The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 18 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of close to 2,000 with an annual budget of about €3.5 billion in 2009.
ESA's main spaceport is the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana. It is close to the equator, hence commercially important orbits are easier to access. ESA became the market leader in commercial space launches in the 1990s. In recent years, ESA has also established itself as a major player in space exploration.
ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, and the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany.