National Academies Press: OpenBook

U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science (1998)

Chapter: 1 Introduction

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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.


The Joint Committee's Task

The Committee on International Space Programs (CISP) of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the European Space Science Committee (ESSC) were charged by the National Research Council (NRC) and the European Science Foundation (ESF), respectively, with conducting a joint study on U.S.-European collaboration in space missions. The study was initiated jointly by the SSB and the ESSC after discussions over several years on the increasing importance of international activities and the need to assess previous experience. This study was conducted by a joint SSB-ESSC committee.

The joint committee's central task was to analyze a set of U.S.-European cooperative missions in the space sciences, Earth sciences from space, and life and microgravity sciences and to determine what lessons could be learned regarding international agreements, mission planning, schedules, costs, and scientific output. Although the charge is largely retrospective and relies on existing or past missions, the joint committee found that in some cases, missions in the development stage offered the best (or only) examples that met the study criteria set forth later in this chapter. The joint committee also determined that though a retrospective study was requested, lessons learned from the analyses must be considered within a prospective context to be relevant to future cooperative activities. Although many new cooperative U.S.-European programs are being planned, an analysis of these programs would be premature and beyond the scope of this study.

Rationale For International Cooperation

The U.S.-CREST study1 points out that over the years, space activities have been driven by four basic motivations: (1) national security and defense, (2) economic payoff, (3) new knowledge and experience, and (4) increasing the public good. As examples, the U.S. Apollo program was motivated primarily by the first, national security, including leadership and prestige. Communications satellites are perhaps the best examples of the second category, space activity for economic payoff. (Operational Earth observation satellites fall partly into the same


U.S. Crest (Center for Research and Education on Strategy and Technology), Partners in Space, International Cooperation in Space: Strategies for the New Century, Arlington, Va., May 1993, p. xiii.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.

category.) Space and Earth science programs conducted from space are the foremost examples of the third motivation, and meteorological satellites are an excellent example of the fourth.

From the perspective of international cooperation, it is important to note that there tends to be less difficulty when the motivations of the cooperating partners are the same, or at least known to each other and compatible. An in-depth assessment of the basic motivations for cooperation and agreement on objectives, share of responsibilities, schedule, and financial framework is a precondition to the success of any cooperative effort, particularly any large-scale one. Such an assessment allows for effective, realistic negotiations before the program begins, although this may not suffice, as discussed in detail in Chapter 3.

Among the reasons for international cooperation in the space sciences are the following:

  • Improved scientific results from the sharing of experience, resources, data, and knowledge;
  • Enhanced and diversified opportunities for space research;
  • Reduction of costs for each participant through cost sharing. Cost sharing has generally included in-kind payments such as payload launches, instruments or facilities, operations support, tracking, and data collection and dissemination;
  • Enhanced chances of obtaining program or project approval and seeing it through to a successful conclusion;
  • Provision of access to unique capabilities, facilities, or locations;
  • Stimulation of technology development;
  • Access to new technologies; and
  • Improved international relations.

As a result of these incentives, space science has enjoyed a particularly long history of cooperation. Indeed, the entire space science program began as a cooperative effort with the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year. This report furthers the interest in cooperation by deriving lessons learned as to why some U.S.-European cooperative efforts have been more successful than others. From these lessons learned, the committee hopes to improve international cooperation in the future and to enable better use of the available funds for space research. The heart of the report is a set of case studies of cooperative space science missions conducted in a “bottom-up" manner with the collaboration of European and U.S. officials who were actively engaged in carrying them out. The case studies are divided into three areas: classic space science,2 Earth science conducted from space, and microgravity research and life sciences (MRLS; see Box 1.1). This allowed the committee to compare the similarities and differences among these studies in terms of boundary conditions, substance, and procedure. The unique aspects of each of these three areas are significant and warrant individual investigation.

Scope And Study Criteria

It is recognized that cooperation in space research occurs worldwide, with notable contributions from many countries. From this broad view, U.S.-European cooperation is a subset (albeit an important one) of the whole. This study focuses on the United States and Europe because of the long history of cooperation between the two. They present a complex history of variables to analyze and understand (particularly when programs with individual European countries are included) and can provide lessons for the wider community as well. Further study of the more far-reaching aspects of cooperation that are not included here, as well as experiences acquired through cooperation with such space-faring partners as Japan and Russia, may be undertaken in the future.

Technically, cooperation means combining the efforts of two or more countries in an integrated project (large or small) to reach a common set of objectives; coordination means linking two or more relatively independent projects to enhance their scientific return; and collaboration means joining the efforts of two or more scientists or other individuals to achieve a common set of objectives. For the purposes of this report, however, cooperation is used as a generic term denoting international participation in a project.


Classic space science includes space physics, astrophysics, astronomy, and sloar system research.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.

BOX 1.1
Case Study Areas

Classic Space Science

Space science is a traditional scientific activity whose objective can be accomplished only in space or by observations from space. Space sciences are those that, through the data from spaceborne instruments, further the study of Earth's environment above the atmosphere, the exploration of the solar system, the study of celestial bodies and their evolution, and the study of cosmological questions about the beginning, evolution, and future of the universe, including the possibility of life elsewhere. Spaceborne instruments permit in situ measurements of Earth's space environment, access to wavelengths and energetic particles of galactic and solar system origin blocked by the atmosphere, freedom from atmospheric aberration, and long observing times. Space sciences include the exploration of the Sun and of the interplanetary medium. Space science has been a pathfinder of international space activity. It has a highly structured community with a tradition of cooperation across national boundaries unhindered by political or commercial considerations. Its technical tools, spacecraft, and instruments present a continuous challenge to scientists and engineers alike in the incessant pursuit of the elusive knowledge of the workings of our universe.

