Did you know that you can attend the European Space Agency, or: ESA Open Day? The ESTEC facility in the Netherlands offers you a yearly peek behind the most advanced tech facility in our country… and that of Europe!
While unfortunately due to the current pandemic we’re not able to visit ESTEC for their fun space day, I had the chance to attend in 2019 and would love to show you what I learned and discovered here.
I’ll also tell you a bit about what ESA and Noordwijk ESTEC exactly are, as well as share some interesting facts about these space research organizations.
ESA ESTEC OPEN DAY REVIEW
WHAT IS THE ESA?
If you’re wondering: ‘what does ESA mean‘, well ESA stands for “European Space Agency“.
The ESA was formed in 1975 by 10 European Member States: Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Today, ESA has 22 Member States and has cooperation agreements with several more countries including Canada.
WHY WAS ESA FORMED?
In 1964, organizations ELDO and ESRO were founded to give Europe independent access to space for research and exploration.
ESA was a result of a merger between these two organizations.
As usual, ESA explains it best via their interesting educational videos:
WHERE CAN YOU FIND THE ESA EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY?
In Europe, the ESA agency has several sites to do their space research. Their main sites are:
ESA in Paris, France
GOOGLE MAPS >>
ESTEC in Noordwijk, The Netherlands
European Space Research & Technology Centre
(ESA’s Technical Heart)
GOOGLE MAPS >>
ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany
European Space Operations Centre
(ESA’s Mission Control)
GOOGLE MAPS >>
EAC in Cologne, Germany
European Astronaut Centre
GOOGLE MAPS >>
ESRIN in Frascati, Italy
European Space Research Institute
(ESA’s Centre for Earth Observation)
GOOGLE MAPS >>
ESAC in Villafranca del Castillo, Madrid, Spain
European Space Astronomy Centre
GOOGLE MAPS >>
ESEC in Libin, Belgium
ESA’s Space Security & Education Centre
GOOGLE MAPS >>
ECSAT in Harwell, United Kingdom
European Centre for Space Applications & Telecommunications
GOOGLE MAPS >>
You can find all the main ESA sites on the map that I´ve created for you below:
WHAT DO THEY RESEARCH AT ESA?
The first thing that probably comes to mind when you think of ESA is human spaceflight, but while this is one of the fields that is being researched, there are so many more activities that play an important role in their exploration.
It’s one of the reasons a visit to the open day was so interesting to me, because I never realized just how extensive their programs are.
ESA’s activities can be categorized in the following activities:
- Human and Robotic Spaceflight (ok, I agree this is the coolest one)
- Observing the Earth (think satellites)
- Space Transportation / Launchers (it really is rocket science!)
- Space Science
- Space Engineering & Technology (think manufacturing, simulations, 3D printing, material research, etc.)
- Telecommunications & Integrated Applications
- Preparing for the Future
- Space Safety
- Safety & Security from Space
- Space for Climate
TIP: Click on each of the activities to download a flyer with more information.
Especially the last one, learning more about what the space industry can do to benefit our climate on Earth, is something I personally find really interesting!
CAN YOU TELL MORE ABOUT THE CURRENT ESA PROGRAMMES?
At the moment, ESA runs various programs with thrilling names such as:
- Copernicus Programme [The EU’s Earth observation programme]
- Cosmic Vision [Astronomy and solar system exploration]
- ExoMars [Astrobiology programme searching for signs of past life on Mars]
- FAST20XX [Developing the necessary technologies for a hypersonic suborbital spaceplane]
- Galileo [Global navigation satellite system]
- Horizon 2000 [Long-term space science and space exploration missions]
- ESA Living Planet Programme [Earth observation missions]
Which of these are you most interested in?
TIP: For more information, or to read more about a special program, have a look at the ESA website >>
WHAT BENEFIT DO THE ESA SPACE PROGRAMS HAVE FOR US?
