ESA Historical Timeline

Since European cooperation in space was first conceived by visionary European scientists, satellite communications has played a central role in subsequent developments.

As ESA began to take shape in the 1960s and 70s, Europe quickly perceived that it needed its own space industry -- and it set about aggressively to develop one.

In this historical timeline of satcoms history at ESA, you can see how within the course of just a few decades Europe created its own thriving satcoms industry, serving its citizens and helping to bring prosperity to the continent.

 

1961
24-25 October 1961: At its third session in Munich, the Commission Préparatoire Européenne de Recherche Spatiale (COPERS) approves the Blue Book, a  77-page report specifying  the main features of a future European space research organisation.  The main facility should be an engineering centre responsible for the engineering of satellites and large scientific payloads. These activities were to be undertaken by what was initially called a Payload Engineering Unit and, later, the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC). It was also suggested that a central  data analysis centre should be established, in addition to the tracking and data facilities which would be required.  
 
1962
The European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) and the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) are established (the charters of the two organisations will be two years later, in 1964). These two organisations were the predecessors to ESA.
 
1964
29 February 1964: ELDO Convention enters into force
                               
20 March 1964: ESRO Convention enters into force
 
June 1964: The first formal steps towards placing senior scientific staff in ESLAB are taken. At this time, the plans for the sounding rocket programme and the payloads for the first two small satellites, ESRO I and ESRO II, are well under way. NASA offered to launch these first two satellites with a Scout rocket free of charge as a "christening gift" for ESRO.
 
1965
19 February 1965: Redu, located in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes, is selected to be one of the four ground stations of the ESTRACK network to track ESA satellites
 
1967
29 May 1967: The ESRO II launch, at the Western Test Range,  fails.
 
6 June 1967: France and Germany agree to jointly develop the experimental communications satellite Symphonie.
 
11 July 1967: The second ESC takes place in Rome. Creation of the Causse Committee to work out a coherent European space programme. ESRO is requested to design a television-relay satellite meeting the needs of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
 
31 December 1967: The Redu station is declared operational
 
1968
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) approves Eurafrica satellite. It represented an important step forward in relation to previous American satellites as well as to Symphonie.  It sophisticated three-axis stabilisation to keep the satellite firmly oriented towards the Earth, but its solar cell array was not designed to track the Sun. The Eurafrica design, on the contrary, adopted "four-axis" stabilisation, namely three-axis stabilisation of the body of the satellite and Sun-pointing solar array.820 Other characteristics, like a longer operational life (5 years), a higher power output, and a less expensive earth station, made Eurafrica a kind of prototype of an operational satellite designed to meet the requirements of a well-defined client.
 
17 May 1968:  ESRO II, first satellite tracked from Redu Station.
 
1969
29 May 1969: As a part of the Aerosat programme, an ad hoc air traffic control expert group is set up by ESRO, with the goal of establishing an air traffic control system based on geostationary satellites by the end of the decade.
 
November 1969: The European Space Conference is held in Bad Godesberg (DE) during which it was proposed forming a single European organisation with ELDO, ESRO, and Conference CETS.
 
1971
November  1971: The Memo of Understanding between NASA and ESRO is signed. It concerns deployment of a four-satellite system for air traffic management, two over the Atlantic ocean, two over the Pacific.
 
December 1971: Agreement on the First Package Deal, with three applications programmes to be executed in parallel:
  • Communications Satellite Programme
  • Aeronautical Satellite Programme
  • Meteorological Satellite Programme
As part of this, the Support Technology Programme (STP) is the first dedicated to telecoms satellites. This programme was succeeded by ASTP.
 
1972
31 October 1972: first meeting of ESRO's Aero Programme Board, in Neuilly.
 
November 1972: The Programme Board for Telecommunications (PB-TEL)  adopts the OTS concept, which is based on a new satellite development.
 
1973
April 1973: Delegates from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, and the UK confirm readiness to participate in the Telecommunications Programme. Italy joined in September. Its objectives are: To design, develop, construct, and set up the experimental and pre-operational space segment of a  space communications system matching the objectives of the users, and to make reliable operational satellites available to the users on the completion of the programme.
 
