Darmstadt Operations Center Supporting Landing of NASA’s Mars Rover
Enlarge image The ESA control center in Darmstadt: scientists in the Hessian city will keep a sharp eye on the activities of both the space craft and probe. Their main task is to alert their colleagues in the United States if something goes wrong. (© picture alliance / dpa) Quite opposite from a fevered bustle of activity, the European Space Agency (ESA) in the central German city of Darmstadt has quite a relaxed atmosphere. Scientists chat casually on their way to the conference room as visitors amble past the large pane glass windows.
And this is only days before a planned landing of the remote-controlled NASA Mars vehicle Curiosity. The event is being supported by the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt with the use of the space probe Mars Express. Scientists in the Hessian city keep a sharp eye on the activities of both the space craft and probe. Their main task is to alert their colleagues in the United States if something goes wrong. Mission control is actually located several thousand kilometers away in Pasadena, California.
Enlarge image An artist's concept of the entry, descent and landing phase (EDL) of the Mars Science Laboratory. (© picture alliance / dpa) “We are especially looking forward to this,” said Manfred Warhaut, head of the ESA Mission Operations Department since 2006. In his office, model satellites and memorabilia of successful missions strewn here and there, there is also no great sense of urgency. Still, the landing of the American rover Curiosity in the Mars Gale Crater on Monday, August 6, is an ambitious undertaking.
On November 26, 2011, the one-ton vehicle left Earth accompanied by a NASA probe to collect data in preparation for a manned Mars mission sometime in the future, including the investigation of the climate and geology of the planet.
The Darmstadt control center has earned quite a favorable reputation in the field of international spaceflight, according to the ESA department chief. For the moment, operations in the German city manage 850 workers spread across 13 individual missions throughout Europe, said Warhaut. Twelve more missions have been planned – for example, research of solar storms and climate monitoring. The ESA scientist said the books are full: “We cannot complain about the coming years.”
Germany’s Role in the European Space Agency
- The European Space Agency (ESA) consists of 19 member states, which collectively finance an annual budget of close to 4 billion euros.
- Germany’s contribution equals 714 million euros, representing 17.9 percent of the total budget.
- According to ESA, 90 percent of funds from Germany are paid back via contracts in German industry.
- Two of the more significant ESA headquarters are based in Germany, the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne and the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt.