. It was presented by SunCrafter, a German start-up business that uses modules decommissioned by industrial solar farms to provide power to remote communities (image credit: SunCrafter)
- Lisa Wendzich, founder and chief executive, said that the company – which is based on the Siemens innovation campus in Berlin – was now working with partners to identify how to manufacture significant numbers of the units in the coming weeks and months.
- “This technology could be used in field hospitals, refugee camps and urban slums in countries with poor energy supplies, as well as in public spaces in the global north,” she said.
- The hackathon tackled 12 topics, including education, the economy, mental health and the environment.
- Joana Kamenova, an outreach and business analyst at ESA, was one of 180 people to volunteer as a response mentor during the hackathon and she helped to evaluate some of the proposals.
- “There were very progressive ideas about tackling the current crisis. How do we support small businesses coming out of the current lockdown? How do we learn from this crisis and tackle climate change? To contemplate how the emerging solutions can be scaled up by using space data and technology is very exciting. Some of the ideas are truly epic,” she says.
Figure 32: Photo of the solar-powered hand sanitation unit (image credit: SunCrafter)
- “We have partnered with this truly global movement to put Estonia’s exceptional digital infrastructure to best use to make the ideas come alive,” says Andrus Kurvits, manager of the ESA business incubator center in Tartu, Estonia.
- “We will connect with teams that developed novel space-related ideas to help them get the financial support they need to bring their solution to market.”
- ESA’s business incubation centers provide funding and support to help entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to market.
• 24 March 2020: In response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic, ESA has decided to further reduce on-site personnel at its mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany. 32)
- The new adjustments require temporarily stopping instrument operation and data gathering on four Solar System science missions, which are part of the wider fleet of 21 spacecraft currently flown by the Agency from ESOC (European Space Operations Center) in Darmstadt.
- ESA implemented risk mitigation measures early on. The vast majority of ESA’s workforce has been teleworking for nearly two weeks. Only key personnel performing critical tasks, which include maintaining real-time spacecraft operations, are still present on site at ESA’s establishments throughout Europe.
Supporting enhanced national measures
- Recent developments, including strengthened restrictions by national, regional and local authorities across Europe and the first positive test result for COVID-19 within the workforce at ESOC, have led the Agency to restrict on-site personnel at its mission control center even further.
- “Our priority is the health of our workforce, and we will therefore reduce activity on some of our scientific missions, especially on interplanetary spacecraft, which currently require the highest number of personnel on site,” says ESA’s Director of Operations Rolf Densing.
- “These have stable orbits and long mission durations, so turning off their science instruments and placing them into a largely unattended safe configuration for a certain period will have a negligible impact on their overall mission performance.”
- Among the affected missions are:
a) Cluster – A four-spacecraft mission launched in 2000, orbiting Earth to investigate our planet’s magnetic environment and how it is forged by the solar wind, the stream of charged particles constantly released by the Sun;
- “It was a difficult decision, but the right one to take. Our greatest responsibility is the safety of people, and I know all of us in the science community understand why this is necessary,” says Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science.
- “This is a prudent step to ensure that Europe’s world-class science missions are safe, along with the instruments from European scientists and our international partners flying on our missions. We are talking about some of humankind’s most advanced scientific experiments – and if switching some missions into temporary standby keeps them safe, then this is what we will do.”
- The temporary reduction in personnel on site will also allow the ESOC teams to concentrate on maintaining spacecraft safety for all other missions involved, in particular the Mercury explorer BepiColombo, which is on its way to the innermost planet in the Solar System and will require some on-site support around its scheduled Earth flyby on 10 April.
- The challenging maneuver, which will use Earth’s gravity to adjust BepiColombo’s trajectory as it cruises towards Mercury, will be performed by a very small number of engineers and in full respect of social distancing and other health and hygiene measures required by the current situation.
- The temporary reduction in personnel on site will also allow the ESOC teams to concentrate on maintaining spacecraft safety for all other missions involved, in particular the Mercury explorer BepiColombo, which is on its way to the innermost planet in the Solar System and will require some on-site support around its scheduled Earth flyby on 10 April.
- The challenging maneuver, which will use Earth’s gravity to adjust BepiColombo’s trajectory as it cruises towards Mercury, will be performed by a very small number of engineers and in full respect of social distancing and other health and hygiene measures required by the current situation.
Figure 33: Artist's rendition of BepiColombo's upcoming Earth flyby (image credit: ESA)
- Commissioning and first check-out operations of scientific instruments on the recently launched Solar Orbiter, which had begun last month, have been temporarily suspended.
