In 1969, when Buzz Aldrin became the second man to leave the Lunar Module, he first unfurled the solar wind sail produced by the University of Bern and stuck it into the lunar surface before placing the American flag. A review of the past 50 years shows that Switzerland has made a wide range of contributions to the exploration and use of space and has been involved in countless missions. Here is a list of important milestones.
Switzerland, a country reaching for the stars
From Bern to the Moon and back: During the first manned Moon landing, astronauts deploy the Solar Wind experiment devised by Johannes Geiss, a professor at the University of Bern, to study the sun’s continuous flux of charged particles or ‘solar wind. This experiment helped to resolve the competing theories about the origins of the solar system, planetary atmospheres and solar wind dynamics.
One roof for space: Creation of the European Space Agency (ESA) by ten countries, including Switzerland. This was the result of a merger between the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) and the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO). That also allowed the scope of the new agency’s remit to be broadened to include operational space applications systems such as telecommunications satellites.
Launcher payload protection – Made in Switzerland: the maiden flight of the European Ariane-1 launch vehicle, featuring a Swiss payload fairing manufactured by RUAG (formerly Contraves). Ariane-1 was designed primarily to put two satellites into orbit at a time, thus reducing costs. As the size of the satellites grew, Ariane-1 began to give way to the more powerful Ariane launchers. RUAG payload fairings continue to enjoy success for their reliability to this day.
Up close in deep space: Giotto, ESA’s first deep-space mission, passes closest to the famous Halley’s comet with a mass spectrometer from the University of Bern on board. This instrument made it possible for onsite measurements of a comet’s dust and gas to be taken for the very first time.
Reaching for the Sun: Launch of the ESA/NASA Ulysses mission. During its almost eighteen years of uninterrupted observations of the Sun and the heliosphere, Ulysses has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the Sun and our local interstellar neighbourhood. The mission, the longest in ESA’s history, included the Solar Wind Ion Composition (SWICS) instrument from Switzerland.
First flight into space on the US Space Shuttle: Swiss-born Claude Nicollier is selected to be among the first group of ESA astronauts to fly on board the US Space Shuttle. Nicollier was a crewmember on four space shuttle flights (1992, 1993, 1996 and 1999) and logged a total of over 1000 hours in space, including a spacewalk to install new equipment on the Hubble space telescope.
Beyond our solar system: Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz from the University of Geneva discovered the first planet outside the solar system in orbit around the nearby star 51 Pegasi.
Services for research in space: creation of the Biotechnology Space Support Center BIOTESC) at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Working on behalf of ESA, BIOTESC supports researchers who wish to conduct experiments in the weightlessness of the European space laboratory Columbus, which is a module of the International Space Station (ISS). BIOTESC also provides ISS crewmembers with assistance with these experiments.
Photo: Christophe Stolz, SERI
Launch of the most advanced gamma-ray observatory INTEGRAL: the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) was designed to gather data on some of the most energetic radiation in the universe. It transmits its scientific data within seconds to the Science Data Center at the University of Geneva. It also provides alerts, processed data and analysis software to the international scientific community.
Rendez-vous with a comet: Rosetta was the first ever spacecraft designed to chase, go into orbit around, and land on a comet. It studied Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a combination of remote sensing and in situ measurements, with key Swiss instrumentation on board, namely the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) from the University of Bern.
Swiss precision in space: in preparation for deployment of the Galileo System, ESA initiated development of two on-board clock technologies in the 1990s: the Rubidium Atomic Frequency Standard (RAFS) and the Passive Hydrogen Maser (PHM). After the Rubidium clocks had been flown on the first Galileo test satellite launched in 2005, the first PHM clock undergoes in-orbit testing on board the second Galileo test satellite, GIOVE-B.
On board Columbus: SOVIM, an instrument for precise, stable and accurate observation and measurement of solar radiation, is used in one of the first experiments on board the European research laboratory COLUMBUS. This instrument was developed by the Physikalisch-Meteorologische Observatorium Davos. COLUMBUS is docked with the International Space Station ISS.
2009 – 2010
Practical training: working in close partnership, around 200 students from the EPFL and several universities of applied sciences developed the ‘Swisscube’. This CubeSat was manufactured entirely in Switzerland and launched into space in 2009 to observe the night sky light. One year later, a team from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI) in Ticino sent the microsatellite Tisat-1 into space.
Protection for another European launcher: the Vega launcher is also put into orbit with a RUAG payload fairing for its maiden flight. RUAG Space continues to produce payload fairings for European and US launch vehicles to this day.
2012 – 2016
First chair: Switzerland and Luxembourg are formally elected to co-chair the ESA Council. The meeting of the ESA Council is held for the first time on Swiss territory in 2016.
Start of the fourth automated transfer vehicle (ATV), Albert Einstein: the cargo spacecraft was named after the famous physicist following a Swiss proposal. ATV-4 is one of five ATV spacecraft developed by ESA that have made an essential contribution to the resupply of the ISS. Important ATV components were built by Swiss industry, including the spacecraft structure (RUAG Space), the micrometeorite shield (APCO Technologies) and electronic components (Syderal).
Selection of the Characterising ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS) as the first small mission developed in the framework of ESA’s scientific programme. The consortium of 11 countries participating in the mission is led by Switzerland (University of Bern). Both the scientific payload and the associated ground segment will be developed and tested under Swiss leadership. The launch of the satellite is planned for the end of 2019.
2016 – 2018
Switzerland takes part in three important ESA scientific missions: the ExoMars mission is ESA's search for life on Mars; the Aeolus mission is intended to determine wind profiles in the Earth’s atmosphere; BepiColombo will help to improve our understanding of Mercury as a planet and to gain additional information about the origin and evolution of our solar system. Swiss know-how is on board in all three missions.
The US ‘InSight’ space probe begins its journey to Mars. Its objective: to take measurement readings to gain a better understanding of the structure of the Red Planet. A key component of the NASA mission is a seismometer developed and built through the joint efforts of France, Germany, Switzerland (ETH Zurich and private industry), the United Kingdom and the United States.
This compilation was mainly taken from the publication ‘Switzerland in space - cutting-edge research and high-tech - also for everyday use’, published by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) in cooperation with SERI, Bern 2016.
Bern celebrates 50 years since the Moon landing
From 28 June to 4 July, the University of Bern will be organising a science festival for the general public at various locations, including in front of the Parliament Building. SERI is a sponsor of these events.
Switzerland gives great importance to space research and technology. As a founding member of the European Space Agency (ESA), Switzerland has positioned itself as a competitive partner in the international arena. In addition to new scientific findings, the space sector brings important industrial and technological innovations in Switzerland.
SERI supports and coordinates Swiss space policy at national and international level. Switzerland safeguards its national interests through targeted international cooperation, in particular by taking part in ESA programmes and in other European and international space activities. SERI represents Switzerland at ESA and is the point of contact for scientific institutions and industrial companies that pursue aerospace activities.
Renato Krpoun, SERI
Head of Space Office