Report: A History of the European Space Agency 1958 to 1987 (ESA 2020)

Volume 1 Preface

This is the first of two volumes dealing with the history of the European Space Agency (ESA) and its predecessors, the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), and the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO). It covers the period from the birth of ESRO and ELDO, in the early 1960s, up to 1973. In that year the decision was taken to bring ESRO and ELDO together in a new organisation (ESA) and the programmatic basis for the new agency was laid with the adoption of the so-called Second Package Deal. This arrangement, and the First Package Deal of 1971, allowed for a mandatory scientific programme to be supplemented by optional applications programmes in various fields, as well as two major undertakings, the Ariane launcher and Spacelab, a scientific laboratory to be carried on board NASA’s Space Shuttle.

The detailed evolution of these programmes is not discussed here. They are taken up in Volume II, which concludes the history of ESA up to 1987. An epilogue schematically describes the reorientation in the Agency’s priorities in the decade thereafter.

These two books derive from the work of a team of professional historians, much of which has already been circulated in the ESA HSR (History Study Report) series. These volumes are not simply a collage of published texts however; unnecessary repetition and overlap have been avoided. New material not published before has been added. Together they thus constitute a major description and analysis of the broad lines of over 30 years of the space activities collectively undertaken by European governments through ESRO, ELDO and ESA.

The results presented here are essentially based on the excellent ESO, ELDO and ESA archives housed at the Historical Archives of the European Community at the European University Institute in Florence (Italy). By concentrating on this vast collection of documents, freely available for scholarly research, we have been able to develop in detail the decision- making processes at the intergovernmental level which underpinned the formulation and evolution of the programmes in ESRO, ELDO and ESA. For more recent documents (from 1983 onwards), the authors have been granted access to the archives at the Agency’s Headquarters in Paris.

The book is divided into five parts. After a brief introduction, which sketches quickly the background to the collaborative European space effort, the volume is divided into five main parts. The first two deal respectively with the launch of ESRO and ELDO, which were both officially established in 1964. Part III deals with ESRO’s scientific programme and part IV deals with the rise of a telecommunications satellite programme, also undertaken under the auspices of ESRO.

The fifth and last part describes the tortuous process to establish a European space programme, a process which was bedevilled by deep disagreements over launcher policy, and which terminated with the so-called First and Second Package Deals adopted in 1971 and 1973. Included in part V are also two chapters dealing with the politics of US-European relations in space, which culminated in a major collaborative venture, the post-Apollo programme.

These volumes are presented primarily as an essential resource and reference work, the foundation stones for additional studies of the collaborative European space effort.

Volume 2 Preface

This volume deals with the history of the European Space Agency from 1973, the year which concluded Volume I of our study, to 1987, a year punctuated by a Ministerial Conference in The Hague at which a very ambitious programme intended to carry the European space effort into the new millennium was voted. It thus deals with the implementation of the palette of programmes in space science and applications, as well as the Ariane and Spacelab programmes, adopted by Ministers in the First and Second Package Deals in 1971 and 1973 respectively.

The material is divided into six main parts. The first provides an overview of the entire period. It deals, in chapter 1, with transition from ESRO and ELDO, which was wound down and dismantled, to the setting up of ESA in 1975. Chapter 2 comprises two elements; one summarises the main programmes handled in the rest of the book, the other describes the new space plans proposed by ESA Director General Reimar Lüst and his Executive to Ministers in Rome (1985) and then in The Hague, and surveys the decisions adopted on these occasions.

Part II of the book is dedicated to the science programme. It traces the evolution and consolidation of this activity in the ESA framework, describing the crisis which surrounded its funding in the early 1980s, the struggle to find a place for new space science disciplines like microgravity research, and the emergence of the Horizon 2000 Programme, with its concept of cornerstones.

Applications are covered in part III. One chapter each is devoted to the implementation of ESA’s telecommunications, meteorological and aeronautical satellite programmes. The last was a failure, but the other two played a valuable role in consolidating Europe’s presence in these two key sectors, and in the development of two operating agencies, Eutelsat and Eumetsat.

Ariane, Spacelab and the Space Station each have a section to themselves. The programmatic decisions regarding the European heavy launcher, its upgrade via Ariane-2 and Ariane-3 to Ariane-4, and the decision to develop an entirely new generation of launchers for the end of the century (Ariane-5) are described in Part IV. The difficulties surrounding the construction of Spacelab, and the definition of a scientifically meaningful programme to exploit it, are dealt with in Part V. The complexities of international collaboration in the space area with the United States, which is one of the leitmotifs of the story of the building of Spacelab, also inform the analysis of the Space Station presented in Part VI. Here the changing priorities of the United States weighed particularly heavily on the Europeans, but on Europeans who had learnt from their past mistakes and who were sufficiently self-confident and clear-sighted to build some protective measures into the agreements they reached.

A brief epilogue confronts the ambitious space programme adopted at The Hague with the realities of the new international order heralded by the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, and the new place which space activities, and international collaboration had for the United States and European governments after 1989.

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