A new beginning

Inquests into the death of Europa laid much of the blame at the feet of ELDO itself. It was clear that Europe would not step back from space completely - even in the darkest hours of the Europa project, France was using its Diamant launcher for successful launches from both Algeria and its new facility in Kourou, French Guiana. But Britain was rapidly losing confidence in the future of space exploration, and after the cancellation of the Black Arrow project in 1971, it largely restricted itself to scientific contributions to various satellites. ELDO had been critically undermined by the Europa failure, and while France was eager to develop a new pan-European launcher as a successor to Diamant, it wanted the largest share of the work and the final say in many elements of the new programme. The other nations were only too happy for France to shoulder the burden, and so in May 1975 the European powers united all their joint space efforts in a single new organisation - the European Space Agency.

The fledgling agency would inherit all of ESRO's projects and use many of the facilities of the French CNES space agency, including its launch centre at Kourou. One of the first satellites launched under the new ESA regime was the gamma-ray astronomy observatory Cos-B, though this mission, like previous European satellites, was carried into orbit by an American Delta rocket. The situation could not last, however - the development of microelectronics was already paving the way for the commercial satellite boom of the late 1970s, and ESA wanted its share of what would surely become a lucrative market.

Guiana Space








ESA's launcher systems are all tested at the 58m-(190ft-) high Launcher Integration Building at Kourou. From here, rockets are transferred along a rail track to the Final Assembly Building, and then on to the launch pad.


(Left) France selected Kourou for its new launch centre because of its near-ideal location. At latitude 5°N, rockets get a large speed boost from the Earth's rotation as they are launched towards the Atlantic. (Below) An ESA Arione 5 rocket is being readied at Kourou's Launch Complex 3.


The Cos-B gamma-ray observatory, launched for ESA by a US rocket on 9 August 1975, was largely developed under ESRO. Like many of their satellites, it was a great success.

31 May 1975

ESA is established by the ten ESRO member states.

9 August 1975

A US Scout rocket launches ESA's first satellite, Cos-B.

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