Even if you’re not interested in human spaceflight and don’t dream on Living on Mars one day (although chances are that if you read this website, you probably are…), there is so much that space research can do to improve life on earth.
The ESA satellites give us better weather forecasts, accurate satnav (never get lost on your road trips again), and there are many integrated applications, for example when it comes to tech in your house (from broadcasting live TV to making your washing machine smart and from improving your security systems to telling your robot vacuum what and what not to suck up) and -oh yes …faster internet, of course.
The research and exploration also lead to safer air travel, better environmental protection and much, much more.
Yes, space research is very costly, but I believe 100% that the investment will be returned multiple times.
Being a European, born in The Netherlands, a country that made a name for itself when it comes to (technological) innovation, I am proud that ESA and ESTEC foster cooperation, create high quality jobs for people from all over Europe and drive so many innovations that feed back into the lives of citizens around the world.
(This was my TED Talk, thank you for listening, haha)
Ok, now that we have clear what ESA is all about, let’s visit their open day, shall we?
WHAT IS THE ESTEC?
Since I live in Amsterdam in The Netherlands, Technical Centre ESTEC is closest to me, so that’s what I will be focusing on in this article. It’s also where I went to the Open Day, which was super exciting!
ESTEC stands for “European Space Research and Technology Centre“. This is the place where all European space missions begin. While there is no separate Dutch Space Agency, the European Space Agency ESTEC is very important to The Netherlands!
Almost 3000 people from all around Europe work on everything from planning to design and from research to the actual testing of different space missions. You can say that this is where the magic happens!
CAN YOU GET A TOUR OF ESTEC?
Well… yes and no. ESTEC is a working facility, so don’t bother just showing up for a tour, but a company called “Spacetours Noordwijk” offers guided tours of ESTEC for company days, teambuilding, conferences and networking events.
Check their website: www.spacetoursnoordwijk.com >>
They also have a free virtual tour for universities and high schools >>
If you cannot sign up for one of these tours, we can high recommend visiting next-door Space EXPO instead. This is the go-place to learn about space in The Netherlands. We will visit again soon and take some pictures to show you what to expect. Please stay tuned for that!
Check their website: www.space-expo.nl >>
Finally, one of the best ways to see ESTEC from the inside, is to sign up for their yearly open day.
HOW CAN YOU VISIT THE ESTEC OPEN DAY IN THE NETHERLANDS?
If you ever wanted to take a look behind the scenes of European space travel, then a visit to the ESA Open Day is an absolute must.
One day a year ESA will open their doors to the general public. This is your chance to meet and learn from astronauts, hear about current and upcoming missions from experts, discover more about the experiments and tests that ESA is running and even see the technology that is used in space from up close.
Each year, the open day has a specific theme.
HOW TO GET TICKETS FOR THE ESA OPEN DAY?
The good thing is that access to the open day is FREE, but you really need to register well in advance, because this day is popular and places fill up quickly.
Tickets will become available on the ESA website >>
We were lucky enough to score some tickets in 2019, little did we know it would be the last chance for a while due to the pandemic!
In 2020, the Open Day was virtual, but to be honest, there were a lot of technical difficulties, I missed some good talks since they were all running at the same time and you just don’t get the same experience than being on location and seeing people and tech up close. But of course it’s great that they organized it online, so at least there was a bit of a space-fix for those who needed it.
EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY NETHERLANDS OPEN DAY 2019
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT AT THE ESA OPEN DAY?
Let’s just walk through it together, while I share some cool facts about ESTEC with you along the way:
ESTEC TIME ZONE
ESTEC have their own time named UTC(ESTEC). It’s set by an ensemble of atomic clocks in ESTEC’s Microwave Laboratory.
FLAGS OF ESA
Each morning, the flags of the 22 ESA member states, and the one of partner state Canada, are raised at ESTEC.
The building of ESTEC was designed by famous Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck (1918-1999)
FREE KNOWLEDGE (OH …AND THOSE AMAZING ESA POSTERS!)
