January 15, 2009

ESA Director General Optimistic About 2009

The European Space Agency (ESA) Director General met with reporters on Wednesday to outline a number of major events planned for 2009.

Jean-Jacques Dordain began the annual press briefing at ESA headquarters by reviewing the ESA's achievements in 2008, such as the docking of the Columbus science lab with the International Space Station

"Last year was really an outstanding vintage," he told reporters. "But there'll be no breathing space going forward."

Dordain continued by previewing several key events for ESA in 2009.

"2009 will be particularly rich and valuable," he said.

This year, ESA is expected to select new astronauts and two European astronauts "“ Frank De Winne and Christer Fuglesang "“ will join the space station as the ISS crew is expected to double this year from three to six members.

This year will also witness the start of Soyuz launches from the European spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana "“ which Dordain said "will be a significant milestone in many ways."

"We really do need Soyuz because at least half of ESA missions are due for launch on Soyuz, whether that be scientific missions or Galileo [satellite-navigation] satellites."

The agency also expects to see the launch of Herschel Space Observatory. Expected to launch on April 12 on the Ariane 5, the telescope will be used to capture long-wavelength radiation to study the conditions of the universe as it was just after the Big Bang.

The Planck telescope is also expected to launch alongside Herschel. It will study the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is sometimes referred to as the "first light" in the Universe.

ESA also announced plans for its newest rocket, called Vega, which will make its maiden flight from Kourou in December.

In November, ESA's 18-member states agreed to commit about $13 billion to the agency over the next three-to-five years, which should help the agency continue to progress throughout a sluggish global economy.

Dordain said it is crucial that ESA handle its contracts properly.

"I am thinking particularly of small suppliers, SMEs, which are very important for us here at ESA," he said in a quote from BBC News.

"They provide us with the technology we need. As they are small companies, they are far more fragile and vulnerable, especially in cash terms. I certainly don't want ESA to cause problems for companies such as these."


Image Caption: In orbit, the same side of the GOCE satellite remains facing the Sun. The spacecraft is equipped with four body-mounted and two wing-mounted solar panels. Due to the configuration in orbit, the solar panels will experience extreme temperature variations so it has been necessary to use materials that will tolerate temperatures as high as 160ºC and as low as -170ºC. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab


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