The European Space Research Organisation and European Launcher Development Organisation merged on 31 May 1975 to form the European Space Agency. The ESA milestones listed in the anniversary tributes won't include the inauguration of the navigation system Galileo, which was designed to rival the United States' Global Positioning Satellite system and Russia's GLONASS. Delay-plagued Galileo won't be operational until at least 2012.
Meeting in June, European government and industry officials were continuing to dispute the best way to move forward on the Galileo system. The project is mired in politics and arguments over design flexibility and whether to spread around the contracts or have one contractor build all in order to take advantage of economies of scale. The current launch plan, two satellites at a time by Russian Soyuz rockets operated from Europe's Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, is also at issue. Some member states want the satellites launched on Ariane rockets as a means of fostering autonomous access to Space for Europe. The ESA launched its first major scientific mission in 1975, Cos-B, a space probe monitoring gamma-ray emissions in the universe first worked on by ESRO. ESA's milestones include the Giotto space probe to examine the core of Halley's Comet in 1986, the 1990 Ulysses spacecraft to explore the Sun's polar regions; the Ariane series of launch vehicles, the Meteosat meteorological satellites, the Huygens landing on Titan, the Mars Express orbiter and its lander, Beagle 2. With the launching of the Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station in 2008, ESA became a full partner in the operation of the station. The Europeans have supplied many crew members to ITT missions, as well as the unmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle. In 2009 ESA launched Planck, a satellite that is designed to study the cosmic microwave background, and Herschel, an infrared observatory that is the largest telescope in space. ESA operates the Guiana Space Centre, a launch base in French Guiana. The space agency is in the planning stages for a unmanned expedition in 2020 to Europa and Ganymede, two of Jupiter's moons. The ESA has been a full of junior partner in many NASA missions, and several recent projects have made use of Russia's launch facilities rather than the ESA's own. The ESA members include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In 1981 Canada signed a special cooperative agreement, which enables it to participate in some ESA projects. Sep/09
Date written/update: 2010-05-31