From ESTEC to eternity

ESTEC’s 1968 inauguration
ESTEC was formally inaugurated on 3 April 1968 by the then HRH Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands (subsequently Queen Beatrix) and her husband HRH Prince Claus. They were given a tour of the establishment ending in the canteen, where ESTEC Director Werner Kleen gave them a model of a satellite,
Site of ESTEC, 1965
Dr Bertrand Châtel, ESTEC’s Head of Technical Facilities, pictured in front of the board announcing the new establishment at the newly-selected Noordwijk site in April 1965.
ESTEC’s 1966 fire
A serious fire across the ESTEC site on 14 October 1966. The fire started in a prefabricated building, destroying buildings, test equipment and records.
ESRO’s first satellite
ESRO-2A attached to the final stage of its Scout launcher at the Western Test Range in California. This was the first satellite developed by the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), a predecessor of the European Space Agency. ESRO’s first satellites concentrated on solar and cosmic radiation and their interaction with the Earth and its magnetosphere. ESRO-2A was launched on 29 May 1967 from the Western Test Range in California, but the fourth stage of its NASA Scout launcher failed to ignite, leaving the satellite to burn up on reentry. The 74 kg ESRO-2B replacement (named Iris once in orbit) was launched 17 May 1968 carrying the same seven experiments. Although its design life was only 1 year, most subsystems and four experiments were still returning data by the time atmospheric drag produced reentry on 9 May 1971. [Image Date: 1967/05] [68.02.285-009]
ESTEC vacuum chamber transported along Rhine, 1966
Vacuum Test Facility Number 2 vacuum chamber seen transported by barge along the Rhine towards Katwijk harbour for delivery to ESTEC, January 1966.
ESRO-2 thermal-vacuum testing at ESTEC
ESRO-2 was the first satellite developed by the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), a predecessor of the European Space Agency. ESRO’s first satellites concentrated on solar and cosmic radiation and their interaction with the Earth and its magnetosphere. ESRO-2A was launched on 29 May 1967 from the Western Test Range in California, but the fourth stage of its NASA Scout launcher failed to ignite, leaving the satellite to burn up on reentry. The 74 kg ESRO-2B replacement (named Iris once in orbit) was launched 17 May 1968 carrying the same seven experiments. Although its design life was only 1 year, most subsystems and four experiments were still returning data by the time atmospheric drag produced reentry on 9 May 1971.
Welding ESTEC’s new Dynamic Test Chamber in 1975
Welding ESTEC’s new Dynamic Test Chamber vacuum chamber in 1975. This 10-m diameter, 12-m high chamber was able to accommodate satellites an order of magnitude bigger - large enough for Europe’s new Ariane 1 launcher. Indeed, in 1977, it went to work testing the Ariane 1 fairing.
Breaking ground for Test Centre expansion, 1982
Breaking ground for construction of the new Building 26 to expand the ESTEC Test Centre in late 1982.
John Denver visits ESTEC, 1982
Singer John Denver’s tour of ESTEC included an impromptu lunchtime concert in the top-floor restaurant on 22 November 1982. The well-known folk singer visited the establishment as part of a European concert tour, and visited the Exosat flight model in the ESTEC Test Centre. At the time Denver, an experienced pilot, was in talks with NASA about becoming a non-technical passenger on Space Shuttle mission STS-8 the following year.
Space Shuttle over ESTEC, 1983
On 5 June 1983, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, taking a ’piggy back’ on a specially modified Boeing 747, flew over ESA’s technical centre ESTEC in Noordwijk and out along the Dutch coast. The combination was on its way back to the United States after a visit to the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. It is estimated that half a million people watched the flypast.
Installing ESTEC’s LSS in 1984
During 1984 the ESTEC Test Centre’s Dynamic Test Chamber was transformed into the follow-on Large Space Simulator through the addition of an additional horizontal lamphouse to house a solar simulator, able to produce a 6-m beam of sunlight for thermal vacuum testing.
ESTEC’s restaurant under construction, 1987
Construction of ESTEC’s new restaurant building, designed by renowned Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck. Note the precast metal arches. The building opened in 1989, along with a new entrance and connecting ’tower’ offices.
ESTEC’s Large European Acoustic Facility, 1990
ESTEC’s Large European Acoustic Facility, the largest sound system in Europe, designed for to blast large-scale satellites with the equivalent noise of a rocket take-off. It was part of an extension of the Test Centre opened in 1990 by HRH Queen Beatrix.
ESTEC’s SpaceExpo, opened in 1992
ESTEC’s Space Expo visitor centre, opened in 1992, with a mockup of the Hermes spaceplane.
ESTEC aerial view in 1998
ESTEC viewed from the south, over the town of Katwijk. The main entrance is at bottom left; the large foreground building is the Escape centre.
Installing Hydra
The Hydra - short for Hydraulic Multi-axis Shaker - at ESA’s technology centre simulates the extreme vibration of the first few minutes of a rocket launch, to ensure that satellites and their component parts will not be shaken to pieces during their actual flight to orbit.

It was installed at the test facility in Noordwijk, the Netherlands in 1995. Here is a rare glimpse of the hydraulic actuators that move the 18-tonne shaker table, which is also seen sitting on the floor behind, ready to be lowered into place.

These actuators move the table in a similar fashion to an aircraft flight simulator, its motion overseen by a network of 36 parallel computers. The entire installation is braced by shock absorbers to prevent the resulting earthquake-strength vibrations spreading through the rest of the Test Centre.

Hydra has served many of Europe’s largest space missions, including Envisat - at eight tonnes the largest-ever civil Earth observation satellite - Herschel and the Automated Transfer Vehicle, which weighed 22 tonnes at launch.
Rosetta above Large Space Simulator
Rosetta’s Structural and Thermal Model - an initial replica of the final flight model, built for early testing - being lowered into the Large Space Simulator (LSS) at ESA’s ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwik, the Netherlands, in April 2000. The LSS is Europe’s single largest vacuum chamber, 15 m in height and 10 m in diameter, used to test full-size spacecraft in representative space conditions.
ATV testing in ESTEC’s LSS, 2006
Thermal vacuum testing of ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle supply spacecraft in the Large Space Simulator in November 2006. ATV weighed in at 22 tonnes fully fuelled, making it the largest spacecraft the Test Centre had worked with.
Prince Willem-Alexander opens ESTEC’s new lab corridor in 2008
Opening of ESTEC’s new EF laboratory corridor by HRH Prince Willem-Alexander on 8 April 2008.
ESTEC today
An aerial view of ESTEC from this year. Note the Erasmus building to the front right, the T building - home to ESA’s Galileo team - in the foreground, the restaurant at the top of the car park and the main building beside the dunes.


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