Today we went to Noordwijk and visited the Space Expo exhibition and visitor center of the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC). The European Space Agency has sites in several European countries. ESTEC is the largest site and the technical heart of ESA. More than 2,000 rocket scientists work here on dozens of space projects. Here’s a view of ESTEC in Noordwijk, with the dunes and North Sea in the background. You can see that the scientists have their own golf course and soccer field. The building at the bottom, to the right of the soccer field, is Space Expo:
ESTEC covers about 100 acres of land near Noordwijk, which is a small coastal town northwest of Leiden. ESTEC provides extensive testing facilities to verify the proper operation of spacecraft, such as the Large Space Simulator (LSS), acoustic and electromagnetic testing bays, multi-axis vibration tables and the ESA Propulsion Laboratory (EPL). Almost all equipment that ESA launches is tested in some degree at ESTEC prior to launching.
The first time we visited Space Expo was on 23 January 2005 and the museum was then slated for refurbishment. They have done a very nice job; the displays and interactive screens look great. There’s a lot of information about the work of ESA, the International Space Station and other space stuff, with replicas of space craft, instruments and lots of beautiful large photos.
I found this video about the exhibition:
The highlight of our visit was the Space Train, which costs €3 extra and brings you on a tour of ESTEC.
We had also done the tour on our first visit in 2005 and then saw the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle sitting on the largest of their vibration tables. We were lucky then because they don’t always have something to see. The ATV was launched on 9 March 2008.
Today we were lucky again as they were working on the Herschel Space Observatory! We had a great view of this big piece of equipment as men in white outfits were working on it in the testing bay, which is a hermetically sealed environment. Herschel is scheduled for launch later this year and will be the first space observatory to cover the full far infrared waveband. Its 11.5 foot telescope will incorporate the largest mirror ever deployed in space.
Here are some more photos of our visit. Unfortunately cameras weren’t allowed inside ESTEC, so no pictures of the cool testing bays and satellite.