A Centre of excellence for Space Science

XMM-Newton UV image of supernova in spiral galaxy M100

ESAC has been chosen as the site for the Science Operations Centres (SOCs) of ESA Science missions for both astronomy and the Solar System. This means ESAC is rapidly evolving into a scientific hot-spot, a meeting point for top-level international space scientists working in different, but closely-related areas.

The role of the SOCs

XMM Newton Science Operations Centre (SOC) at ESAC
XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre (SOC) at ESAC

Once a space telescope has reached its operating orbit or when a Solar System mission is on its way to its faraway destination, then it is the Science Operations Centres’ task to ensure it is used in the best possible way. The SOCs’ engineers and scientists monitor and control the sophisticated instruments (cameras, spectrometers) being flown. They are also experts in planning and coordinating the various science instrument activities. The SOCs are also often responsible for the calibration of the instruments on board the spacecraft, for processing and archiving the data, and for helping the scientific community in their quest to increase our understanding of how the Universe works. All these tasks mean working closely with thousands of scientists all around the globe.


  • XMM-Newton, Launched in 1999, the most sensitive X-ray telescope ever built, used to study violent phenomena, such as active black holes.
  • Integral, Launched in 2002, a gamma-ray space telescope to detect the most energetic events in the cosmos, such as gamma-ray bursts.
  • Mars Espress, Launched in 2003, studying the ‘Red Planet’ in great detail.
  • Rosetta, Launched in 2004, the first mission for the long-term exploration of a comet, it will reach Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.
  • Venus Express, Launched in 2005, analysing the Venusian atmosphere with unprecedented sensitivity.
  • Herschel, Launched in 2009, an observatory at infrared and sub-millimetre wavelengths to observe the first stars and galaxies ever formed, using the largest telescope mirror launched to date.
  • Planck, Launched in 2009, the first European space observatory to study the Cosmic Microwave Background – the relic radiation from the Big Bang.
  • Gaia,To be launched in 2013, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way..
  • LISA Pathfinder, To be launched in 2013, it will prove the technologies vital for the LISA gravitational wave mission.
  • BepiColombo, To be launched in 2014, a joint mission with JAXA to Mercury, the least-explored planet in the inner Solar System.

    ESAC also plays a role in missions conducted in collaboration with other space agencies, such as Akari, JAXA’s infrared sky surveyor, where ESAC provides precise attitude information for the mission’s catalogues and user support to the European astronomers who have observing opportunities. ESAC will contribute to the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

    ESAC also hosts the Spanish Laboratory for Space Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics (LAEFF), an innovative research facility aimed mainly at encouraging young Spanish scientists to enter the fields of astrophysics and fundamental physics.

Last update: 13 December 2011

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