Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of the European Space Agency

Jean-Jacques Dordain

Jean-Jacques Dordain has been ESA's Director General since July 2003, having been twice reappointed to the position by the ESA Council. Prior to becoming Director General, he served first as ESA’s Director for Strategy and Technical Assessment and then as Director of Launchers. He initially joined ESA in 1986 as Head of ESA’s Microgravity and Space Station Utilisation Department.

Mr Dordain began his career with the French National Aerospace Studies and Research Agency (ONERA), conducting research on liquid-propellant rocket engines and microgravity experiments. In 1976, he became Coordinator of Space Activities and remained in that post until 1981. It was during that period that he was selected as a French candidate astronaut for the Spacelab programme.

In 1982 he moved to become Director of the General Physics Directorate of ONERA and chaired a number of enquiry boards set up to investigate Ariane launcher ground and inflight anomalies and failures.

Mr Dordain has pursued an academic career in parallel to his professional activities. He was appointed senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique from 1977 to 1993 and Professor at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace from 1973 to 1987. He is also Professor at the University La Sapienza in Rome and Honorary Professor in Graz University in Austria. In 1997 he was invited to be the Executive Secretary of the Evaluation Committee of the Japanese space agency (NASDA).

Jean-Jacques Dordain is a member of the French Académie des Technologies and the Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace. He has been awarded France’s Legion d’Honneur and Ordre National du Mérite.

Main achievements

While at the helm of ESA, Mr Dordain has presided over a long string of successful Ariane launches carrying important space science missions, such as the Rosetta comet chaser (2004) and the Herschel and Planck cosmic explorers (2009). In addition, a number of key Earth observation satellites, such as GOCE (2009) to study Earth's gravity field, SMOS (2009) to investigate soil moisture and ocean salinity and CryoSat (2010) to study floating ice in the polar oceans and ice sheets, have been brought into orbit, albeit in those instances by Russian launchers.

In the area of human spaceflight and microgravity, Mr Dordain has been witness to the successful launch of the Columbus laboratory to form a crucial part of the ISS in 2008.

Two Automated Transfer Vehicles were also lofted to the International Space Station by Ariane 5 in 2008 and 2011.

In parallel to these programmatic successes, Mr Dordain has been instrumental in the Agency’s development at an institutional level. He has given specific impetus to institutional relations and to the development of new partnerships, as well as initiating a new field of security-related space activities at ESA. He has also been a driving force behind the renewal and evolution of existing international partnerships.

Since 2003, the membership of ESA has grown from 15 to 19 (soon to be 20) Member States and ESA has welcomed six new countries as European Cooperating States (Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, Estonia and Slovenia) thus reflecting the political importance of the EU as a growing actor in space. Since October 2011 all EU countries not yet members of ESA may attend its governing body, the Council, as observers on specific items.

Since first assuming his responsibilities as Director General, Mr Dordain has nurtured ESA's relationship with the European Union and its institutions. Within the ESA/EU framework agreement established in 2004, ESA has drawn up together with the European Commission a European Space policy as a common political framework for space activities in Europe. Within this set-up, ESA has been entrusted with managing the technical development of the EU’s two flagship space programmes: Galileo for satellite navigation and GMES, for monitoring the environment and security.

Mr Dordain has been instrumental in sealing several key partnerships with industry and commercial operators: Hylas-1, launched in November 2010, was developed with the UK operator Avanti to provide broadband services to previously underserved users. Alphasat, to be launched in 2012 and operated by Inmarsat, and the SmallGEO platform, in partnership with Hispasat and to be launched in 2013, will shape the new commercial offer through technological progress in satellite communications. As of 2014 the European Data Relay System – another prime example of a PPP, in this case with Astrium – will make it possible to provide observation services in minutes rather than hours.

With Mr Dordain in office, ESA has begun creating links, both programmatic and political, with the security and defence world with the creation of the Structured Dialogue on space and security, which brings together the EU Council, European Commission, European Defence Agency (EDA) and ESA. Additionally, an administrative arrangement with EDA was concluded in June 2011, giving rise to programmatic cooperation.

Mr Dordain’s leadership has enabled the Agency to consolidate and enhance several successful international partnerships. To name but a few, he has set in train the long-term cooperation with the US on the robotic exploration of Mars, the launching of Russia’s Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, and the first ever cooperation with China in the field of space science. He has also begun an ambitious programme of scientific cooperation with Japan, both in planetary exploration with BepiColombo, and in Earth sciences with the EarthCARE programme. Mr Dordain has been key in ensuring the extension of the International Space Station’s operational life to 2020, an extension which on the European side was accompanied by the recruitment of six new astronauts in 2009.

Last update: 7 December 2011

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