ESA: Annual Budget, Current Mission, Founders, Activities

European Space Agency
Logo: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states dedicated to the exploration of space.

Established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, ESA has a worldwide staff of about 2,200 in 2018 and an annual budget of about €6.68 billion (~US$7.43 billion) in 2020.

ESA's space flight programme includes human spaceflight (mainly through participation in the International Space Station programme); the launch and operation of uncrewed exploration missions to other planets and the Moon; Earth observation, science and telecommunication; designing launch vehicles; and maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana.

The main European launch vehicle Ariane 5 is operated through Arianespace with ESA sharing in the costs of launching and further developing this launch vehicle.

The agency is also working with NASA to manufacture the Orion Spacecraft service module that will fly on the Space Launch System.

The agency's facilities are distributed among the following centres:

  • ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands;
  • Earth Observation missions at ESA Centre for Earth Observation in Frascati, Italy;
  • ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany;
  • the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany;
  • the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), a research institute created in 2009, is located in Harwell, England;
  • and the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain.

The European Space Agency Science Programme is a long-term programme of space science and space exploration missions.


Key Description:

Headquarters: Paris, Île-de-France, France

Budget: €6.68 billion; (~US$7.43 billion) (2020)

Founded: 30 May 1975, Europe

CEO: Johann-Dietrich Wörner (1 Jul 2015–)

Primary spaceport: Guiana Space Centre

Founders: Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark

Official Website

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ESA in its current form was founded with the ESA Convention in 1975, when ESRO was merged with ELDO.

ESA had ten founding member states:

  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • West Germany
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • The United Kingdom.

These signed the ESA Convention in 1975 and deposited the instruments of ratification by 1980, when the convention came into force. During this interval the agency functioned in a de facto fashion. ESA launched its first major scientific mission in 1975, Cos-B, a space probe monitoring gamma-ray emissions in the universe, which was first worked on by ESRO.



ESA collaborated with NASA on the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE), the world's first high-orbit telescope, which was launched in 1978 and operated successfully for 18 years.

A number of successful Earth-orbit projects followed, and in 1986 ESA began Giotto, its first deep-space mission, to study the comets Halley and Grigg–Skjellerup. Hipparcos, a star-mapping mission, was launched in 1989 and in the 1990s SOHO, Ulysses and the Hubble Space Telescope were all jointly carried out with NASA.

Later scientific missions in cooperation with NASA include the Cassini–Huygens space probe, to which ESA contributed by building the Titan landing module Huygens.

The beginning of the new millennium saw ESA become, along with agencies like NASA, JAXA, ISRO, the CSA and Roscosmos, one of the major participants in scientific space research.

Although ESA had relied on co-operation with NASA in previous decades, especially the 1990s, changed circumstances (such as tough legal restrictions on information sharing by the United States military) led to decisions to rely more on itself and on co-operation with Russia. A 2011 press issue thus stated

Notable ESA programs include SMART-1, a probe testing cutting-edge space propulsion technology, the Mars Express and Venus Express missions, as well as the development of the Ariane 5 rocket and its role in the ISS partnership.

ESA maintains its scientific and research projects mainly for astronomy-space missions such as Corot, launched on 27 December 2006, a milestone in the search for exoplanets.

On 21 January 2019, ArianeGroup and Arianespace announced a one-year contract with ESA to study and prepare for a mission to mine the Moon for lunar regolith.



ESA is responsible for setting a unified space and related industrial policy, recommending space objectives to the member states, and integrating national programs like satellite development, into the European program as much as possible.

ESA's purpose shall be to provide for, and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among the European States in space research and technology and their space applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications systems

Jean-Jacques Dordain – ESA's Director General (2003–2015) – outlined the European Space Agency's mission in a 2003 interview

Today space activities have pursued the benefit of citizens, and citizens are asking for a better quality of life on Earth. They want greater security and economic wealth, but they also want to pursue their dreams, to increase their knowledge, and they want younger people to be attracted to the pursuit of science and technology.

I think that space can do all of this: it can produce a higher quality of life, better security, more economic wealth, and also fulfill our citizens' dreams and thirst for knowledge, and attract the young generation. This is the reason space exploration is an integral part of overall space activities. It has always been so, and it will be even more important in the future.


Activities And Programmes:

According to the ESA website, the activities are:

  • Observing the Earth
  • Human Spaceflight
  • Launchers
  • Navigation
  • Space Science
  • Space Engineering & Technology
  • Operations
  • Telecommunications & Integrated Applications
  • Preparing for the Future
  • Space for Climate


  • Copernicus Programme
  • Cosmic Vision
  • ExoMars
  • FAST20XX
  • Galileo
  • Horizon 2000
  • Living Planet Programme

Budgets are organised as Programmes (British spelling retained because it is a term of official documents). These are either Mandatory or Optional.

Every member country must contribute to these programmes:

  • Technology Development Element Programme
  • Science Core Technology Programme
  • General Study Programme
  • European Component Initiative


  • Depending on their individual choices the countries can contribute to the following programmes, listed according to:
  • Launchers
  • Earth Observation
  • Human Spaceflight and Exploration
  • Telecommunications
  • Navigation
  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Technology


Astronaut Names:

The astronauts of the European Space Agency are:

  • France - Jean-François Clervoy
  • Italy - Samantha Cristoforetti
  • Belgium - Frank De Winne
  • Spain - Pedro Duque
  • Germany - Reinhold Ewald
  • France - Léopold Eyharts
  • Germany - Alexander Gerst
  • Italy - Umberto Guidoni
  • Sweden - Christer Fuglesang
  • Netherlands - André Kuipers
  • Germany - Matthias Maurer
  • Denmark - Andreas Mogensen
  • Italy - Paolo Nespoli
  • Switzerland - Claude Nicollier
  • Italy - Luca Parmitano
  • United Kingdom - Timothy Peake
  • France - Philippe Perrin
  • France - Thomas Pesquet
  • Germany - Thomas Reiter
  • Germany - Hans Schlegel
  • Germany - Gerhard Thiele
  • France - Michel Tognini
  • Italy - Roberto Vittori


Cooperation With Other Countries And Organisations:

ESA has signed co-operation agreements with the following states that currently neither plan to integrate as tightly with ESA institutions as Canada, nor envision future membership of ESA: Argentina, Brazil, China, India (for the Chandrayan mission), Russia and Turkey.

Additionally, ESA has joint projects with the European Union, NASA of the United States and is participating in the International Space Station together with the United States (NASA), Russia and Japan (JAXA).