- ESA expects to resume these operations in the near future, in line with the development of the coronavirus situation. Meanwhile, Solar Orbiter will continue its journey towards the Sun, with the first Venus flyby to take place in December.
Coasting through space
- “Over the coming days, our interplanetary missions will be gradually commanded into a safe configuration, so that thereafter they will need little or no intervention from ground,” says Paolo Ferri, responsible for mission operations at ESA.
- “These probes are designed to safely sustain long periods with limited or no interaction with ground, required for instance for the periods they spend behind the Sun as seen from Earth, when no radio contact is possible for weeks,” he adds. “We are confident that with very limited and infrequent interactions with ground control the missions can safely remain in that operation mode for months, should the duration of the coronavirus mitigation measures require it.”
- In the coming days, ESA will monitor the evolving environmental conditions and restrictions, develop special procedures, plans and decision logic for the future restart of the scientific operations.
- “The decision on when to return to normal science production mode will be taken independently for each mission, depending on several variables, including the type and complexity of each mission,” adds Paolo Ferri.
Figure 34: Artist's impression of Mars Express. The background is based on an actual image of Mars taken by the spacecraft's high resolution stereo camera (Artist's impression of Mars Express. The background is based on an actual image of Mars taken by the spacecraft's high resolution stereo camera)
- The measure does not affect other ESA missions that are operated from Darmstadt, such as space science missions for astronomy or Earth observation missions, including those that are part of the European Commission’s Copernicus program. For these missions, which require frequent care from ground, teams are able to conduct most control actions remotely, with just a single technician in a control room.
- Even before this measure, the community of European and international scientists behind the interplanetary missions were already feeling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, with processing and analysis hindered by local and national work restrictions and the need for social distancing.
- “I wish to thank all the scientists, engineers and other colleagues not only at mission control but across the Agency and at our partners who are keeping Europe’s essential space missions flying in the middle of this global crisis”, says ESA Director General Jan Wörner.
- “I am glad to see how professional everyone at ESA is throughout this difficult situation. It shows that the Agency is, first and foremost, an ensemble of humans from all over Europe who care. Humans who care not only about science and space, but even more about the well-being of colleagues, families and fellow citizens all over the planet.”
• 18 March 2020: ESA's Mission Control adjusts to coronavirus conditions. 33)
Figure 35: Responsible for spacecraft orbiting Earth, the Sun and exploring the Solar System, teams at ESA’s mission control deal with in-flight challenges every day, from faulty hardware, problematic software and hazardous space debris to computer viruses that could affect ground stations (image credit: ESA/ESOC)
So how do they keep missions flying when a viral pandemic puts the people of the Agency at risk? The first priority is the health and well-being of the workforce across the Agency, while those working at ESA’s mission control center, in Darmstadt, Germany, have the unique challenge of maintaining missions in orbit while ensuring critical ground infrastructure functions as it should, including seven ground stations located on three continents.
Plans on the ground
ESA is currently flying 21 spacecraft from ESOC, ranging from Earth observation to astronomy and planetary exploration missions, as well as five Sentinel satellites belonging to the European Union’s Copernicus program.
Figure 36: This animation shows different types of space debris objects and different debris sizes in orbit around Earth. For debris objects bigger than 10 cm the data come from the US Space Surveillance Catalog. The information about debris objects smaller than 10 cm is based on a statistical model by ESA (video credit: ESA) .
Number of space debris objects in orbit:
- > 1m: 5,400 objects
- > 10 cm: 34,000 objects (among them are only 2,000 active satellites)
- > 1cm: 900,000 objects
- > 1mm: 130,000,000 objects
Color code of Figure 36
- Red: satellites (functional or dysfunctional)
- Yellow: rocket bodies
- Green: mission related objects (covers, caps, adapters, etc.)
- Blue: fragments.
These missions do not fly by themselves. Engineers must take regular measures to, for example, protect spacecraft from gradually drifting off their intended orbits or colliding with debris, ensure solar panels are getting enough light from the Sun, operate the scientific instruments, receive bundles of crucial data and keep both onboard and ground systems working and up-to-date.
To deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, ESA is implementing numerous preventative measures taking account of guidance provided by national and regional civil authorities, especially with respect to minimizing personal contact.
For the mission operations teams or the experts in technical ground segment areas like flight dynamics and ground stations, work is typically done together in small-ish control rooms, and so a range of plans are in place to respond to the developing severity of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Responses differ primarily in the amount and type of personnel required on site in the control rooms and technical facilities.
