Year in images / Highlights / ESA

Launch of SmallGEO
ESA’s new small telecom platform was launched on 28 January 2017. The Hispasat 36W-1 satellite, based on the SmallGEO platform, lifted off on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

SmallGEO is Europe’s response to the market demand for more flexible, modular telecommunications platforms. It marks the first time the German satellite manufacturing company OHB System AG have been the prime contractor for a telecommunications satellite mission. Its Hispasat payload marks the first ESA partnership with a Spanish operator.
In the airlock
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet in the airlock during his first spacewalk, on Friday 13 January 2017. Together with NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, he spent five hours and 58 minutes outside the Space Station to complete a battery upgrade to the outpost’s power system.

Thomas commented on this picture: "NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has been on a record number of spacewalks, and has been IV (the person inside responsible for getting the crew out and back) many more times. She got us out the door one hour ahead of schedule, and took great pictures through the hatch! So lucky to have the best crewmembers."

Follow Thomas and his six-month Proxima mission via
Encapsulation begins
Sentinel-2B satellite being encapsulated within the half-shells of the Vega rocket fairing, at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Liftoff is set for on 7 March at 01:49 GMT (02:49 CET; 22:49 local time on 6 March).

Offering ’colour vision’ for Europe’s environmental monitoring Copernicus programme, Sentinel-2 combines high-resolution and novel multispectral capabilities to monitor Earth’s changing lands in unprecedented detail and accuracy.

Sentinel-2 is designed as a two-satellite constellation: Sentinel-2A and -2B. Sentinel-2A was launched on 23 June 2015 and has been providing routine imagery for the EU Copernicus Land Monitoring Service, among others. Once Sentinel-2B is launched and operational, the constellation will offer a global revisit every five days.

Information from this mission is helping to improve agricultural practices, monitor the world’s forest, detect pollution in lakes and coastal waters, and contribute to disaster mapping, to name a few.

The satellite was built by an industrial consortium led by prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
Space sunrise
Space sunrise taken by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet on the International Space Station showing Earth’s atmosphere. Thomas commented: "Sunrises. We experience 16 sunrises every 24 hours on the International Space Station as it takes us 90 minutes to do a complete orbit of our planet flying at 28 800 km/h. Of course we don’t notice most of the sunrises as we are working inside, but every now and again I can take a picture."
Two million stars in our Galaxy
The positions of two million stars in our Galaxy, based on data from the Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution, one of the products of the first Gaia data release.

The stars are plotted in Galactic coordinates and using a rectangular projection: in this, the plane of the Milky Way stands out as the horizontal band with greater density of stars. The stripes visible in the early frames reflect the way Gaia scans the sky and the preliminary nature of the first data release.

The shape of the Orion constellation can be spotted towards the right edge of the frame, just below the Galactic Plane. Two stellar clusters - groups of stars that were born together and consequently move together - can be seen towards the left edge of the frame: these are the alpha Persei (Per OB3) and Pleiades open clusters.
Lake MacKay, Australia
Brown hills speckle the eastern part of Australia’s Lake MacKay in this satellite image.

Located on the border of the states of Western Australia and Northern Territory, the salt lake only sees water after seasonal rainfall - if at all. It is classified as an ephemeral lake, meaning it exists only after precipitation. This is not the same as a seasonal lake, which sees water for longer periods.

About half of Australia’s rivers drain inland and often end in ephemeral salt lakes.

The greens and blues in this image show desert vegetation or algae, soil moisture and minerals - mainly salt. On some of the brown ’islands’ and on the shore in the lower right, we can see the east-west sand ridges forming lines in the landscape.

The lake lies at the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, which covers nearly 285 000 sq km. Roads are scarce in the area, and often frequented by four-wheel drive adventurers. Roads include the Canning Stock Route about 300 km to the west of the image, or Tanami Track connecting Australia’s Stuart Highway to the Great Northern Highway around 300 km to the east.

This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video programme , was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite on 15 March.

Although it is still being calibrated following the 7 March launch, the satellite’s main instrument is already delivering images, demonstrating its capability to map Earth’s land, coast and inland water bodies. Once fully operational, the data will be made available to users for a variety of applications, free of charge.
European Service Module
Set to be shipped to the USA in the first half of 2018, ESA’s contribution to NASA’s Orion spacecraft is taking shape at Airbus in Bremen, Germany. This is no test article: the service module pictured here will fly into space, past the Moon and farther than any other human-rated spacecraft has ever flown before.
The service module will supply electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen, propulsion and temperature control.
The blue circular frame is the support structure that holds the module as technicians work to get it ready. Yellow ties (removed before flight) keep the 11 km of wiring in place as the thousands of components are installed and connected. Behind the red support covers are the eight 490 N R-4D-11 thrusters, built by Aerojet.
Technicians are working in three shifts a day to assemble the components that are being shipped from all over Europe to complete this service module.

Read more about the Orion mission and Europe’s involvement on the minisite.
BepiColombo acoustic test
The full BepiColombo stack seen in the Large European Acoustic Facility (LEAF) at ESA’s test centre in June 2017. The walls of the chamber are fitted with powerful speakers that reproduce the noise expected during launch.

From bottom to top: the Mercury Transfer Module (sitting on top of a the cone-shaped adapter), the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (with an antenna facing towards the camera), and the sunshield (top), within which sits the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.
Sea survival training China
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti joined Chinese colleagues in Yantai, China to take part in their sea survival training, on 14 August 2017.