12 and 31 July 1973: In the Second Package Deal, the Marine Orbital Test Satellite(Marots) programme is approved. This which will result in the development of an experimental satellite for maritime communications based on the OTS platform, with launch planned 1977.
 
12 September 1973: First meeting of new Interim Maritime Satellite Programme Board, Neuilly. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.
 
1975
The Telecommunications office is established at ESA.
 
15 April 1975: At the final ESC meeting in Brussels, a convention is adopted to set up the European Space Agency (ESA), effectively merging ESRO and ELDO, and broadening the scope of the agency’s remit to include operational space applications systems such as telecommunications satellites.
 
30 May 1975: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany (the Federal Republic), Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom sign the Convention establishing ESA.
 
5 August 1975: first meeting of JCB
 
1976
JCB drafts its first Telecommunications Long Term Plan (TLTP), for the period 1977-1980, which, among other things, lays the groundwork for Olympus.
 
14-15 February 1976: ESA Council meeting in Paris at ministerial level passes inter alia a Declaration to undertake an overall communications satellite programme and a resolution creating the Earthnet programme.
 
March 1976: Agreement among ESA and a number of national PTTs whereby the latter would set up a network of 20 to 25 earth stations to provide trunks for international telephony and for Eurovision.
 
1977
As part of the a Telecommunications Package Deal, the follow-up to the STP, the Advanced Systems and Technology Programme (ASTP) is  inaugurated. The ESC extension and H-Sat are also agreed upon. ASTP was later merged into the ARTES programme, mostly in ARTES 5. 
 
30 June 1977: Eutelstat is established by European PTTs.
 
13 September 1977: OTS-1 (Orbital Test Satellite-1), which was to be the first ESA telecoms satellite, explodes 56 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral.
 
1978
11 May 1978: The successful launch of OTS-2 (Orbital Test Satellite-2), the first ESA telecoms satellite. In-orbit test and tracking support are performed by Redu station.
 
1979
16 July 1979: International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat), a not-for-profit international organization, set up at the behest of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body, for the purpose of establishing a satellite communications network for the maritime industry. It was converted into a private company in 1999.
 
24 September - 6 December 1979: First World Administrative Radio Conference takes place in Geneva, Switzerland. Representatives of ITU Member countries adopted the new Radio Regulations. Of the approximately 15,000 proposals put forth 12,000 concerned frequency allocation. The resulting Final Acts of the conference comprised of a volume of more than 1,000 pages.
 
1980
26 March 1980: Arianespace, the world's first commercial space transportation company is established.
 
1981
The Telecommunications Preparatory Programme (TPP) is approved. The main objectives are to examine medium- and long-term opportunities with Eutelsat and potentially other missions. The TPP projects ran well into 1988.
 
December 1981: The Olympus (then called L-Sat) proposal is approved, with the UK and Italy as the main financial contributors.
 
20 December 1981: The successful launch of Marecs A, first European Maritime Communications Satellite, by Ariane 1 from Kourou.
 
1982
The Prodat/Prosat programme is established. Running for more than ten years, its aim was to facilitate the creation of a low data-rate message handling system to serve land, maritime, and aeronautical applications via satellite.
 
9 September 1982: The Marecs B launch fails.
 
1983
16 June 1983: The successful launch from Kourou of ECS-1 (also known as Eutelsat-1 F1), first European geostationary communications satellite. It is operated by the first European communications satellites operator Eutelsat.
 
1984
4 August 1984: ECS-2 (Eutelsat-1 F2) is launched.
 
10 November 1984: Marecs B2 is launched. It served for 17 years until retirement in 2002
 
1985
January 1985: Ministerial Council, Rome. An ambitious programme to develop Europe’s presence in space is announced. Major components include the Ariane 4 launcher, European participation in International Space Station, the mannedHermes spaceplane (for provisioning the Space Station), and the European Data Relay Satellite system.
 
European consortium led by British Aerospace wins contract for the second generation of Inmarsat satellites, Inmarstat II (essentially based on ECS).
 
ApolloDiana, and Mercure programme is established. The three systems are to facilitate the interchange of documents among a number of large European and international organisations.
 
The Payload and Spacecraft Development and Experimentation Programme(PSDE), the follow up to TPP, is also created at the Rome meeting.
 