Figure 37: Inside the Sentinel control room at ESA's operation center in Darmstadt, Germany (image credit: ESA, J. Mai)
Taking mission control home
For now, the aim at mission control remains maintaining the generation of mission data, and keeping the entire fleet of spacecraft, young and old, operating in a routine way.
At the same time the preparation and execution of ad-hoc critical activities, like collision avoidance maneuvers or the upcoming Earth flyby of BepiColombo, have to be ensured.
As of Monday, 16 March, the majority of the workforce at ESOC began working from home. Similar to staffing levels on a typical weekend, mission teams are now keeping a minimum presence on site, while everyone who can is performing the maximum possible daily activities off site.
In the history of ESA’s mission control center, there has never been a period with so few people on site,” says Rolf Densing, Director of Operations for ESA.
This of course has big implications for how missions are flown, and for the next few weeks, the priority will remain on protecting health by minimizing the number of people physically present, while ensuring effective daily operations".
In the future, if necessary, ESA could reduce on-site personnel even more, necessitating a reduction or even a halt to science data gathering so as to focus on simply maintaining spacecraft in safe, stable orbits.
“Such a scenario could be maintained for quite some time, extending into many weeks or months, if necessary,” says Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations.
• 17 March 2020: With significant developments in the coronavirus situation and recent directives in our host nations, ESA has taken steps ensure the operation of its critical tasks while carefully reinforcing its duty of care and social responsibility. 34)
Last week, many ESA staff and contractors were advised to stay at home and take up teleworking, but the weekend saw border restrictions, closure of schools, shops and centers of social activity in France, Spain and the Netherlands, and even more stringent measures in other host nations. Preempting these events, ESA decided to apply this condition to the majority of ESA personnel across all establishments.
Several weeks ago, ESA’s management team began the process to confirm the list of critical tasks that ESA needs to protect, and identify the key resources that are required to support them, should the response to the coronavirus pandemic call for more stringent measures designed to reduce social interaction.
ESA Director General Jan Wörner said, “The health and welfare of our employees, their families and their communities remain my top priority. ESA has a duty of care to them all. But at the same time, we must also protect the core tasks of the Agency. My business priority has to be to ensure that these critical tasks continue uninterrupted.”
Only key workers required to support the formally identified critical tasks will be active at ESA sites, with all others now teleworking wherever possible both to reduce unnecessary social interaction and to allow maximum focus on critical tasks.
The ESA Council scheduled for 17/18 March was cancelled, but ESA management is working to identify the best process to allow executive committee approval of actions if necessary. Business continuity in the financial and procurement areas is being maintained.
The European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is also adopting significant restrictions on operations and access. In compliance with measures decided by the French government, launch campaigns under way at the center have been suspended. These launch preparations will resume as soon as health conditions allow. See the Arianespace press release.
• 13 March 2020: Europe and the world battle the surging SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. 35)
It is difficult to remember any disease or situation that has transformed the world as rapidly as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is causing COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-19) across all European countries and wreaking havoc across daily life. Across all of ESA’s member states, cases are increasing, in some cases rapidly. WHO has said that Europe is now the center of the global pandemic.
It most cases, it is anaesthesiologists that are on the front line caring for patients. Anaesthesiologists are the prime specialists in treating severely ill patients needing haemodynamic and ventilator support. All over Europe, anaesthesiologists are involved in the care of the critically ill COVID-19 patients and are working day and night to combat the severe consequences of the disease and improve the status of the critically ill patients.
ESA’s President Professor Kai Zacharowski is Director of the Department of Anesthesia, Intensive Care Medicine and Pain Therapy, University Hospital Frankfurt, Germany, and has himself treated a number of patients with COVID-19. “On a European level more than 70% of intensive care patients are treated by anaesthesiologists. This reflects our responsibility being equipped with the best possible training and competencies to treat and, whenever possible, to heal and improve the outcome of our patients 24 hours a day.”
He adds: “Our members are to face a very intense working period over the months to come. We at ESA will aim to keep all our members as up to date as possible with key developments as the pandemic develops.”
Despite suffering over 80,000 cases, China has used all of its state powers to gradually take control of the pandemic within its borders, reducing the number of new daily infections and deaths to relatively low levels after the explosion of new infections in Hubei province which began with a trickle of cases in December 2019.
