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Europe in Space

The European Space Agency (ESA)
The European Space Agency coordinates the financial and intellectual resources of its 15 member States1 towards the common objective of developing European capacities in space research. Research goals include a better understanding of Earth and its immediate spatial environment, the solar system, and the universe. At the same time the ESA seeks to advance European satellite technologies and space-related industries, while also working closely with non-European space agencies on sharing knowledge produced by space research programmes. 
The benefits of space exploration are felt well beyond the circle of researchers, engineers and astronauts. Space research contributes to the improvement of daily life for Europeans through medical progress (cancer detection, new cardiac treatments), in the textile industry (protective wear), or by encouraging industrial development, environmental protection (satellite observation), agriculture (geographic information), weather forecasting (for farming, shipping, or sports), telecommunications (satellites, cell phones), mapmaking (precision maps for city planning), and navigation (improvements for automobile, trains, planes, boats, etc.).
With headquarters in Paris, the ESA maintains a series of centers throughout Europe, each with a specialized role, such as design of satellites and probes; astronaut training; or satellite data processing. Whenever a satellite is planned for scientific purposes, a call for tender is issued for experiments to be carried on board. In response laboratories generally group together to form international consortia that often include industrial partners. The ESA then selects those projects and instruments judged most feasible and most in line with agency objectives. CNRS laboratories in this way find themselves participating in ESA instrumentation either as lead laboratory or co-investigator.

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The European Southern Observatory (ESO)

The European Southern Observatory was founded in 1962 by a handful of European nations2 who sought to build and operate an astronomical observatory in the southern hemisphere, and to do so within a European structure. Research fields include solar system objects, galaxies (stars, interstellar milieus), groups of galaxies, and the large structures of the universe. 
The administrative and technical center is located at ESO's headquarters, in Garching, Germany (near Munich) and comprises several highly specialized pieces of equipment such as optic and infrared laboratories, detectors, and the like, as well as the Center of the European Coordination of the Hubble space telescope. Another center at Santiago de Chile houses a computing center, a scientific library, and offices for scientific and administrative personnel.

The observation sites are found in Chile
The Mount Paranal observatory is located at 2,635 meters of altitude, 130 km south of Antofagasta and 12 km from the Pacific coast in one of the driest regions in the world.  This site was chosen for the installation of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) which is an array of four telescopes, each of 8.2 meters in diameter. These four telescopes plus three auxiliary ones of 1.8 meters in diameter are all connected together to form the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI).
The La Silla Observatory is located at the summit of a mountain situated in the southern portion of the Atacama Desert, 600 km north of Santiago at 2,460 meters of altitude. Here the ESO maintains 14 optical telescopes including the New Technology Telescope (NTT) with a diameter of 3.5 meters in addition to a 15 meter radiotelescope for observation in the submillimetric range.

The ESO is also involved in the project ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) for millimetric and submillimetric interferometry. Joined by the United States and Japan as partners, this project will deploy when completed 64 radiotelescopes each of 12 meters in diameter installed on Chile's Atacama Plateau, at 5,000 meters of altitude. Its principal research objectives are to discover more about the origin of galaxies and the formation of stars.
French astronomers enjoy the use of the ESO's observation facilities. And since the ESO is also in charge of developing instrumentation for VLT telescopes via calls for tender issued to European laboratories, French laboratories as part of national and international consortia have participated in the production of advanced instruments. These include the Naos instrument of adaptive optics and the Vimos and Giraffe spectrographs for the VLT, or the de Vinci instrument for beam recombination and Amber for near infrared imaging and spectroscopy, both for use with the VLTI.


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