European Space Operations Centre

The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) serves as the main mission control centre for the European Space Agency (ESA) and is located in Darmstadt, Germany. ESOC's primary function is the operation of unmanned spacecraft on behalf of ESA and the launch and early orbit phases (LEOP) of ESA and third-party missions.[2] The Centre is also responsible for a range of operations-related activities within ESA and in cooperation with ESA's industry and international partners, including ground systems engineering, software development, flight dynamics and navigation, development of mission control tools and techniques and space debris studies.[3]

ESOC's current major activities comprise operating planetary and solar missions, such as Mars Express and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, astronomy & fundamental physics missions, such as Gaia (spacecraft) and XMM Newton, and Earth observation missions such as CryoSat2 and Swarm (spacecraft).

ESOC is responsible for developing, operating and maintaining ESA's ESTRACK network of ground stations. Teams at the Centre are also involved in research and development related to advanced mission control concepts and Space Situational Awareness, and standardisation activities related to frequency management; mission operations; tracking, telemetry and telecommanding; and space debris.[4]

European Space Operations Centre
Views in the Main Control Room (12052189474)
ESOC Main Control Room in Darmstadt
Formation8 September 1967
PurposeSpacecraft ground control
HeadquartersParis, France
Coordinates49°52′16″N 8°37′22″E / 49.87111°N 8.62278°ECoordinates: 49°52′16″N 8°37′22″E / 49.87111°N 8.62278°E
Head of Establishment
Rolf Densing
Parent organization
European Space Agency
RemarksESOC is one of nine establishments operated by ESA[1]
Signal received from Rosetta (12055070794)
Signal received at ESOC from Rosetta (January 2014), the first comet landing mission


ESOC's current missions comprise the following:[5]

Planetary and solar missions

Astronomy and fundamental physics missions

Earth observation missions

In addition, the ground segment and mission control teams for several missions are in preparation[5] and training, including:


ESOC hosts the control centre for the Agency's European Tracking ESTRACK station network. The core network comprises seven stations in seven countries: Kourou (French Guiana), Cebreros (Spain), Redu (Belgium), Santa Maria (Portugal), Kiruna (Sweden), Malargüe (Argentina) and New Norcia (Australia). Operators are on duty at ESOC 24 hours/day, year round, to conduct tracking passes,[6] uploading telecommands and downloading telemetry and data.


European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt-space telescope
XMM-Newton model at ESOC

In addition to 'pure' mission operations, a number of other activities take place at the Centre, most of which are directly related to ESA's broader space operations activities.

  • Flight dynamics: A team is responsible for all orbital calculations and orbit determinations.[7]
  • Mission analysis: Selection and calculation of possible orbits and launch windows[7]
  • Software development: Mission control systems and spacecraft management tools[8]
  • ESA Navigation Support Office: Calculating and predicting GPS and Galileo satellite orbits[9]
  • Ground station engineering: Developing deep-space tracking technology[10]
  • Space debris: Coordinating ESA's debris research, provision of conjunction warning services and cooperating with agencies worldwide[11]
  • Frequency management: Helping manage radio spectrum used by all satellite operators[12]


The European Space Operations Centre was formally inaugurated in Darmstadt, Germany, on 8 September 1967 by the then-Minister of Research of the Federal Republic of Germany, Gerhard Stoltenberg. Its role was to provide satellite control for the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), which is today known as its successor organisation, the European Space Agency (ESA).[13]

The 90-person ESOC facility was, as it is today, located on the west side of Darmstadt; it employed the staff and resources previously allocated to the European Space Data Centre (ESDAC), which had been established in 1963 to conduct orbit calculations.[13] These were augmented by mission control staff transferred from ESTEC to operate satellites and manage the ESTRACK tracking station network.[14][15]

Within just eight months, ESOC, as part of ESRO, was already operating its first mission, ESRO-2B, a scientific research satellite and the first of many operated from ESOC for ESRO, and later ESA.[13]

By July 2012, ESOC had operated over 56 missions[16] spanning science, Earth observation, orbiting observatories, meteorology and space physics.

Location and expansion

European Space Operations Centre
European Space Operations Centre

ESOC is located on the west side of the city of Darmstadt,[17] some 500 m (1,600 ft) from the main train station, at Robert-Bosch-Straße 5. In 2011, ESA announced the first phase of the ESOC II modernisation and expansion project valued at €60 million.[18] The new construction will be located across Robert-Bosch-Straße, opposite the current centre.


