ESA’s Science programme revolves around satellite missions that can unravel the mysteries of the universe. It is a compulsory programme for ESA Member States who contribute in proportion to their gross national product. The Dutch contribution is about 4.5% (300 million euros in 2015) of ESA's annual budget.

Member States jointly decide about the satellites to be developed. The major scientific themes that guide the scientific programme are described in the astronomy programme Cosmic Vision 2020. This programme is also of major importance for the Netherlands. Our country belongs to both the industrial and scientific world top. That is apparent from the contributions to missions such as GAIA (astrometry) and Herschel (infrared astronomy).

The scientific programme is extremely successful and efficient. The missions provide scientific insights of international importance and also successfully capture the imagination of the general public. One such example is the unique achievements of Rosetta that made the first landing on a comet (2014).

Scientific instruments are funded, developed and built by the Member States. Subsequently, they are built into the satellite under the auspices of ESA. As the leader of an international consortium, the Netherlands provided the HIFI instrument for the Herschel space telescope, for example.

If a scientific mission is selected by ESA, then the Member States can announce their intention to supply an instrument. The most appropriate plan is selected from the submissions.

In the Netherlands, the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) is responsible for supplying instruments to the scientific programme and, in addition to NSO, it is also a representative in the Science Programme Committee (SPC).

Over the years, the scientific programme of ESA, sometimes in collaboration with other space agencies, has yielded sensational missions:

  • Giotto to Halley’s comet
  • Rosetta to the comet 67p Churyumov-Gerasimenko
  • Herschel
  • Planck
  • Hubble space telescope (contributions)
  • Huygens lander on Titan (part NASA’s Cassini mission)
  • XMM Newton
  • Mars Express
  • Venus Express