However, now ESA member states — including some of Europe’s largest countries — are suffering one of the most serious public health crises of modern times. Since Monday 9 March, Italy has been in a nationwide lockdown, with all 60 million of its citizens asked to stay home for all but essential journeys for food, drug supplies and to care for relatives. As of Friday, March 13, there have been 15,113 confirmed cases of COVID-19, causing 1,016 deaths. The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, has asked all Italians to stay home for all but exceptional circumstances, and all public gatherings are banned.
One of the most acute problems experienced by Italy is one that is now being faced by France and Spain and will likely soon be faced by other ESA member states and countries worldwide — a shortage of intensive care beds. Even in Lombardy, in Italy’s wealthier northern region, hospitals and especially their intensive care departments are being overwhelmed by a huge increase in cases, many requiring life-saving respiratory interventions. Intensivists, critical care specialists and anaesthetists are among the teams battling to save these patients. Very difficult choices are being made regarding which patients will receive treatment and those who will not. These new COVID-19 cases, of course, come on top of the usual requirements for critical care from other sources such as road accidents and emergency surgery.
“According to the data provided by our Italian colleagues the mean age of all COVID-19 patients is 70 years, and one of the major risk factors for ICU admission is obesity,” explains ESA Immediate Past President Stefan De Hert, based at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium. “Interestingly, patients less than 50 years old without major comorbidities seem to constitute 20% of the COVID-19 ICU patients. Finally, infected women seem to develop less symptoms than men, and also children seem to experience the infection without important clinical problems. These data are quite similar to what we have learned from the experiences of our Chinese colleagues.”
The situation in Spain is also rapidly worsening, with reports that Madrid’s public health system is creaking under the strain and several well-known politicians have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On Friday, March 13, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a state of alert, giving the government emergency powers to take control of factories and restrict people’s movements. The entire Spanish parliament is going through testing as a result of these alerts, and there are concerns that the entire region of Madrid may need to go into quarantine. As of this date, Spain has 4,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 120 recorded deaths, around half in the Madrid region. The country has banned medical conferences, asking all doctors to remain available for work, and the country’s La Liga football league has been suspended after the entire Real Madrid Team was potentially exposed.
In Germany, Europe’s most populous country, many regions have closed schools and universities, and a raft of measures have been proposed, including bus passengers in Berlin being asked to enter through the back door, to protect the health of the drivers who must continue working. By Friday March 13, the country had recorded 3,059 cases and 6 deaths.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said in a press conference on March 11 that up to two-thirds of the country could eventually be infected. On Thursday, March 12 it was announced, also in Berlin, that “With the aim that the hospitals in Germany concentrate on the expected increasing need for intensive care and ventilation capacity for the treatment of patients with severe respiratory diseases by COVID-19, as far as medically justifiable, basically all planned admissions, surgeries and interventions in all hospitals be postponed and suspended indefinitely from Monday, March 15.”
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, was one of the first Western leaders to publicly accept the inevitability of the COVID-19 pandemic. And France has experienced one of the highest number of cases: 2876 cases and 61 deaths as of Thursday, March 12. Doctors in Paris have reported intensive care units filling up rapidly, with a risk that the country will follow the same trajectory as Italy but with an 8-day delay, having to choose who among coronavirus patients and others requiring critical care can receive treatment. It has already banned any public meetings of 1,000 people or more, reducing this from the previously announced number of 5,000.
Countries in Europe are not all adopting the same measures to fight the pandemic. Despite having one of the smallest number of cases, Ireland decided that from Friday 13 March, all schools and universities would be closed. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar all banned all indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and all outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.
Within the UK, which has 798 cases and 11 deaths so far, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not yet adopted some of the more severe tactics to confront the epidemic. On Thursday, March 12, he asked all people with the symptoms of a high temperature or continuous cough to self-isolate for seven days, but has so far ruled out closing schools and cancelling major events, although the English and Scottish football leagues decided on Friday, March 13, to postpone all fixtures for at least two weeks. The advice from medical experts in the UK is attempting to push the peak of the pandemic into the summer months and also flatten its intensity, to ensure as many people who need critical care in the coming months are able to receive it, and thus reduce the mortality rate.
Both Slovenia and Austria have closed their borders with Italy in order to stop the flow of cases, and Czechia has banned all non-citizens and non-permanent residents to manage its own increase in cases, as has Slovakia. Israel has effectively suspended its tourism economy by asking all incoming nationals of other countries to self-isolate for 14 days.
