This Sunday is when ESA opens the doors of its largest establishment, letting visitors meet astronauts and space experts, talk to the teams behind Europe’s space missions and inspect a unique concentration of space simulation and test facilities.
Nestled beside North Sea sand dunes, is ESA’s technical heart in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where space missions are first designed, then guided through development and finally tested for orbital readiness – and new technology is developed to enable the next generation of spacecraft.
This Sunday marks the centre’s seventh annual Open Day, set to be the biggest yet, with the theme of Bringing Space To Earth.
A record eight astronauts will be speaking and signing autographs: Jean-Jacques Favier and Claudie Haigneré of France, Michael Foale of the UK, Dirk Frimout of Belgium, Ulf Merbold and Ernst Messerschmid of Germany, Dumitru Prunariu of Romania, and André Kuipers of the Netherlands.
This year’s Open Day will also include a rare public walkthrough of ESA’s Test Centre, where satellites are subjected to simulated launch and orbital conditions.
Visitors will be able to see the Phenix thermal vacuum chamber, which exposes satellites to sustained vacuum and temperature extremes for days or weeks at a time, the Large European Acoustic Facility, which blasts satellites with the equivalent sound pressure experienced during a rocket launch, and the Hertz radio-frequency test chamber, which simulates the boundless realm of space to test radio systems as if they are already operating in orbit.
The Test Centre is available for viewing this year because it has recently completed its largest-scale test programme yet: clearing a total of 22 Galileo navigation satellites for launch. It will host a special exhibit on Galileo, Europe’s own satnav system, including a chance to watch the next launch here with the Galileo team.
The site is home to multiple ESA Directorates, so a wide variety of activities will also be presented: visitors will be able to take a 3D tour of the International Space Station, learn about the Sentinel-5P atmosphere-monitoring mission due to be launched next week, and try out spacecraft navigation systems for themselves.
ESA’s Education team has planned a full day of lectures, aimed at both schoolchildren and university students – and their parents – along with fun activities including Lego robot building and firing bottle rockets.
ESA’s Dutch partners will also be represented: the NL Space Tent gathers together Dutch researchers and engineers to present their own cutting-edge work, including the development of the Tropomi instrument at the heart of Sentinel-5P. And Space Expo, the adjacent permanent visitor centre, will be participating with bargain half-price tickets, to see historic European and Dutch space exhibits, including the Soyuz capsule that returned André Kuipers to Earth.
In order to give visitors the best possible experience, admission is by ticket only. The tickets are sold out – if you have booked tickets but are unable to come then please cancel them so that others can have a chance to attend.
For full details of how to reach the centre, and associated FAQs, as well as the full programme of activities, please see the right-hand links.
Please spread the word about your time at the Open Day on Twitter and Instagram on the hashtags #OpenESTEC and #WvdW (for the Dutch Weekend of Science).