12 September 1985: The launch of ECS 3 fails.
 
1987
9 and 10 November  1987: Ministerial Conference in the Hague.
 
16 September 1987: Launch of ECS 4 (Eutelsat-1 F4).
 
1988
21 July 1988: Launch of ECS 5 (Eutelsat-1 F5).
 
1989
19 April 1989: Celebration of 25 years of European cooperation in space in Paris       
        
12 July 1989: Launch of Olympus satellite, the world's largest telecommunication satellite of its time, which will demonstrate new market applications using state-of-the art payloads and a new-generation satellite platform.  The Redu facilities are upgraded by three additional antennas to support the Olympus In Orbit Testing.  Redu station hosts the Olympus Payload Operations Centre.
 
1990
20 November 1990: A European Community Green Paper is published which calls for the liberalisation of the European satcoms services market. This results in the privatisation of the formerly state-owned Intelsat, Eutelsat, and Inmarsat.
 
1991
January: Olympus loses use of one of its solar arrays.
 
August 13: Control over Olympus is regained.
 
1992
9 November 1992: Ministerial Conference, Granada. Plans are drawn up for ARTES, the successor to the PSDE and ASTP programmes, and submitted to the Council.
 
September 1992: A consortium led by Alenia S.P.A. is awarded the contract to build a European Data Relay satellite, to be called Artemis.
 
1993
The DVB multiplexing and transmission standard for terrestrial, cable, and satellite digital TV is adopted. The DVB-S norm, adopted the following year, applies to satellite transmissions.
 
1994
Broadcaster Canal+ start digital TV transmissions, using the DVB-S specification, via the Astra satellite.
 
1995
The MPEG-2 standard for encoding digital TV signals was adopted by ISO.
 
20 October 1995: Ministerial Conference , Toulouse. ARTES elements 1, 2 4, 5 and 7 are approved.
 
1998
27 February 1998: Hot Bird 4 (part of the Skyplex programme) is launched, carrying the first ESA hosted payload.
 
9 October 1998: Hot Bird 5 is launched
 
1999
11-12 May 1999: ESA Council meeting at ministerial level in Brussels approves investments in major new programmes in the areas of telecommunications, navigation, including the definition phase of the Galileo programme, and Earth observation.
 
8 October 1999: ESA agrees to invest €280 million in three satellite broadband systems, namely the Skybridge system being established by Alcatel Space (Paris, France), the West system being set up by Matra Marconi Space (Velizy, France) and the Euroskyway system being set up by the space division of Alenia Aerospazio (Rome, Italy). Skybridge is planning to begin construction of its 80-satellite system in late-1999 with the signing of construction and launch contracts worth US$4.8 billion. Once in full production, the system will cost US$150 million per month. Skybridge would launch services in 2002, providing over 200 Gbits/sec of overall system capacity.
 
2000
9 August 2000: First operational use of REMSAT (Real Time Emergency Management via Satellite) during the Thynne Mountain forest fire in British Columbia, Canada. This was the first time worldwide that a combined satcom, earth observation and navigation system is used in such an emergency situation.
 
2001
At the Edinburgh Council meeting, a comprehensive Telecommunications Long Term plan is put forward, with a budget of   €1.5 billion over a five-year period. The Plan proposed a number of lines of activity, all of which were framed under ARTES, namely ARTES 1, 3, 4 and 5. The development of Alphabus and Alphasat is approved.
 
12 July 2001: Artemis, the first European data relay satellite, is launched. Owing to a malfunction in Ariane 5’s upper stage, it initially only achieves a low-earth orbit.
 
2002
23 January 2002: Marecs B2 is retired after 17 years of service.  Re-orbiting operations performed by Redu ECS Operations Centre.
 
2003
31 January 2003: Artemis reaches its nominal position, 18 months after its defective launch
 
2004
16 March 2004: W3A is launched. ESA co-funded the development of the Skyplex payload on-board W3A. The first Skyplex developed under ESA contract has been in-orbit on Eutelsat Hot Bird 4 since February 1998. Skyplex was  the first ARTES 3 contract.
 
5 August 2004: The first AmerHIS payload is deployed on Hispasat’s Amazonas 1 satellite. AmerHIS is the first broadband on-board switching processor ever flown.
 