Returning from space in a Chinese capsule astronauts need to be prepared for any eventuality - including landing in the ocean or sea. Sea survival training is a staple of all astronaut training but this is the first time non-Chinese astronauts have taken part in this training.
Solar eclipse seen from Space Station
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli took this picture during the total solar eclipse of the Sun over the US on 21 August 2017.

From their unique vantage point 400 km above Earth’s surface, astronauts aboard the International Space Station saw the Moon’s fuzzy shadow on the surface of our planet during the eclipse. The space station crossed the path of the eclipse three times on its 90 minute-long orbits around the Earth.

Follow Paolo Nespoli during his six-month Vita mission at
Weightless Wishes Thomas Reiter
ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter (right) during The Kid’s Weightless Dreams campaign organised by Novespace and Rêves de Gosse that gave children with disabilities the opportunity to experience weightlessness and lunar gravity on a parabolic flight.

Eight children from five ESA member states - UK, France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy - boarded the Zero-G Airbus A310 in Bordeaux on 24 August 2017.

In addition to experiencing weightlessness, the children were also involved in science demonstrations. These included lighting a candle, mixing liquids of different densities, playing ping-pong with bubbles of water and working a fidget spinner to demonstrate the effects of microgravity.

Joining the children were ESA astronauts from their corresponding member states who have flown in space were on board to assist and mentor the children and answer their questions, Thomas Reiter (DE), Tim Peake (GB), Frank De Winne (BE), Claudie Haigneré (FR), Jean-Francois Clervoy (FR) and Maurizio Cheli (IT).
Paolo Nespoli in Cupola
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli takes photographs from Cupola on the International Space Station.

Paolo’s third and last mission to the Space Station is named Vita, which means ’life’ in Italian, and reflects the experiments Paolo runs and the philosophical notion of living in outer space - one of the most inhospitable places for humans.

Follow Paolo Nespoli during via
Hurricane Maria
An image of hurricane Maria taken by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli from on board the International Space Station on 21 September 2017. Paolo posted this image on his social media channels, commenting: "Hurricane Maria this morning: even from here it takes up all the horizon. Stay safe, our thoughts are with you".

Paolo’s third and last mission to the Space Station is named Vita, which means "life" in Italian, and reflects the experiments Paolo will run and the philosophical notion of living in outer space - one of the most inhospitable places for humans.

Follow the Vita mission at:­ssion/
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Reconstructed last image from Rosetta
A final image from Rosetta, shortly before it made a controlled impact onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 30 September 2016, was reconstructed from residual telemetry.

The image has a scale of 2 mm/pixel and measures about 1 m across.

More information
Macron and Juncker visit Europe’s Spaceport
ESA Director General Jan Woerner (right) with French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (left) during their visit to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 27 October 2017. In the background is the Ariane 5 that is set for launch in December with four Galileo satellites.
Enceladus setting behind Saturn - colour
Saturn’s active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus sinks behind the giant planet in a farewell portrait from the international Cassini spacecraft.

The image was taken on 13 September 2017 and is among the last images Cassini sent back.

It was taken using Cassini’s narrow-angle camera at a distance of 1.3 million km from Enceladus and about 1 million km from Saturn. Image scale on Enceladus is 8 km/pixel. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were assembled to create the natural colour view.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency.

Original image and more information
Autumn fireball
On 14 November 2017 at about 16:45 GMT a football-sized meteoroid entered Earth’s atmosphere about 50 km northeast of Darmstadt, Germany. It created a bright fireball in the sky, which was seen by thousands of people in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg, and was reported widely by media.

This remarkable image was taken by Ollie Taylor , a photographer from Dorset, UK, who happened to be on a shoot in Italy, in the Dolomites. The landscape scene shows the village of La Villa, Alta Badia, with Ursa Major seen in the background sky.

At dusk on 14 November, he was setting up for a night landscape shoot at Passo Falzarego, at 2200 m altitude, in clear but chilly -6ºC weather.

Ollie reports: "I was composing a shot of this scene and Ursa Major, seen above the meteor. I wanted to get it at twilight so the sky had a nice pink hue. I just decided I was not getting close enough, and was reaching for my other camera with a longer lens, luckily I left this camera exposing!

"It was a stroke of luck, as it’s given me not only the meteor, but great landscape background, too."

Small lumps of rock enter our atmosphere every day, but it is rare for one to burn so brightly and to be seen by so many people.

"Owing to the meteoroid’s very high speed, estimated to be at least 70 000 km/h, it super-heated the air molecules in its path as it decelerated, creating a very luminous fireball," adds Rudiger Jehn, of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme.

"Observers reported the meteoroid in detail, which allowed us to estimate its final fate: burning up at an altitude of around 50 km above Luxembourg."

By yesterday, over 1150 sightings had been submitted to the International Meteor Organization, which runs a website to gather sightings of such events worldwide.

Four other fireballs were reported in France and the US 14-15 November, and the fireball over Luxembourg could be linked to the Taurid Meteor Shower , according to the organisation.

ESA supports the global effort to spot natural objects such as asteroids - much larger than this object - that can potentially strike Earth and cause damage. Access more information on the Space Situational Awareness programme via

Additional video footage of this event

Meteoroid seen from Dresden & Sighting report (in German) by Heiko Boehme

Meteoroid seen from Saarland by Freiwillige Feuerwehr Höchen