ESA Bulletin 153 (Feb 2013)

6 March 2013

The power of the Soyuz ST-B launcher captured in close-up, lifting off from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on 12 October 2012 as it took the third and fourth satellites of Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellite system into orbit.
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ESA and NASA plan to send astronauts farther into space than ever before, in Orion spacecraft powered by European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) technology. In 'Boldly going where no European has gone before', we look at the plans for NASA’s Orion spacecraft to use a Service Module derived from ESA’s ATV, which could see European astronauts flying beyond Earth orbit and, possibly, to the Moon.

The French Spot satellites have been charting the world’s vegetation since 1998. 'V' for vegetation' describes how this important task will soon fall to ESA’s Proba-V, which, despite being only a little larger than a washing machine, will provide sharp views of Earth’s plant life every two days. Keeping a close check on the health of vegetation is not only essential for monitoring environmental change, but also for numerous practical applications – importantly, those related to agriculture and food security.

Looking to ten or fifty years from today, with the ever-increasing number of satellites, the natural progression of space activities will lead to a growing need for access to orbit. This will be for servicing these satellites, extending their lives, limiting their replacement and controlling their disposal.

With the Space Shuttle now gone, the availability of a reusable system, able to carry modular payloads and perform robotic in-orbit operations, will be an important asset for the future exploitation of space. In 'Flying home', we look at ESA's development of such a spaceplane, a miniature robotic vehicle capable of carrying out these orbital operations and returning to Earth on a conventional runway, opening scenarios for routine and competitive access to space.

Looking even farther into the future, ESA is taking steps towards a long-term vision on science and its enabling technologies, transcending the objectives of ongoing programmes and activities, and setting the stage for ESA programmes of the future. In ‘Grand Science’, we read how ESA’s High-level Science Policy Advisory Committee (HISPAC) has identified a number of overarching scientific themes that will help to focus the key science and technology priorities of ESA. These include the nature of gravity, life in the Universe, terrestrial and cosmic climates and long-distance space travel.

The ESA Bulletin is published four times a year to inform the space-interested public of ESA’s activities. In addition to a wide range of articles, every issue provides an overview of the status of ESA's major space projects.

The full archive of Bulletins is also available at ESA's Publications web site,

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