European Space Research Organisation

European Space Research Organisation
Conseil Européen de Recherche Spatiale
HeadquartersParis, France
Esrange, Guiana Space Centre
Parent organisation

The European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) was an international organisation founded by 10 European nations with the intention of jointly pursuing scientific research in space. It was founded in 1964. As an organisation ESRO was based on a previously existing international scientific institution, CERN.The ESRO convention, the organisations founding document outlines it as an entity exclusively devoted to scientific pursuits. This was the case for most of its lifetime but in the final years before the formation of ESA, the European Space Agency, ESRO began a programme in the field of telecommunications. Consequently, ESA is not a mainly pure science focused entity but concentrates on telecommunications, earth observation and other application motivated activities. ESRO was merged with ELDO in 1975 to form the European Space Agency.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


European Preparatory Commission for Space Research

The origins of a joint European space effort are generally traced back to a number of initiatives taken in 1959 and 1960 by a small group of scientists and science administrators, catalysed by two friends, physicists and scientific statesmen, the Italian Edoardo Amaldi and the Frenchman Pierre Victor Auger. Neither Amaldi nor Auger was a stranger to the cause of scientific collaboration on a European scale. Indeed, it was they who, in the early 1950s, were key actors in the process which led to the setting up of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.[2]:13

Now, as the decade drew to a close, they turned their attention to space. Success was rapid. Within a year of the first formal discussions being held amongst scientists, European governments had set up a preparatory commission in order to explore the possibilities for a joint space research effort.

The ten founding members of ESRO

The European Preparatory Commission for Space Research (French: Commission Préparatoire Européenne de Recherche Spatiale, COPERS) held its first session in Paris on 13 and 14 March 1961. Its first task was to create the organs needed to define the scientific programme and the necessary infrastructure of the envisaged organisation, to draw up its budget, and to prepare a Convention for signature by those member state governments who wished to join it. To this end the meeting first elected its "bureau": chairman Harrie Massey, vice-chairmen, Luigi Broglio and Hendrik van de Hulst, and executive secretary Pierre Auger, all men who had played an important role in the debates in 1960 and, Auger apart, still active and eminent European space scientists. It then established two working groups.[2]

The first was the Interim Scientific and Technical Working Group and its task was to prepare the scientific programme for the future space organisation, paying particular attention to the technical and financial implications of its proposals. Lamek Hulthén, from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, was nominated chairman of this group; Reimar Lüst from the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Garching, Germany was appointed its coordinating secretary.[2]:41

The second was the Legal, Administrative and Financial Working Group. Its chairman was initially left open, though it was recommended that he be someone from the German Federal Republic. Alexander Hocker, a senior bureaucrat from Bad-Godesberg who was the chairman of the CERN Finance Committee at the time, took on this task. All Member States were to be represented on both working groups, which were empowered to set up subgroups to facilitate their work.[2]:41

The Blue Book

By the third meeting of COPERS on 24 and 25 October 1961 in Munich, the Interim Scientific and Technical Working Group had prepared a 77-page document outlining the future European Space Research Organisation. The so-called "Blue Book"[2]:48 was divided into five parts, each devoted to one of the following subjects:

  1. a general outline of ESRO
  2. ESRO's scientific programme
  3. its technology centre
  4. data handling
  5. ranges and vehicles

The Blue Book foresaw the firing of some 435 sounding rockets and the successful development and launching of 17 satellites in the 8 years covered by the ESRO Convention, namely 11 small satellites, 4 space probes, and 2 large satellites. It was assumed that 2 launchings would be required to orbit one successful spacecraft, so the number of satellite and space probes launchings budgeted for was doubled. The total cost of the satellite programme was estimated at 733.5 million , of which 450 million ₣ was for launchers and launch operations and 283.5 million ₣ for spacecraft development.

It should be noted that the Blue Book was more a manifesto of interests and expectations than a concrete working hypothesis. It only reflected the intentions and hopes of important sectors of the European scientific community while ignoring their lack of capacity to fulfill these intentions. The fact that transforming the manifesto into a true operational programme would be a long and laborious process and the results sometimes disappointing.