Earth Science Conducted from Space

Earth science seeks to develop our knowledge of planet Earth and its response to natural and human actions. The disciplines concerned are diverse and include the atmospheric sciences (physics, aeronomy, and chemistry); oceanography (physics, chemistry, geology, and biology); and land surface studies (physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, geology, geography, and glaciology). There is no unified Earth science community, although all disciplines recognize that interactions among these fields are essential; for example, general circulation models can couple the atmosphere, ocean, and land. Moreover, Earth sciences research can be conducted using data from ground-based investigations or from space-based Earth observations. Earth science conducted from space has multiple objectives: scientific, operational, commercial, political, and military. National interests may provide reasons for space-based Earth observation missions that complicate international cooperation in both the definition of mission goals and the legal and national security considerations. On the other hand, for a given mission the set of data acquired may be appropriate for several of the above-mentioned objectives and may be shared among different discipline teams. The possibility of using space-based Earth observation data for commercial or national security applications may have a strong impact on data policies, which may differ among countries. Unlike the space sciences, Earth observations from space also make it possible to perform control, validation, and calibration experiments in the field, which can be blended with a variety of data types for analysis.

Microgravity Research and Life Sciences (MRLS)

Microgravity research and life sciences (MRLS) is a term that covers a broad group of disciplines. What they have in common is the fact that gravity is an important parameter and that the lack of gravity in space allows experiments to be conducted that could not be performed on Earth. In general, microgravity research and life sciences are laboratory sciences. On the physical side, MRLS involves studies of the effects of gravity on chemistry, physics, combustion science, materials science, and fluid science. In the life sciences, MRLS includes studies of the effects of gravity on human physiology and of the basic biology of plants, animals, and microorganisms. In addition, MRLS research studies the effects of radiation on living organisms. MRLS studies in space usually consist of a large number of small, relatively short-term experiments, which must be replicated as often as possible. Some experiments are designed to learn about the specific effects of gravity on processes or organisms. Others are designed to take advantage of the lack of gravity in space. Some MRLS experiments are autonomous or can be operated remotely, but most require manipulation by humans during the course of the experiment. As a result, most MRLS experiments can be performed only aboard a spacecraft with a crew.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.

More than a hundred missions have involved various levels of U.S.-European cooperation in space research, some of which vary greatly in scope, complexity, and the types of cooperation and management approaches used. Some missions were quite successful, others failed, and several projects never achieved fruition. It was therefore impossible to review and analyze all of these missions within the scope of this report. The joint committee decided to restrict the study to the following:

  • Past missions that could be extended to missions in the development stage when no other examples were available or when the missions illustrated specific lessons learned;
  • Missions resulting from cooperation between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) or between NASA and one or several European nations;
  • Missions that differed in scope and complexity, from principal investigator (PI)-type to multipurpose and observatory types;3
  • Missions corresponding to different types of cooperation; and
  • Cooperative efforts that succeeded and those that failed.

It is clear in retrospect that the types of cooperation that have taken place have been largely dependent on the technical maturity of the respective participants and the political and economic environment. Therefore, a synopsis of each to establish historical context is necessary.

The remainder of this report contains three chapters. Chapter 2 gives an overview of past cooperation in space research between the United States and Europe. Its aim is to provide the reader with a feeling of the importance of U.S.-European cooperation, to establish the context of its evolution, and to identify how cooperation is established and fostered. Thus, Chapter 2 sets the stage for this study. It turns out that the different structures within which agencies operate and each agency's particular funding and decision-making processes play very important roles. They are therefore presented at the end of Chapter 2 to give a complete picture of the importance of U.S.-European cooperative efforts.4

Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to the analysis of missions and the identification of the most significant lessons learned, from which recommendations are made to improve cooperation in future missions. Because it is not possible to analyze all of the missions introduced in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 is limited to the analysis of carefully selected missions that represent typical case studies. It gives the rationale for selecting these case missions and the guidelines for studying them. To keep Chapter 3 at a reasonable length, it contains only a short description of the missions selected and of the story behind each cooperative effort.

Chapter 3 goes from analysis of the missions to the lessons learned (or findings) per discipline, and Chapter 4 identifies the key factors common to all of these findings, whatever the discipline. Restructuring the findings of Chapter 3 according to these key factors leads to the recommendations in Chapter 4.


A PI mission is one in which the primary responsibility for instrument design and for the production of data is in the hands of a principal investigator(s). Most smaller missions are conducted in this mode, but larger missions (e.g., Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite [UARS]) can be PI missions as well. The classic example of a facility or observatory-class mission is the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), which is a facility that investigators propose to use. There also are hybrid missions of each type.


Tables A.1 through A.3 listing missions realized in the framework of U.S.-European cooperation are presented in Appendix A.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1998. U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5981.
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U.S.-European Collaboration in Space Science reviews the past 30 years of space-based research across the Atlantic. The book, which was prepared jointly with the European Space Science Committee (under the aegis of the European Science Foundation) begins with a broad survey of the historical and political context of U.S.-European cooperation and collaboration in space.

The focus of the book is a set of 13 U.S.-European missions in astrophysics, space physics, planetary sciences, earth sciences, and life and microgravity research that illustrate "lessons learned" on the evolution of the cooperation, mission planning and scheduling, international agreements, cost-sharing, management, and scientific output.

These lessons form the basis of the joint committee's findings and recommendations, which serve to improve the future conduct and enhance the scientific output of U.S.-European cooperation and collaboration in space science.

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