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European Space Agency


European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is an inter-governmental Organization founded in 1975, which aims at ensuring and fostering cooperation among European countries in the fields of space research and technologies for peaceful purposes, as well as their application to everyday life.

In 2015, after the accession of Estonia and Hungary, members have increased to 22 (20 EU members, Norway and Switzerland). Slovenia and Latvia are ESA Associate Members after signing the association agreement in 2016 and in 2020, respectively. Moreover, there are four countries holding the status of ECS (European Cooperating States): Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

ESA is one of the few space agencies that covers a wide array of sectors: science, being financed by contributions from all member countries and a number of optional programmes funded by interested countries on a voluntary basis, for Earth observation (Copernicus), telecommunications, satellite navigation (Galileo), human spaceflight, launchers and space technologies.

Italy is the third largest contributor to ESA's overall budget (in 2020, 93 MEuro in mandatory contributions and 571 for optional programs) after France and Germany and has confirmed its commitment to the development of the European space policy during the last ministerial meeting, held in Seville in 2019. On that occasion, it was announced that the national financial contribution to the Agency would rise to 2.3 billion.

ESA’s activities are characterised by strong cooperation among member countries, the space industry, the scientific community and, more recently, the European Union. The inspiring concept of ESA’s output policy is the “geographic return”, meaning that member States must have adequate proportional returns for their contributions in terms of industrial activities, which are generated by ESA’s programmes.

Since March 1st, 2021, the Austrian national Josef Aschbacher is ESA’s Director General, leading a structure of ten Directorates unchanged. One of them, the “Technical and Quality Management” directorate, is headed by the Italian national Franco Ongaro, who is also directing ESA ESTEC centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

ESA’s two main exploration activities concern the Moon and Mars. Italy is deeply involved in these activities both financially and for the industrial implications.

In the context of the Moon exploration, the “Lunar Gateway” is currently at an advanced stage of planning. It includes the construction of a space station on the Moon’s orbit, which will host a scientific laboratory and will harbour the base for future missions to the Moon and other parts of the solar system. The project stems from the cooperation of ESA, NASA and the Canadian and Japanese space agencies.

As part of Mars exploration, the mission “Mars Sample-Return” is currently being set up. The objective of the mission is to collect rock and dust samples to be analysed in laboratories on Earth. The project arises from the cooperation of ESA and NASA.

In the past, the “Rosetta Mission” and the “Futura Mission” were the two major initiatives where Italy’s scientific community and space industry have mostly been involved. The former made it possible for the first time, in March 2016, for a probe - named Rosetta - to reach a comet that was extremely distant from the sun, after a 10-year journey, sending a lander on it. The collected data are broadening our knowledge of the solar system’s origins.

The latter, named “Futura Mission” was Samantha Cristoforetti’s mission to the International Space Station, from November 2014 to June 2015. Samantha Cristoforetti, who is the first Italian female astronaut, led a wide range of experiments and communication activities meant at increasing the interest in science and technology for the younger generation, namely in the fields of nutrition and health.

ESA headquarter in Paris and ESA centres in several other countries employs around 2000 people. All new positions are posted on ESA vacancies’ website. Interested candidates are invited to regularly visit the website, giving notice of the submitted applications by sending an e-mail to