30 May 1975

The European Space Agency is established.

The ESA Convention was signed in Paris on 30 May 1975 by the nine original Member States Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It entered into force on 30 October 1980 with the deposit of the last instrument of ratification by France, in accordance with its Article XXI, 1.

The idea of creating an independent space organisation in Europe dated back to the early 1960s when six European countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK – formed the European Launcher Development Organisation to develop and build a heavy launcher called ‘Europa’. In 1962, those same countries, plus Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, formed the European Space Research Organisation to undertake mainly scientific satellite programmes.

In 1975, a convention was concluded at diplomatic and ministerial level to set up one ‘European Space Agency’, effectively merging ESRO and ELDO, and broadening the scope of the agency’s remit to include operational space applications systems, such as telecommunications satellites.

The ESA collaborated with NASA on the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the world’s first high-orbit telescope, which was launched in 1978 and operated successfully for 18 years. A number of successful Earth-orbit projects followed, and in 1986 ESA began Giotto, its first deep-space mission, to study the comets Halley and Grigg–Skjellerup. Hipparcos, a star-mapping mission, was launched in 1989 and in the 1990s SOHO, Ulysses and the Hubble Space Telescope were all jointly carried out with NASA. Later scientific missions in cooperation with NASA include the Cassini–Huygens space probe, to which ESA contributed by building the Titan landing module Huygens.

As the successor of ELDO, ESA has also constructed rockets for scientific and commercial payloads. Ariane 1, launched in 1979, carried mostly commercial payloads into orbit from 1984 onward. The next two versions of the Ariane rocket were intermediate stages in the development of a more advanced launch system, the Ariane 4, which operated between 1988 and 2003 and established ESA as the world leader in commercial space launches in the 1990s. Although the succeeding Ariane 5 experienced a failure on its first flight, it has since firmly established itself within the heavily competitive commercial space launch market with 82 successful launches until 2018. The successor launch vehicle of Ariane 5, the Ariane 6, is under development and is envisioned to enter service in the 2020s.

The beginning of the new millennium saw ESA become, along with agencies like NASA, JAXA, ISRO, CSA and Roscosmos, one of the major participants in scientific space research. Although ESA had relied on co-operation with NASA in previous decades, especially the 1990s, changed circumstances led to decisions to rely more on itself and on co-operation with Russia. A 2011 press issue thus stated.