The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space: its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe.
ESA has 17 Member States; by coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.
ESA’s job is to draw up the European space programme and carry it through; the Agency’s projects are designed to find out more about the Earth, its immediate space environment, the solar system and the Universe, as well as to develop satellite-based technologies and services, and to promote European industries.
ESA’s headquarters are in Paris, France, which is where policies and programmes are decided upon; ESA also has centres in a number of European countries, each of which has different responsibilities:
- ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre, is situated in Noordwijk, the Netherlands;
- ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre, is situated in Darmstadt, Germany;
- EAC, the European Astronauts Centre, is situated in Cologne, Germany;
- ESRIN, the ESA Centre for Earth Observation, is based in Frascati, a small town 20 km south of Rome in Italy
ESRIN was established in 1966 and first began acquiring data from environmental satellites in the 1970s; since 2004, ESRIN has been the headquarters for ESA’s Earth Observation activities and Dr Liebig, the Head of ESRIN, is also the Director of Earth Observation.
The ESRIN responsibilities include collecting, storing and distributing Earth Observation satellite data to ESA’s partners, and acting as the Agency’s information technology centre.
ESRIN acts as an interface between ESA and those who use its services. The centre has close links with European industry, the European Union and the civil protection, agriculture and environment ministries within ESA Member States. ESRIN also cooperates with international organisations including UN agencies and the European Commission, and plays an important role in many international projects. These include the Geosphere/Biosphere Programme, the Committee for Earth Observation Systems and the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.
In all its activities ESRIN pursues ESA’s objective of increasing interaction with users in order to develop new products and services, and support the competitiveness of the European space industry.
ESRIN is helping to bring about a fertile mix between the two worlds of science and space applications for the benefit of all Europeans.
A number of other activities are also carried out at ESRIN, each of which is making an important contribution to ESA’s work:
- Vega Programme: the management team for Europe’s new small-scale launcher;
- Information systems: the design, development, provision and maintenance of the information systems and software used by the Agency;
- Telecom lab: providing European industry and institutions with easier access to space telecom infrastructure;
- European Centre for Space Records: appraising and preserving the valuable technical records of completed ESA projects;
- ESA Web Portal: keeping the public informed about ESA’s many activities;
- Virtual Reality Theatre: visual presentations of complex Earth Observation and geographic data for both specialists and students.
In CASPAR, ESA plays the role of both user and infrastructure provider for one of the proposed testbeds. ESA will make available the existing Grid and e-collaboration infrastructure at ESRIN, including the Grid on-Demand web portal via which access to selected ESA catalogue data, archived data, services and products will be given.