And late on March 11, US President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel to the USA from residents of 26 European countries, a move that was rapidly condemned as without evidence by the European Union. The announcement came as cases in the USA passed 1,000, with the actual toll thought to be far higher due to problems accessing testing kits nationwide and a fear that community transmission had been occurring long before the USA reacted properly to the pandemic. At the time of writing of this article, President Trump was expected to declare a state of emergency to tackle COVID-19.
At a personal level, people are being asked to wash their hands, for 20 seconds at a time with soap and water, as often as they can, or use a hand sanitizer. Avoiding touching your face with your hands at any time has also been proposed by public health experts, as has maintaining a minimum distance of 2 meters from any other person to reduce transmission.
“The European Society of Anaesthesiology, like all medical societies, has reviewed its own activities as this pandemic has developed,” explains Prof Zacharowski. “We have postponed all of our courses and the European Diploma in Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care (EDAIC) exams. We have also changed the meetings of our board of directors from face-to-face to teleconferences. Most importantly, we have decided to postpone our annual Euroanaesthesia congress to a later date. We realize how vital anaesthetists and intensivists are during this time, and that being present in their hospitals far outweigh any other normal activities. Our members and community are crucial in containing this epidemic and saving countless lives.”
Two dates are currently under consideration for the new date for Euroanaesthesia: either 21-24 August or 28-31 August. The ESA team will inform all members as soon as a decision has been taken.
• 30 December 2019: As the year comes to a close, it is once again time to look back and reflect on some of the achievements and highlights of European spaceflight. The new Gaia star catalogue and the launch of Cheops are keeping ESA at the forefront of space science, as will Solar Orbiter, being prepared for launch next year. The Copernicus program continues to be the largest Earth observation program in the world, with ESA preparing even more missions. On the Space Station, Luca Parmitano became the third European to command an ISS expedition. During his second mission, he made some of the space program's most complex and demanding spacewalks. At the end of 2019, the ESA Space19+ ministerial conference agreed to give ESA its largest budget ever and expressed continued support for Europe’s independent access to space with Ariane 6 and Vega-C. 36)
Figure 38: ESA highlights of 2019 (video credit: ESA)
• On 6 December 2019, representatives from ESA, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Italian Space Agency met at the States General for Space, Security and Defence event in Naples, Italy, to discuss upcoming challenges for European industry. 37)
The meeting follows the very successful Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, which took place two weeks ago in Spain and where Member States fully endorsed ESA’s activities – with a total funding of €14.4 billion – the largest part of which is to be invested in ESA’s Earth Observation Programs.
The meeting was organized by ESA, the European Parliament and the Italian Space Agency, and Copernicus and Galileo were the subject of several talks by prominent speakers such as David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament.
With space-related activities recognized as having a strategic and relevant impact on industry, innovation, employment, new services for citizens and businesses, and environmental and civil protection, the European Union will also continue to invest in the space sector.
Europe’s Multiannual Financial Framework foresees a budget of €16 billion for the EU space program. However, the financial allocation will be negotiated by EU Member States and the European Parliament during 2020.
The funds will allow for a wide participation of industry, research centers and universities, which will serve to promote competitiveness, efficiency and innovation – supporting the collaboration between European industries.
Space will also benefit from funds for innovation and research foreseen in the Horizon Europe program, for which the European Commission has proposed a budget of €100 billion for the period 2021—27. The European Parliament, however, proposes to increase this to €120 billion.
Copernicus was highlighted as a European success story. The increased budget of Earth Observation Programs at ESA’s Space19+ will allow for the initial development, for example, of six new high-priority Copernicus missions, one of which will track global carbon dioxide emissions.
Josef Aschbacher, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programs, attended the Space, Security and Defence event, and presented ESA’s contributions to the European space program. He commented, “Copernicus is the world’s largest Earth observation system led by the European Union, while the Copernicus space component is managed by ESA. Today, the central Sentinel data hub provides 250 TB of data per day. Copernicus is a good example of how Europe can work together at its best. Copernicus is a European success story.”
Figure 39: Earth observation at Space, Security and Defence event in Naples, Italy (image credit: ESA)
• 28 November 2019: ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, has concluded in Seville, Spain, with the endorsement of the most ambitious plan to date for the future of ESA and the whole European space sector. The meeting brought together ministers with responsibility for space activities in Europe, along with Canada and observers from the EU. 38) 39) 40)
Figure 40: Ministers from ESA’s Member States, along with Associate Member Slovenia and Cooperating State Canada, gathered in Seville, Spain, 27-28 November 2019, to discuss future space activities for Europe and the budget of Europe’s space agency for the next three years (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
The Member States were asked to approve a comprehensive set of programs to secure Europe’s independent access to and use of space in the 2020s, boost Europe’s growing space economy, and make breakthrough discoveries about Earth, our Solar System and the Universe beyond, all the while making the responsible choice to strengthen the efforts we are making to secure and protect our planet.
