If you regard the launch of Sputnik as the starting point for space research in Europe, then Austria became aware of the importance of space activities in the 1950s. Many institutes launched space research programmes: the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Innsbruck began research on plasma physics, and the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics in Vienna started research activities in the field of ionospheric physics.
Between 1961 and 1964 Austria was involved in a committee, abbreviated as COPERS, preparing the establishment of a European Space Researach Organisation. The Institute of Communications and Wave Propagation at Graz University of Technology has been working on the development and construction of instruments for space exploration and satellite communications since 1969. The Space Research Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences was founded in 1970, and the Austrian Space Agency in 1972.
Austria decided to be an active player in space activities right from the very beginning. This decision stimulated the development of Austrian space technology, the space industry and space exploration. This resulted in the creation of many employment opportunities, and Austria became a recognised partner in the space world. Like many other countries, Austria also decided to become involved in international cooperative projects – Austria has taken part in European Space Agency (ESA) programmes since 1975; it became an associate member of the ESA in 1981 and a full member in 1987.
Involvement in ESA activities includes participation in both mandatory and optional programmes. The ESA Mandatory programme includes general activities, the space science programme and the technology programmes, the study programmes and research grants.
Optional programmes include all fields of applied space research and technologies such as Earth observation and microgravitation research, the programme for the development of scientific experiments (Prodex), the space infrastructure programme (Ariane 5 and manned space flight exploration), as well as telecommunications and navigation.
Bilateral cooperative projects were undertaken in particular with the former Soviet Union, such as the development of Austrian instruments for space probes and missions. These projects include, for example, the two Venus probes, Venera 13 and 14 (1981 – 1982), the Vega 1 and 2 (1984 – 1986) missions to Halley’s Comet, and the PHOBOS Mars probes (1988 – 1989).
The highlight of bilateral cooperation with the former Soviet Union was the AUSTOMIR-91 mission – the flight of the first Austrian cosmonaut, Franz Viehböck, to the MIR space station. Fourteen successful Austrian experiments were carried out on board MIR.
Other bilateral projects were, and still are, run in partnership with Norway, Sweden, France, Switzerland and Germany.
Austria also plays an important role on the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), and chaired the committee from 1957 through to 1996. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs moved to Vienna in 1993, and UNISPACE III, the Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, was also held in Vienna in 1999.
The Austrian Space Programme, an initiative of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, was started in 2002 and has been followed by the ASAP, ARTIST and TAKE-OFF programmes, as well as the Austrian NANO Initiative.
The key dates
1947: Activities in the field of ionospheric physics at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Graz.
1950s: Research in the field of plasma physics in space at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of Innsbruck
1954: 5th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in Innsbruck
1961 – 1964: Participation in the establishment of a European Space Research Organisation (Comité Préparatoire des Recherches Spatiales – COPERS)
1966: Conference of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in Vienna
1968: UNISPACE I – UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna
since 1969: Development and construction of instruments for space exploration and satellite communication at the Institute of Communications and Wave Propagation, Graz University of Technology
1972: Establishment of the Space Research Institute (IWF), Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW)
1972: 23rd IAF Congress in Vienna
1972: Establishment of the Austrian Space Agency (ASA)
since 1975: Austrian participation in programmes of the European Space Agency (ESA)
1975: First European Space Summer School in Alpbach, Tirol, which has since been held annually
1977: Meeting of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna
1978: COSPAR Conference in Innsbruck
1981: Austria becomes an associated member of ESA
1982: First participation of the Space Research Institute (IWF) in Soviet planetary probe missions (Venus probes Venera 13 & 14)
1982: UNISPACE II – UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna
1983: First launch of the European Space Laboratory SPACELAB, including the first hardware made in Austria, namely the design and development of the SPACELAB viewport adapter and 3 Austrian experiments on board
1984: COSPAR Conference in Graz
1986: 37th IAF Congress in Innsbruck (ASA Managing Director Johannes Ortner is elected IAF President for the period 1986 - 1988)
1987: Austria becomes full member of ESA
1991: AUSTROMIR Mission, flight of the first Austrian cosmonaut Franz Viehböck to the Russian space station MIR
1993: The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs moves from New York to Vienna
1993: 44th IAF Congress in Graz
1996: Summer courses of the International Space University (ISU) are held in Vienna
1999: UNISPACE III – UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna
2002: Start of the Austrian space programme, an initiative of the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) managed by the Austrian Space Agency, which later on is also responsible for the management of the BMVIT programmes ASAP, ARTIST, TAKE-OFF, and the Austrian Nano Initiative.
2004: Research reform and establishment of the FFG
A detailed overview of Austria’s space activities can be found in the brochure "Austria’s History in Space".