ESOC celebrates 50 years in Darmstadt

28 March 2017

This year marks the 50th anniversary of ESOC – the European Space Operations Centre – in Darmstadt. Since 1967, the centre has served as ‘mission control’ for Earth observation satellites, spacecraft watching our star, missions exploring the planets and comets of our Solar System and space telescopes focused on the depths of our Universe. 

ESA’s operations experts have celebrated many historic firsts at ESOC over the decades, including Giotto’s flyby of Halley’s Comet in 1986 and Rosetta’s landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014.

Established in 1967, ESOC is ESA’s mission control centre and actually predates ESA, which was created in 1975. The origins of ESA’s two predecessor organisations – the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) and the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) – go back to 1962.

In the autumn of 1963, the European Space Data Analysis Centre (ESDAC) was set up as part of ESRO in Darmstadt. The facility hosted the then-cutting edge mainframe computers tasked with processing and analysing satellite data, especially their orbits.

ESOC is born

ESRO-2 control roomAccess the image

In 1967, the mission control task of the Netherlands-based European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) was re-assigned to ESDAC in Darmstadt. With that, ESDAC took over the new activity of satellite control and was also renamed as the European Space Operations Centre.

On 8 September 1967, Germany’s Minister of Research Gerhard Stoltenberg officiated at the inauguration of ESOC, which is celebrated each year as the formal birthday of the centre.

Not long after that, in May 1968, the first ESOC-controlled satellite was launched: ESRO-2B. It was designed to study cosmic and solar radiation, and the technology used to control it would be alien to the satellite engineers of today. The computers filled entire rooms and were operated not with keyboards, but much more laboriously with the use of punch cards. Since then, ESOC teams have been involved in almost 80 satellite launches.

The 50th anniversary of ESOC is something we would like to celebrate with everyone. Below is an overview of the events planned so far, with more to be added as the year progresses. 

Long Night of the Stars, 8 September 2017

Night of the Stars at ESOC 2009Access the image

Fifty years after inauguration, ESOC will host an open day – more accurately an open night – when the public will be invited to experience a Long Night of the Stars.

ESA experts will be on hand to provide insight into our facilities, control rooms and technologies, present talks on our space missions, and show what our missions are discovering in the night sky, with telescope assistance. The details of the programme are being finalised, and information on tickets sales is available here

News and updates

For news and announcements relating to the anniversary, follow the hashtag #ESOC50 in social media, including ESA’s Facebook page and @esaoperations in Twitter.

Stay up to date on the latest activities at ESA by following us social media via: Connect with us.

Materials for download: space at your fingertips

ESOC has been involved in almost 80 satellite launches over the past 50 years and as of March 2017 is operating 11 missions. We constantly receive requests for posters, brochures and general information about ESA missions from kindergartens, schools, associations and space fans. We are therefore pleased to provide an overview below of the materials available for download:

Poster with an overview of ESA missions
Poster on activities at ESA
All ESA posters at a glance

Poster of ExoMars mission
Poster of Rosetta comet mission
Poster of LISA Pathfinder mission
Poster of Planck mission
Poster of Herschel mission
Poster of Venus Express mission
Poster of Cassini–Huygens mission
Poster of BepiColombo mission
Poster of Gaia mission
Poster of Cluster mission
Poster of XMM-Newton mission
Poster of SMART-1 moon mission
Poster of Solar Orbiter mission

ESOC brochure to download 

Mars desktop wallpaper

Images of the surface of Mars for your desktop. 

DIY satellite models

Fancy your own miniature model of a satellite for your home or classroom? You can make your own with these templates:

Model templates
Make your own model of the Rosetta cartoon character 

For kids

Information about space for young explorers is available here on the ESA Kids Website

For schools

Information and teaching aids, including for class experiments, can be found at ESA Education

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