For the first time in 25 years, there will be a significant boost in funding for ESA’s world-class and inspirational science program, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of who we are and where we come from. It will allow the first gravitational wave detector in space, LISA, to fly alongside the black hole mission Athena and enable fundamental advances in our understanding of the basic physics of the Universe. There is also a strong reinforcement and accordingly funding for research and development and ESA’s laboratories, to underpin the missions of the future.
Figure 41: Artist's impression of the merger of two supermassive black holes during a galaxy collision. What happens when two supermassive black holes collide? Combining the observing power of two future ESA missions, Athena and LISA, would allow us to study these cosmic clashes and their mysterious aftermath for the first time. (image credit: ESA)
With worldwide partners, Europe will take its place at the heart of space exploration going farther than we have ever gone before – we continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030 as well as contributing vital transportation and habitation modules for the Gateway, the first space station to orbit the Moon. ESA's astronauts recruited in 2009 will continue to receive flight assignments until all of them have been to space for a second time, and we will also begin the process of recruiting a new class to continue European exploration in low Earth orbit and beyond. European astronauts will fly to the Moon for the first time. Member States have confirmed European support for a ground-breaking Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA.
ESA will help develop the commercial benefits of space for innovators and governments across the Member States, boosting competitiveness in the NewSpace environment. We will develop the first fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks, as well as next-generation optical technology for a fibre-like ‘network in the sky’, marking a transformation in the satellite communication industry. Satellite communications will join forces with navigation to begin satnav for the Moon, while closer to home commercial companies can access funding for new applications of navigation technologies through the NAVISP program. ESA Ministers have secured a smooth transition to the next generation of launchers: Ariane 6 and Vega-C, and have given the green light to Space Rider, ESA’s new reusable spaceship.
Our Member States have committed to the responsible use of our environment both on and off our planet. ESA’s world-leading position in Earth observation will be strengthened with the arrival of 11 new missions, in particular addressing topics linked to climate change, Arctic and Africa.
There was also a significant development with the adoption of Space Safety as a new basic pillar of ESA’s activities. This will lead to new projects in the areas of keeping the space environment operational – through the removal of dangerous debris and plans for automation of space traffic control – and early warnings and mitigation of damage to Earth from hazards from space such as asteroids and solar flares. The Hera mission marks a joint collaboration with NASA to test asteroid deflection capabilities. New investments in the field of cyber-resilience and cyber-training have also been confirmed.
Figure 42: This taken from the new Hera mission trailer featuring rock star Brian May (image credit: ESA, Science Office)
The coming years will also see ESA reinforce its relationship with the European Union and increase its own organizational agility, effectiveness and efficiency.
“Bringing together our Member States, 22 governments that change regularly, and agreeing on such inspirational projects to share a joint future in space might seem an impossible task on paper. But in two days in Seville, we have proved it is possible,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner. “It is possible because we work together to develop good programs, and it is possible because people are dedicated, and invest all their effort in a long and thorough decision process involving the scientific community, industry and national delegations.
“Together we have put in place a structure that sees inspiration, competitiveness and responsibility underpin our actions for the coming years, with ESA and Europe going beyond our previous achievements with challenging new missions and targets for growth along with the wider industry.”
Co-chairing the meeting, Manuel Heitor, Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education declared: “Today at Space19+ in Seville, together with my colleagues Ministers from ESA Member States, we secured a further step to foster Europe’s competitive position in the global space arena. We approved an ambitious portfolio of space programs, and addressed the challenges linked to the sector. We therefore invited all ESA Member States to seriously engage in taking stock of space activities in a continuous way and strengthen the role of ESA in Europe in close articulation with EC. In addition, we invited ESA Member States to work with ESA to take the necessary steps towards modernizing ESA's industrial policy and guarantee the agency evolves in a way to match a constantly changing environment, changing markets and a fast rate of digital transformation of our societies.”
