Report from Darmstadt

13 October 2002

From: Regina Hagen,
Darmstaedter Friedensforum

In Darmstadt, the local peace group Darmstaedter Friedensforum compiled a leaflet for the employees of the European Space Operation Center (ESOC), which is located in Darmstadt.

ESOC is the satellite control center of the European Space Agency (ESA, headquarters in Paris). The control center takes over responsibility for satellites from the time when they are released from the launch vehicle, and either pass over control to the satellite owner/operator (e.g. EUMETSAT, the European weather satellite organization), or they retain control and operation of a satellite or space probe until operation ends.

Many ESA employees are scientists and scholars, and their interest is in (deep) space science, earth observation, research into the climate change, ocean observation, etc. In the past years, however, ESA in its self-understanding has slowly adapted to the changing role of the European Union, that now includes military missions (the so-called Petersberg tasks) and the formation of a European rapid intervention force. The use of environmental and earth observation satellites for military purposes is one result of this change.

Europe is currently developing its own navigational satellite system, code-named GALILEO, publicly praised for its civilian use but, just as the US GPS system, of highest military value. ESOC, located on the border of Darmstadt on extra-territorial land - it officially is French territory - will also be the control center for GALILEO. In this context, we learned, ESOC will become a high-security facility - with barbed wire, observation cameras, and increased security regulations.

The leaflet, which we distributed among employees coming to work on October 11, contains a collection of quotes - most of which are probably unknown to ESOC employees - and hopefully fuels a discussion on the changing role of ESA within the organization ( pdf copy of leaflet here ).


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