17 November saw two major space events taking place on the one day: the launch of 4 Galileo satellites from Kourou and the lift-off of the European astronaut Thomas Pesquet from Baikonur.

Galileo will need close to 30 satellites in its final configuration to carry out the tasks decided on from the outset. With yesterday’s launch, we now have 18 satellites in orbit, a very important step towards providing the “Initial Services” designed to allow industry to develop and test applications using real satellite signals and not only simulations. The 17 November launch had another particularly interesting aspect in that, for the first time, 4 Galileo satellites were launched simultaneously. While all the previous Galileo satellites had been launched with Soyuz, restricting the number to two per launch, this time a modified Ariane 5 was used, carrying 4 satellites at once. It sounds as if it is just a question of payload mass but the real challenge consists in bringing each individual satellite to its individual, pre-planned position in orbit. This necessitates some highly complex manoeuvres involving the stepwise separation and deployment of the satellites.

Just hours after the launch, the ground stations were able to announce that this operation had been successfully completed.

Only a few hours later, a Soyuz lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying on board American astronaut Peggy Whitson (NASA), Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos) and the European astronaut of French nationality, Thomas Pesquet (ESA). To say farewell in a more personal way, I travelled to Moscow two weeks ago and met Thomas during his preparations at Star City, near Moscow. We had the opportunity to exchange some views and feelings and I found him in perfect shape for his upcoming “ride” into space. As I couldn’t be in Kourou and Baikonur at the same time, I decided this time to witness the launch activities from the joint ESA-CNES launch event in Paris, while the ESA Directors concerned were on site with Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration David Parker in Baikonur and, respectively, the Directors of Launchers Daniel Neuenschwander and of the Galileo Programme and Navigation-related Activities Paul Verhoef in Kourou. You could say that for all three, as recently appointed Directors, this was a baptism of fire.

Both launches serve to showcase the broad experience and competence of ESA, as well as the position it occupies, spanning applications, science and exploration, as well as space transportation and operations. This wide-ranging competence, combined with the international experience, nature and organisational culture of ESA, is what we bring to the table as we address the challenges of the future, which I frequently refer to as “Space 4.0”.

ESA is more than a procurement agency, it is at the same time an enabler, a broker and mediator for space activities, covering all areas. ESA, as it approaches its Council meeting at ministerial level in Lucerne on 1-2 December, has solid foundations on which the future can be built.