At ESOC, ESA employs approximately 800, comprising some 250 permanent staff and about 550 contractors. Staff from ESOC are routinely dispatched to work at other ESA establishments, ESTRACK stations, the ATV Control Centre (Toulouse), the Columbus Control Centre (Oberpfaffenhofen) and at partner facilities in several countries.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Establishments and facilities / Welcome to ESA / About Us / ESA
  2. ^ ESA Spacecraft Operations - About us & frequently asked questions
  3. ^ ESA’s Ground Systems Engineering Team
  4. ^ Where missions come alive
  5. ^ a b ESA Space Operations
  6. ^ ESTRACK Network Operations Centre
  7. ^ a b ESOC Flight Dynamics
  8. ^ Mission operations and control system software
  9. ^ ESA Navigation Facility
  10. ^ Ground Station Engineering
  11. ^ ESA Space Debris Office
  12. ^ Frequency management
  13. ^ a b c ESA pays tribute to ESOC's 40th anniversary
  14. ^ History of the European Space Agency 1958 – 1987
  16. ^ ESA mission history
  17. ^ Google map
  18. ^ ESA operations centre to be expanded
  19. ^ About us & frequently asked questions (FAQ)

External links


The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL), is a space observatory planned for launch in 2028 as the fourth medium-class mission of the European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme. The mission is aimed at observing at least 1,000 known exoplanets using the transit method, studying and characterising the planets' chemical composition and thermal structures.

Cebreros Station

Cebreros Station (also known as DSA 2 or Deep Space Antenna 2) is a European Space Agency, ESTRACK radio antenna station for communication with spacecraft, located about 10 km east of Cebreros and 90 km from Madrid, Spain, operated by the European Space Operations Centre and INTA. A 35-metre diameter antenna that receives and transmit in X- and Ka-bands is located at the site. Station code is "CEB". 20kW CW High Power Amplifier (HPA) it was created by Rheinmetall Italia SpA (Italy). The monitoring and control system was implemented by Microsis srl (Italy).

It provides daily support to Lisa Pathfinder, Mars Express and Gaia.It also provided support for Rosetta.

Two sister stations are New Norcia Station in Australia, and Malargüe Station in Argentina.

Until 2002, ESA lacked its own means to communicate with ships destined to other planets, or in very distant orbits and depended on NASA's network of listeners to receive the data collected by them.

Columbus Control Centre

The Columbus Control Centre is the Mission Control Center which is used to control the European Columbus research laboratory, which is part of the International Space Station (ISS). The control centre is located at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) facility in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, Germany. The centre is operated by the DLR, under contract from the European Space Agency (ESA).

The Columbus Control Centre entered full-time operation during the STS-122 Shuttle Mission, which delivered the Columbus module to the ISS. The module was attached to the ISS on 11 February 2008.


CryoSat is an ESA programme to monitor variations in the extent and thickness of polar ice through use of a satellite in low Earth orbit. The information provided about the behaviour of coastal glaciers that drain thinning ice sheets will be key to better predictions of future sea level rise. The CryoSat-1 spacecraft was lost in a launch failure in 2005, however the programme was resumed with the successful launch of a replacement, CryoSat-2, launched on 8 April 2010.CryoSat is operated from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.


Darmstadt (German pronunciation: [ˈdaɐ̯mʃtat] (listen)) is a city in the state of Hesse in Germany, located in the southern part of the Rhine-Main-Area (Frankfurt Metropolitan Region). Darmstadt had a population of around 157,437 at the end of 2016. The Darmstadt Larger Urban Zone has 430,993 inhabitants.Darmstadt holds the official title "City of Science" (German: Wissenschaftsstadt) as it is a major centre of scientific institutions, universities, and high-technology companies. The European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) are located in Darmstadt, as well as GSI Centre for Heavy Ion Research, where several chemical elements such as bohrium (1981), meitnerium (1982), hassium (1984), darmstadtium (1994), roentgenium (1994), and copernicium (1996) were discovered. The existence of the following elements were also confirmed at GSI Centre for Heavy Ion Research: nihonium (2012), flerovium (2009), moscovium (2012), livermorium (2010), and tennessine (2012). The Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) is an international accelerator facility under construction. Darmstadt is also the seat of the world's oldest pharmaceutical company, Merck, which is the city's largest employer.

Darmstadt was formerly the capital of a sovereign country, the Grand Duchy of Hesse and its successor, the People's State of Hesse, a federal state of Germany. As the capital of an increasingly prosperous duchy, the city gained some international prominence and remains one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. In the 20th century, industry (especially chemicals), as well as large science and electronics (later information technology) sectors became increasingly important, and are still a major part of the city's economy. It is also home to the football club SV Darmstadt 98.

ESA Centre for Earth Observation

The ESA Centre for Earth Observation (also known as the European Space Research Institute or ESRIN) is a research centre belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA), located in Frascati, Italy. It is dedicated to research involving earth observation data taken from satellites, among other specialised activities. The establishment currently hosts the European Space Agency's development team for the Vega launcher.