Also co-chair of the meeting, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frédérique Vidal said: “Space19+ has demonstrated the value of space as a critical infrastructure and enabler for our daily lives. Thanks to the European excellence in space, we are able to mutually tackle human and global challenges such as climate change, space safety and security. In subscribing to the programs, Member States have made a great step towards inspiring society and renewing our ambition to address those challenges. The high level of subscriptions that was decided at the Sevilla ministerial conference will permit to strengthen the European excellence in space and will also commit us towards European citizens.”
Figure 43: Official group photo Space19+. Ministers from ESA’s Member States, along with Associate Member Slovenia and Cooperating State Canada, gathered in Seville, Spain, 27-28 November 2019, to discuss future space activities for Europe and the budget of Europe’s space agency for the next three years (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
About the European Space Agency
ESA is an intergovernmental organization, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.
ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of which 20 are Member States of the EU.
ESA has established formal cooperation with seven other Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programs under a Cooperation Agreement.
By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programs and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programs.
ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.
Table 1: Reflections on ESA’s Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, Space19+ 41)
• 27 November 2019: A Memorandum of Cooperation to further commit to strengthening cooperation in the field of space resources and innovation was signed by Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider and ESA Director General ESA Jan Wörner. 42)
Figure 44: A Memorandum of Cooperation to further commit to strengthening cooperation in the field of space resources and innovation was signed on 27 November in Seville, Spain, by Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider and ESA Director General ESA Jan Wörner (image credit: ESA, P. Sebirot)
- Following the establishment of the SpaceResources.lu initiative in 2016 to promote and develop the research, economic and legal aspects of space resources, ESA and the Luxembourg Space Agency have been working together to explore opportunities for cooperation and have identified common objectives for research and development.
- The Luxembourg Space Agency is establishing ESRIC (European Space Resources Innovation Center), to create additional opportunities for European and international innovation. Its initial focus is on space resource extraction, processing and manufacturing to advance sustainable space exploration.
- The Memorandum signed at ESA’s Ministerial Council Space19+ in Seville, Spain, sees ESA join the Space Resources Innovation Center as a strategic partner, broadening the scope of the activities started under the spaceresources.lu initiative and giving it a more European character.
A common goal
- The cost of launching people and materials into space and the lack of an established, affordable means of resupplying essentials such as fuel and life support is currently a major barrier to sustainable space exploration.
- Overcoming these challenges, by developing technology that turns resources found in space into oxygen and water, fuel or building materials will open up new opportunities for Europe’s exploration of the Solar System, and provide new business opportunities, as well as benefits for communities on Earth.
- ESA is focused on in situ resource utilization to support sustainable exploration of our Solar System. As we look to take our next steps to the Moon and Mars, ESA sees in situ resource utilization as an enabling capability for sustaining human operations.
- The agency has already made significant progress in this area by developing the ESA Strategy for Space Resources that implements a number of ground-based research, technology and mission definition activities, using in situ resources for sustainable space exploration.
- Together with ESA, the Luxembourg Space Agency will set up the facilities that will allow ground-based research on space resources for both public and private researchers from all over Europe, establishing the key European center for space resources utilization.
- The scope of the cooperation will include research, business support and incubation, knowledge management and competence concentration and community management.
• 16 April 2019: The Contribution Agreement between ESA and the EU on space technology activities was signed today by ESA Director General Jan Wörner and the European Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Pierre Delsaux. 43)
The objective of the EU’s In Orbit Demonstration/Validation (IOD/IOV) activities pursued through this agreement, in the frame of the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, is to set the grounds for a potential future provision of a regular IOD/IOV service for new technologies in Europe, based on European solutions for spacecraft, ground segment and launch services.
The choice of the European Commission to delegate ESA with the full implementation of the EU Horizon 2020 IOD/IOV actions acknowledges ESA’s leading expertise in managing such programs and mitigating risks, based on its long-standing experience in managing its own IOD/IOV programs.
Through the agreement, the EU also contributes to ESA’s Light Satellites, Low cost, Launch opportunities (LLL) initiative, specifically for the Proof of Concept demonstration flights for the Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) and Ariane 6 Microsat Launch Share (MLS).
Figure 45: ESA and EU sign Contribution Agreement on Horizon 2020 space activities (image credit: ESA/European Commission)
• 14 December 2018: The ESA Council held its 277th meeting at the ESOC (European Space Operations Center) in Darmstadt on 12 and 13 December 2018. 44)
The Council welcomed NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who presented NASA’s vision for future space exploration. Mr Bridenstine praised the long-standing cooperation between ESA and NASA over the past 40 years through more than 260 major agreements including the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.
He strongly advocated international cooperation with ESA regarding space science, Earth science, the extension of the International Space Station operations and recognized the leading role of ESA on space safety and protection of space assets.