2005
At the Berlin Council meeting, a five-year budget of €1.135 billion is proposed theLong Term Plan, but only €543 million is granted. SmallGEO is approved. Avanti proposes realizing a multisport Ka-band satellite under ARTES 3, which would come to known as Hylas, notable for the General Flexible Payload (GFP) design, which allows great freedom in the assignment of spectrum to each of its transponders.
 
28 December 2005 - Launch of first Galileo test satellite, GIOVE-A. Frequencies required for Galileo are now safely reserved.
 
2006
EADS-Astrium is selected as prime contractor for Alphasat through a public-private partnership (PPP) established by ESA and Inmarsat. The Alphabus satellite platform, used by Alphasat, will be developed by EADS-Astrium and TAS (Thales Alenia Space) under a joint contract with ESA and France’s CNES space agency.
 
2008
Telecommunications receives a boost at ESA: the Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Directorate (TIA) is born. Its first director is Magali Vaissiere, who takes over from Pietro lo Galbo, head of the former Telecommunications Department within the ESA Directorate for European Union and Industrial Programmes.
 
November 2008: The Ministerial Council is held in the Hague, with a subscription of €815 million obtained. The European Data Relay Satellite is approved.
 
2009
Redu is declared an ESA Centre under the responsibility of TIA Director
June 2009: Hispasat signs a contract with OHB to deliver the spacecraft for the first SmallGEO mission.
 
30 September 2009: Amzonas 2 is launched, carrying a second AmeriHIS payload. AmerHIS has since evolved into SmallGEO, the ARTES 11 programme element.
 
2010
16 and 17 February 2010: The 200th meeting of the JCB.
 
29 June 2010: Inauguration of the Galileo 20m L-Band antenna at Redu
 
26 November 2010:  Hylas-1, ESA’s first PPP satellite launched
 
2012
May 2012: The new ARTES 33 element for developing Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) is approved by the member states. The first of these is Electra partnership with SES for first full electronic propulsion satellite based on OHB platform.
 
23 Nov 2012: The design of Europe’s data relay satellite system – EDRS - has been completed and approved. Its first customer will be the EU Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative, now known as Copernicus.
 
06 December 2012: For the first time, a Galileo payload has been activated directly from the ESA Redu Centre.
 
19 Dec 2012: An ESA project supporting the European Maritime Safety Agency’s (EMSA) Blue Belt pilot programme has successfully delivered space AIS data. More than 21,000 ships were detected and 14 million messages were processed during this demonstration.
 
2013
22 Jan 2013: ESA offers European satellite operators a unique opportunity to obtain ownership of its Artemis telecoms satellite, which is to be retired at the end of 2013.
 
26 Feb 2013: The Netherlands becomes the 14th Member State to support the ARTES 10 Iris Programme for Air Traffic Management.
 
16 Apr 2013: ESA’s retired GIOVE-A navigation mission has become the first civilian satellite to perform GPS position fixes from high orbit.
 
14 May 2013: David Willetts, British Minister Minister of State for Universities and Science, and Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General, unveiled the Agency’s first UK facility, the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications, or ECSAT, located at the Harwell Oxford Campus.
 
July 2013: The Medusa feed system, an innovative antenna design developed with support from ESA’s ARTES 3-4 programme, wins its first commercial contract.
 
25 July 2013: Launch of Alphasat, Europe’s largest and most sophisticated telecommunications satellite, developed and built under an innovative ESA Public Private Partnership.
 
21 Oct 2013: ESA signs a contract with SES, Luxembourg, to develop a new generation of satellites propelled by solar electric thrusters.
 
5 December 2013: First stone laid of ESA’s new building at ECSAT. Scheduled for completion in 2015, it is named after Roy Gibson, the first ESA Director General
 
2014
22 Jan 2014: European scientists begin testing Alphasat’s higher-frequency Q- and V-bands payload.
 
20 February 2014: The contract for Phase-B of Neosat is signed at ESA Headquarters in Paris by Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, and Eric Béranger and Bertrand Maureau for prime contractors Airbus Defence and Space, and Thales Alenia Space, respectively.
 
 

 

Published 28 April 2014
Last updated at 28 April 2014 - 09:59