The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) operates a number of ground-based space-tracking stations for the European Space Agency (ESA) known as the European Space Tracking (ESTRACK) network. The stations support various ESA spacecraft and facilitate communications between ground operators and scientific probes such as XMM-Newton and Mars Express. Similar networks are run by the USA, China, Russia, Japan, and India.

Eclipse (software suite)

ECLIPSE (ECSS Compliant Toolset for Information and Projects Support of Enterprises in Space) is a suite of software applications, intended for use by aerospace project and mission teams in managing their CM/QA/PA/PM activities.The ECLIPSE developer says that ECLIPSE provides to its users a straightforward path to compliance with ECSS standards.

ECLIPSE was formally introduced to members of the aerospace industry at the following events:

International Space System Engineering Conference, 1 to 4 June 2010, Budapest, Hungary

ESA Knowledge Management Conference, 21 to 23 June 2010, European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), Darmstadt, Germany Currently the toolset is used by the European Space Agency (ESA) and members of the European aerospace industry.

European Astronaut Centre

The European Astronaut Centre (EAC) (German: Europäisches Astronautenzentrum, French: Centre des astronautes européens), is an establishment of the European Space Agency and home of the European Astronaut Corps. It is near to Cologne, Germany, and is subdivided into six separate arms, these being Astronaut Training, Space Medicine, Astronaut Management, Human Exploration of the Moon as part of the Spaceship EAC initiative and Communications. It provides training facilities for European and international partner astronauts (including a neutral buoyancy pool), particularly regarding ESA hardware for the ISS such as Columbus and formerly the ATV. The overall European Astronaut Centre organisation is also in charge of the organisation of the training of European astronauts in the centers of other partners, such as the United States (NASA Johnson Space Center), Russia (Star City), Canada (Saint-Hubert) or Japan (Tsukuba).

The Medical Operations arm (the Crew Medical Support Office) concentrates on providing health related support to the European astronauts and their families. Astronaut management supports and directs the careers and mission placements of the astronauts, and Education and PR are involved in activities related to education and outreach and the appropriate representation of the European astronauts and their space activities to the public.

European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications

The European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications or ECSAT is a research center belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA) and located in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

It was created in 2009 and developed by ESA according to agreements between the agency and the United Kingdom in 2012. About 100 ESA employees were expected to work in Harwell by 2015. They would support activities linking space to telecommunications, integrated applications, climate change, technology and science. A new ESA-only building, which would include advanced concepts on sustainability and use of natural energy sources, would be constructed on the campus.

The development of ECSAT was in line with the growing efforts of the United Kingdom in the space sector, including the creation of the UK Space Agency in 2010 and the increase in the economic contribution of that country to the ESA. At the same time, the ESA benefited from a closer relation with the UK space sector and corrected an historical anomaly whereby the United Kingdom, while being one of the biggest ESA contributors, did not host any of the agency’s major centers.

There is an earlier ESA facility on the campus, the ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) Harwell, which is intended to assist in the development of technology transfer ideas, helping to transform them into viable businesses.

ECSAT hosts the ESA Climate Office, responsible for defining and implementing ESA's Climate Change Initiative Programme

European Space Astronomy Centre

The European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) is the ESA's centre for space science (astronomy, solar system exploration and fundamental physics). It hosts the science operation centres for all ESA astronomy and planetary missions together with their scientific archives. Past and present missions represented at ESAC include (in alphabetical order) Akari, BepiColombo, Cassini–Huygens, Cluster, Exomars, Gaia, Herschel, Hubble, ISO, INTEGRAL, IUE, LISA Pathfinder, Mars Express, Planck, Rosetta, SOHO, Venus Express, and XMM-Newton.

Future missions to be represented from ESAC include Athena, Euclid, James Webb Space Telescope, JUICE, Plato, and Solar Orbiter

In addition to deep space and solar system exploration, ESAC hosts the data processing of SMOS, a satellite observing the earth, and the CESAR educational programme.

ESA’s deep-space antenna in Europe is located in Cebreros, Avila, about 90km from Madrid and 65km from ESAC. This installation provides essential support to the activities of ESAC. Inaugurated in September 2005, Cebreros features a highly accurate pointing control system and a 35-metre antenna that allow ESA to gather data from distant missions to Mercury, Venus, Mars and beyond.

ESAC is also involved in ESA missions conducted in collaboration with other space agencies. One example is Akari, a Japanese-led mission to carry out an infrared sky survey, launched on 21 February 2006. Future collaborative programmes include the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

In addition, ESAC also hosts the Spanish Astrobiology Centre (CAB), an innovative research facility aimed mainly at encouraging young Spanish scientists to enter the fields of astrophysics and fundamental physics.

