The Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy for the Director of ESTEC

Edition 29 May 2018, by

The Director of ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre) Mr. Franco Ongaro had the Knighthood of the Order of the Star of Italy bestowed upon him by the President of the Republic of Italy on February 12 via the Ambassador of Italy. On this occasion Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews Mr. Franco Ongaro.

Former posts: Mr. Ongaro joined ESA (European Space Agency) in 1987 where he fulfilled different functions, e.g. Head of the Columbus Payload Interfaces Unit in ESTEC. He was shortlisted as candidate in the European astronaut selection of 1991. He joined in HQ, Paris the ESA Strategy Directorate as General Studies Programme Manager; he managed the Aurora exploration programme; he worked on the Iris programme. In 2009 Head of the Telecom Technologies Department at ESTEC; In 2011 Director of Technical and Quality Management (since 1 January 2017 Technology, Engineering & Quality) and Head of ESTEC.

1. For which achievement did you receive the Order of the Star of Italy following a proposal by the Ambassador of Italy, H.E. Andrea Perugini at the Italian Embassy?
This distinction, which qualifies as a second civilian honor of the State, represents a particular honor on behalf of all those, Italians abroad or foreigners, who have acquired special merit in the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation between Italy and other countries and the promotion of ties with Italy. So I believe that His Excellency Mr Andrea Perugini thought I am helping Italy’s image in The Netherlands.

2. When and why was ESTEC established and who performed the official opening? Why was the city of Noordwijk chosen?
On 3 April 1968, the new European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESTEC, was inaugurated by Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix and His Royal Highness Prince Claus of the Netherlands. The establishment was already hard at work, with the successful launch of an ESTECdeveloped satellite taking place in the following months. The area of Noordwijk was chosen because of the stability of the grounds compared to other sites proposed then.

3. ESA (European Space Agency) has several sites in European countries, but ESTEC (the European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC) is the largest, the incubator of the European space effort. Can you tell me in short which activities take place in ESTEC?
ESTEC develops and manages all types of ESA missions: science, exploration, telecommunications, human spaceflight, satellite navigation and Earth observation; Provides all the managerial and technical competences and facilities needed to manage the development of space systems and technologies; Operates an environmental test centre for spacecraft, with supporting engineering laboratories specialised in systems engineering, components and materials, while maintaining an external network of other facilities and laboratories; Supports European space industry and works closely with other organisations, such as universities, research institutes and national agencies from ESA Member States, cooperates with space agencies all over the world Supports Transfer of Technology and Business Incubator Centres.

4. Which are the other sites, and what is their specific role?
ESA HQ: Paris is the seat of the ESA Council and Director General, as well as some Directors, plus offices of Human Resources, Legal Affairs, Finance, Budget, Internal Audit, International Relations and Communications. EAC: the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, is home base for the European Astronauts. It is a centre of excellence for astronaut training and medical support for ESA and partner agency astronauts. ESOC: the European space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, is where ESA’s ground station systems are developed and the smooth working of spacecraft in orbit is ensured. – ESRIN: Based in Frascati, near Rome, Italy, it is ESA’s centre for Earth Observation, and develops information systems. ECSAT (Harwell): the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) is ESA’s newest facility and its first in the United Kingdom. First opened in 2009, ECSAT has a focus on telecommunications and business applications but also supports teams working in climate change, technology and science. ESAC: the European space Astronomy Centre, near Madrid, Spain, hosts the science operations centres and scientific archives for ESA’s astronomy and Solar System missions. ESEC: the European space Security and Education Centre at Redu in Belgium is a centre of excellence for space cyber security services, home to ESA’s Proba mission control centres, the Space Weather Data Centre, the ESA Academy Training and Learning Centre and the E-Robotics lab, as well as part of ESA’s ground station network.

5. How many people work in total for ESA, and how many are working at ESTEC?
In total ESA Staff: 2200; ESTEC Staff: 1450 (+ 1350 Contractors on-site) 6. Which countries are the member states of ESA? ESA has 22 Member States: 20 states of the EU (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, Finland, France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom) plus Norway and Switzerland. Six other EU states have Cooperation Agreements with ESA: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia. Discussions are ongoing with Croatia. Slovenia is an Associate Member. Canada takes part in some programmes under a long-standing Cooperation Agreement.

7. How big is ESA’s budget?
The ESA budget for 2017 is 5.75 B€

8. How does ESA operate?
ESA’s job is to draw up the European space programme and carry it through. ESA’s programmes are designed to find out more about Earth, its immediate space environment, our Solar System and the Universe, as well as to develop satellite-based technologies and services, and to promote European industries. ESA also works closely with space organisations outside Europe.

9. Where do the ESA’s funds come from?
ESA’s mandatory activities (space science programmes and the general budget) are funded by a financial contribution from all the Agency’s Member States, calculated in accordance with each country’s gross national product. In addition, ESA conducts a number of optional programmes. Each Member State decides in which optional programme they wish to participate and the amount they wish to contribute.

10. Which ESA satellites were the most important to mankind over the last 10 years?
Hard question on so many wonderful missions. Let me quote a few. I would like to start with our Earth Observation missions, and in particular Cryosat and the EU Copernicus Sentinels. Thanks to these missions, ESA is the world’s largest provider of satellite data for Climate Change, and the most recent, Sentinel 5-p, with the Dutch developed instrument Tropomi, will provide unprecedented detail on the origin and diffusion of polluting gases, helping scientists but also legislators find solutions and enforce legislation. Looking towards the universe, we’ve taken a snapshot of the first light of the universe with Plank, released the most accurate ever map of position and velocity of 1.7 Billion stars with Gaia, landed on a comet and found some of the basic chemicals of life there with Rosetta. Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter is currently sniffing the atmosphere of Mars to look for traces of methane, soon to be joined by the rover which will drill under the surface, both ways to ascertain if life exists or existed on the red planet; and many others… In Exploration let’s not forget our Columbus module, part of the International Space Station since more than 10 years now, home to our astronauts and some extraordinary science. Not to forget, Galileo, now in all the new smartphones and the most precise navigation system in the world, and our launchers, Ariane and Vega and our Telecom technologies and satellites, which enable our industry to be competitive on the world scene. But let me point out, that as usual, the best is still to come, and we keep pushing the frontiers of what technology can help us reach…

11. What is the ESA Science Programme for?
The ESA science programme is the founding programme of space research in Europe, and one of the most successful worldwide. It basically looks for answers to these 4 fundamental questions about life and the universe we live in: 1. How did planets form and how can life emerge? 2. How does our Solar System work? 3. Which are the fundamental laws governing our universe? 4 .How does the universe work, and what is it made of?

12. Do rocket launches harm the ozone layer?
Everything we do has an impact on the environment, and so do rocket launches. However, their impact is very low due to the low number of launches (as opposed to other sources of pollution). Nevertheless, as part of the CleanSpace activities, we are working on solutions to further reduce even this low impact for the new launchers, especially because we trust that as space activities expand, also the number of launches will go up

13. What is “space weather”?
Our Sun plays a central role in daily life, by warming and lighting the world, and powering the growth of living plants. Since ancient times, mankind has been aware of its importance, although not always understanding how or why. Now in the space age, man-made satellites monitor and probe the environs of the Sun, observing subtler and sometimes damaging effects on Earth. Studying this “space weather”, the collective term used to describe effects originating from the Sun, is an increasingly important activity in our technologydependent society. Effects can be disrupting telecommunications or inducing power back-outs on long power lines.

14. Which message would you give to our readers?
Come and visit ESTEC and realize how much Space is part of you – we are all made of star material – and of your daily life!