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Swiss space research: from Apollo 11 to the International Space Station

Following Switzerland’s high-tech contributions to the Apollo 11 mission, Swiss scientists and companies have been contributing their expertise to international space programmes such as the International Space Station and the exploration of Mars.

This content was published on July 20, 1999 - 08:48

Following Switzerland’s high-tech contributions to the Apollo 11 mission, Swiss scientists and companies have been contributing their expertise to international space programmes such as the International Space Station and the exploration of Mars.

Much of the Swiss contribution to space research is made possible by Switzerland’s membership of the 14-nation European Space Agency, which is building the ISS in conjunction with NASA, Canada, Japan and Russia.

A scientific team of about 27 Swiss staff are currently working for ESA, which Switzerland co-finances with about SFr117 million ($78 million) a year.

In a larger context, about 35 Swiss university institutes and about 50 research groups are related in one way or another to international space research programmes.

Switzerland’s Federal Office for Space Research has repeatedly underlined the importance of Swiss participation in such projects.

Space research would lead to further developments in telecommunications technology, improved weather forecasts and even satellite monitoring of international peacekeeping missions, an office spokesman said.

The office underlined the positive fallout for Swiss businesses, too.

Economic analysts say about 30 Swiss companies are selling their technology to ESA’s Ariane rocket programme alone, profiting from orders of SFr20 million ($13.3).

Among those companies is Oerlikon Contraves, which is contributing structures for the nose part of the latest Ariane rocket. The Vibro-Meter company from Fribourg has provided vibration sensors for the successful European rocket while MECANEX of Nyon delivered micro technology modules allowing certain experiments in space.

ETEL, yet another Swiss company, contributed small motors and motion control drivers designed to work under the kind of extreme situations experienced in space.

The recent successful mission by the Mars Pathfinder “Sojourner” was made possible by the contribution of the Swiss-based Maxon Motor company, which developed the motor for the six-wheel vehicle. The company is to participate in the next Mars mission.

Oerlikon Contraves also helps build the Automated Transfer Vehicle, which is an unmanned vessel that will periodically resupply the International Space Station.

The station will further include a module for research in microgravity, an ESA project which Switzerland has helped finance.

While Switzerland is not a member of the EU, its involvement with ESA has opened a valuable international window for an otherwise often isolated country.


From staff and wire reports.

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