Figure 46: The ESA Council 2018 in Darmstadt, Germany, welcomed NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as guest, here seen at right of ESA Director General Jan Wörner. Also to the right are, Jean Yves Le Gall, Chair of ESA Council, and Elena Grifoni-Winters, Council Secretary and Head of ESA Director General's Cabinet (image credit: ESA)
Looking at the future of exploration, Mr Bridenstine invited ESA to build from the International Space Station towards the Lunar Gateway as a sustainable and reusable outpost around the Moon. He congratulated ESA for delivering in November the first European Service Module as a critical element of the Orion missions and set the horizon for future missions to Mars, including the prospect of a joint cooperation with ESA on Mars Sample Return.
Discussions with the Member States were held in view of the conclusion of the industrial contract to be signed for the production of the first batch of Ariane 6 launchers to be launched after its maiden flight in 2020. ESA proposed a way forward to stabilize the transition until full operational capability of Ariane 6
After almost 40 years of outstanding collaboration with Canada, which will be celebrated next year, the ESA Council unanimously approved the renewal of the cooperation agreement between ESA and the Government of Canada for a period of 10 years.
Finally, the Council unanimously approved the proposal of the Director General concerning the renewal of its Director team of teams covering the four pillars of the agency, namely ‘Applications’, 'Safety and Security', ‘Science and Exploration’, ‘Enabling and Support’ as well as ‘Administration and Industrial Policy’.
• 17 August 2017: ESOC – the European Space Operations Center, in Darmstadt, Germany – has served as Europe’s ‘gateway to space’ for half a century. In 2017, ESOC is celebrating its 50th anniversary, highlighting a rich history of achievement in space. 45)
The articles stated provide a brief overview of ESOC's rich history, which encompasses 77 spacecraft, ranging from communication, weather, Earth observation and climate monitoring satellites to spacecraft studying the Sun or peering deep into our Universe. Exploring our solar system, ESOC has flown missions to the Moon, Mars and Venus, as well as three epoch-making triumphs: Giotto’s flyby of Halley’s Comet in 1986, the Huygens landing on Titan in 2005 and Rosetta’s delivery of Philae to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014 – humanity’s first-ever landing on a comet.
This special report takes a look at the center’s beginnings in 1967, the pioneering spirit of the early decades, the steady growth of mission operations expertise in Darmstadt, developments at the center and milestones in European space flight, ESOC’s evolving economic importance and the present challenges and future opportunities.
Figure 47: ESOC dresses up for its 50th anniversary. A new banner featuring the #ESOC50 logo has been installed on the fence, just outside the main gate. Since 1967 more than 70 satellites belonging to ESA and its partners have been successfully controlled from Darmstadt, Germany (image credit: ESA/D. Scuka, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• 02 December 2016: ESA today concluded a two-day Council meeting at ministerial level in Lucerne, Switzerland. Ministers in charge for space matters from ESA’s 22 member states plus Slovenia and Canada allocated €10.3 billion for space activities and programs based on the vision of a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0. 46)
The high level of subscriptions demonstrates once more that ESA’s Member States consider space as a strategic and attractive investment with a particularly high socio-economic value.
It also underlines that ESA is THE European Space Agency capable of channeling their investment to respond effectively to regional, national and European needs by covering all elements of space: science, human spaceflight, exploration, launchers, telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, applications (combining space, airborne and terrestrial technology), operations and technologies; as well as responding to the needs and challenges of Europe and the Member States by bringing together all stakeholders.
Ministers confirmed the confidence that ESA can conceptualize, shape and organize the change in the European space sector and in ESA itself. While also acting as a global player, broker and mediator at the center of international cooperation in space activities, in areas ranging from the far away in exploration (with the concept of a Moon Village for instance) to supporting closer to home the international global climate research effort following the Paris Agreement of 2015.
At this summit, Ministers in charge of space matters have declared support for ESA’s Director General’s vision for Europe in space and the role and development of ESA: now the Space 4.0i era can start with ESA committing to inform, innovate, interact and inspire. And, building on commercialization, participation, digitalization, jobs and growth, the concept of “United Space in Europe” will soon become a reality.
Figure 48: ESA Council meeting at Ministerial Level, in Lucerne, on 1 December 2016. Ministers in charge of space activities from the 22 ESA Member States, plus Slovenia and Canada met to decide on future space activities for Europe (image credit: ESA, Stephane Corvaja)