The European Space Agency

Terry Turner- 10th February 2009

The Speaker worked for the ESA as a project engineer in various locations including NASA and the Kenedy Space Centre. He worked on Science and Earth Observations, Space Laboratory Programmes and latterly in managerial positions. He retired to the UK in 1998.

The ESA was formed in 1974 for peaceful purposes and to help industry. The UK contributes £300million annually to help fund the project although it is given greater prominence in France and Germany. It has it’s H.Q. in Paris with R & D based in Holland, and Satellite Operations and Astronaughts in Germany. There are further offices and sites in Italy and Spain.

The first entry into space was the Russian Sputnick in 1957.

The speaker said that there were now more than 20,000 onjects greater than 1cm and more than 10,000 onjects greater than 10cm circling the Earth which represent a significant danger to spacecraft and satellites. It was a strange coincidence that later on the day of the talk two satellites collided over the Russian Arctic.

Over 500 people have now been in space which is very hazardous as over 200 have consequently died. Also as the effects of radiation in space can take up to 20 to 30 yearsto appear older astribauts are now being employed.

An important part of ESA’s work is providing weather information which is now a major help in weather forcasting.

The Science and Earth Onservation section provide much important information on global warming and other changes occurring on the Earth’s surface.

The speaker described many missions undertaken by the ESA.

1. The Giotto Mission
Halley’s comet has been observed 30 times with its last appearance in 1986 and 5 spacecraft have visited the comet. The most productive was the ESA Giotto mission which flew within 370 miles of the nucleus and took the first even pictures. Giotto proved that the comet’s nuclei are large potato-shaped dirty snowballs. The comet was 93million miles from the Sun when Giotto encountered it. It is estimated that Halley’s comet will survive for about another 20,000 years.

2. The Rosseta Mission
In 1969 the Russian astromomer Klim Churyumov discovered a new short period comet keeping between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter as it travels around the Sun. It is now the target of ESA’s Rosseta mission. The orbiting spacecraft was originally intended to go to the comet Wirtanen, but the launce was delayed due to problems with the Ariane 5 rocket. It was fibally launched on 2 March 2004 and will go into orbit around the Churyumov comet in November 2014 when it is 490 million miles from the Sun. A small lander caller Philae will be landed on the surface of the comet to provide much useful information on the behaviour of comets.