Europe goes up with a bang

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Start of the Europa 2 - F11 Rocket. Kourou, French Guyana 5 November 1971

On November 5, 1971, Flight F11, the launch of the proudly-named Europa 2, took place at Kourou, French Guiana (South America) - and two and a half minutes after take-off, it exploded.

This multi-national product of ELDO was to be a sign of a "third power" in addition to the US and the Soviet Union in the Space Race. Ten previous flights had taken place between 1964 and 1970, but with limited results. This time as well, the first stage dismantled and the second and third stages exploded.

The committee that investigated the disaster issued a scathing report, revealing that the problem had not been with the individual parts, but with the way they were (not) joined together in the final design. The British contractor Marconi, which supplied the units for guidance, control and telemetry, as well as the computers to control the first stage of the rocket, provided no further information about the units.

The German team that mounted them in their "Astris" part of the module had no idea how the parts they were installing worked, and took no responsibility for their functioning. The ELDO program was cancelled shortly thereafter, in 1974. For the time being, until the successful start of the Ariane projects in 1979, European satellites would be launched by US rockets.

How to cite this page


Alexander Badenoch, 'Europe goes up with a bang', Inventing Europe,


  1. Trischler, Helmuth and Kohlrausch,Martin. The Politics of Expertise in Europe: Creating, Organizing, Sharing Knowledge. Basingstoke: Palgrave, forthcoming.

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ELDO: the European space flop

After Sputnik woke up the world to spaceflight in 1957, several Western European countries joined the US in the race for space. A number of international collaborations were formed, including the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) that was set up in 1962. However, their lofty goals did not achieve such high-flying results.

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Europe in space

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