ESAC is located in Villafranca del Castillo, within the town limits of Villanueva de la Cañada, is located 30 km west of Madrid in the Guadarrama Valley. Evergreen oaks and the ruins of a nearby 15th-century castle (the Castillo de Aulencia) make a spectacular backdrop for the high-tech vista of ESA's large antennas and modern buildings.

Flight controller

Flight controllers are personnel who aid space flight by working in such Mission Control Centers as NASA's Mission Control Center or ESA's European Space Operations Centre. Flight controllers work at computer consoles and use telemetry to monitor various technical aspects of a space mission in real time. Each controller is an expert in a specific area and constantly communicates with additional experts in the "back room". The flight director, who leads the flight controllers, monitors the activities of a team of flight controllers, and has overall responsibility for success and safety.

This article primarily discusses NASA's flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. The various national and commercial flight control facilities have their own teams, which may be described on their own pages.

Gerhard Schwehm

Gerhard Schwehm (b. 13 March 1949, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany) is Head of Solar System Science Operations Division for the European Space Agency (ESA). He was Mission Manager for the Rosetta mission until his retirement.

MUSE (spacecraft)

MUSE (Mission to Uranus for Science and Exploration) is a European proposal for a dedicated mission to the planet Uranus to study its atmosphere, interior, moons, rings, and magnetosphere. It is proposed to be launched with an Ariane 6 in 2026, travel for 16.5 years to reach Uranus in 2044, and would operate until 2050.The European Space Operations Centre would monitor and control the mission, as well as generate and provide the raw data sets. In 2012, the cost was estimated at €1.8 billion. The mission addresses the themes of the ESA Cosmic Vision 2015-2025. This was designed as an L-Class flagship level mission. However, it is constrained by the need for RTGs. MUSE was also analyzed in the USA as an Enhanced New Frontiers class mission in 2014.

Mission control center

A mission control center (MCC, sometimes called a flight control center or operations center) is a facility that manages space flights, usually from the point of launch until landing or the end of the mission. It is part of the ground segment of spacecraft operations. A staff of flight controllers and other support personnel monitor all aspects of the mission using telemetry, and send commands to the vehicle using ground stations. Personnel supporting the mission from an MCC can include representatives of the attitude control system, power, propulsion, thermal, attitude dynamics, orbital operations and other subsystem disciplines. The training for these missions usually falls under the responsibility of the flight controllers, typically including extensive rehearsals in the MCC.

Space center

A space center is a place dedicated to space-related activity. It may be in public or private ownership.

These activities may concern:


Manufacturing of major parts of space vehicles

Launch of space vehicles

In orbit control of space vehicles

Government programs of a space agency

Public education at a specialist science museum

Swarm (spacecraft)

Swarm is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to study the Earth's magnetic field. High-precision and high-resolution measurements of the strength, direction and variations of the Earth's magnetic field, complemented by precise navigation, accelerometer and electric field measurements, will provide data for modelling the geomagnetic field and its interaction with other physical aspects of the Earth system. The results offer a view of the inside of the Earth from space, enabling the composition and processes of the interior to be studied in detail and increase our knowledge of atmospheric processes and ocean circulation patterns that affect climate and weather.

Telespazio VEGA Deutschland

Telespazio VEGA Deutschland is a European aerospace company, founded in 1978. The company provides consulting, technology and engineering services in aerospace missions for ESOC (European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt), EUMETSAT (European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, Darmstadt) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).Telespazio VEGA Deutschland is a subsidiary of Telespazio SpA. The Telespazio group is part of the Space Business Unit within Leonardo.

Telespazio VEGA UK

Telespazio VEGA UK Ltd. is a British space company based in Luton, Bedfordshire. Founded in 1978 by a small group of engineers at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, VEGA now works with Space agencies, satellite operators and manufacturers around the world. It works with the European Space Agency (ESA) and ESOC in Germany, European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, ESA Centre for Earth Observation (ESRIN) in Rome, Italy, and European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Madrid, Spain.

Since 1978, VEGA has worked on almost every ESA mission and many other European and international programmes, including Mars Express, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) for the International Space Station (ISS), the Eumetsat Polar System, and the Ground Segment Development for ADEN.

On 1 January 2011, VEGA Space Ltd, became a part of Telespazio, the Rome-based space systems services company. It was previously a part of Finmeccanica (now Leonardo, having been originally acquired in 2008 as VEGA Group PLC.

Telespazio VEGA is an active member of UKspace, the trade association for Britain’s space industry, and is heavily involved with the International Space Innovation Centre based in Harwell.

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