What I liked was the area around the cafetaria, where ESTEC staff and students explained about the projects they were working on.
While it was all super technical, it was fun to see for me what kind of activities and programs ESA is working on and how advanced all of the research and equipment is. We got to get up close with (often life-sized) models of satellites and other tech.
And before I forget to mention it, one of my favourite activities was collecting all the stickers and posters that each table was handing out for free. I’m a sucker for free stuff, especially when it has to do with space, blame me!
Now I just need more walls in my house to actually display all the posters. And approval from my boyfriend, ha!
ESA TESTING FACILITIES
At the 3000 m2 ESTEC Test Centre, you can find Europe’s largest sound system (to simulate launch noise as the rocket takes off), an Earthquake-strenght shaker system (to simulate launch vibration) and Europe’s largest vacuum chamber (that fits an entire spacecraft), among other amazing test facilities to simulate a space environment.
ESTEC gets topped-up with around 50.000 liters of liquid nitrogen each day to keep their vacuum testing chambers as cold as outer space.
Of course we couldn’t walk inside these actual testing facilities to see the space engineers workshop or something like that, but we did get to see behind some doors and windows or got explanations from experts on site:
BACKBONE OF ESTEC
This corridor is the ‘backbone’ of ESTEC. Designed to develop sounding rockets, it now connects laboratories, project offices and the test center with each other.
As it was PACKED with people on the day, like you wouldn’t even believe, I didn’t get a shot of the entire length of the hallway. But here are some shots from the displays on the walls.
Or as I called them: “little moments to regain your sanity“.
ESA DROP-TEST MODEL
This is the IXV drop-test model of ESA’s IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle. It was designed to be a reusable space plane and tested a 3000 m splashdown off the coast of Sardinia in Italy in 2013.
ESTEC RAINBOW CORRIDOR
A great area of ESTEC is the ‘Rainbow Corridor’, where you can find some of the best technical laboratories of Europe.
ESTEC ERASMUS CENTRE
The Erasmus Space Exhibition Centre is a showcase for the Directorate of Human Spaceflight’s programs and missions. Its role is to inform and advise users interested in ESA’s space platforms and ground-based facilities.
ESA COLUMBUS LABORATORY
The Columbus Laboratory is ESA’s largest single contribution to the International Space Station. It was also the first permanent European research facility in space.
ESTEC HIGH BAY AREA
The High Bay is a 900 m2 exhibition area where you can familiarize yourself with experiment facilities. It includes a 13 meter high drop tower demonstrator, which gives you 1.6 seconds of micro-gravity to perform experiments with.
ESTEC / ESA MARS ROVER YARD
Also at Erasmus, you can pretend to be in space at the “Mars Yard”. This 8 x 8 meter space is part of the robotics lab and a testing ground for rovers.
ACTIVITIES & SPEAKERS AT THE ESA OPEN DAY
One of the elements of the ESA Open Day is that you get to listen to -and participate in- presentations and panels consisting of astronauts, YouTubers (We got to see Scott Manley!) and other space experts and enthusiasts.
There was also a “Space NL” tent with NL Space Experts running booths to share information.
The weather was absolutely terrible, but we nevertheless had a lovely day out.
For the kids, there was also enough to do, although the weather got a bit in the day for them to be able to enjoy some fun activities outside unfortunately.
All together, the Open Day was a great way to bring people together, share knowledge and our passion for space.
As you can tell from this blog, if you have the chance to visit ESA’s open day, I can highly recommend it! Fingers crossed we can all soon travel again and that these special events can start happening again.
Tell me: Have you ever been to the ESA Open Day at ESTEC Noordwijk?
HOW TO GET TO ESTEC IN NOORDWIJK?
While there is no point in just showing up at ESTEC / ESA Noordwijk on any given day, if you’re here for the open day or a guided tour and have tickets for these ESA events, the ESA ESTEC address is:
Keplerlaan 1, 2201 AZ Noordwijk Netherlands
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