Jean - Jacques Dordain

Engineer and

Director-General of the European Space Agency


Jean-Jacques Dordain - the new ESA Director-General

Jean-Jacques Dordain takes up the reins as head of the European Space Agency (ESA) at a crucial moment in the organisation's history, as the Space Green Paper/White Paper process lays the groundwork for European space activities over the coming decades and the Agency's relationship with the EC is being redefined.
Jean-Jacques Dordain
Jean-Jacques Dordain

Jean-Jacques Dordain became Director-General of ESA following the departure of Antonio Rodotà in July 2003. Dordain’s career with ESA began in 1986 when he was appointed head of ESA’s Microgravity and Space Station Utilisation Department. He takes over as ESA head at a time when the Agency’s relationship with the EC is being redefined and in the midst of the Space Green Paper/White Paper process, which will lay the groundwork for European space activities over the coming decades.

Today the Council of the European Space Agency announced the appointment of Mr Jean-Jacques Dordain as the next Director General of ESA, for a period of four years. He will succeed Mr Antonio Rodot‡, whose term of office ends on 30 June next year. Mr Jean-Jacques Dordain, a Frenchman born on 14 April 1946, obtained an engineering degree from the Ecole Centrale in 1968. Before joining ESA in 1986, he held several positions at the Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches AÈrospatiales (ONERA): first, from 1970 to 1976, as researcher in the field of propulsion and launch vehicles; then, from 1976 to 1986, as coordinator of space activities; and finally, from 1983 to 1986, as Director of Fundamental Physics. In 1977 he was selected by CNES to be among the first French astronaut candidates.

When he joined ESA in May 1986, he was appointed Head of the newly created Space Station and Platforms Promotion and Utilisation Department. He then became Head of the Microgravity and Columbus Utilisation Department, managing about 80 staff and overseeing numerous industrial activities. In 1993 he was appointed Associate Director for Strategy, Planning and International Policy. In May 1999 he was appointed Director of the newly created Directorate of Strategy and Technical Assessment. On 15 February 2001 he took up the post of Director of Launchers.

On the Space Green Paper process

“I only became personally involved late in the process,” says Dordain. “I participated in the Closing Conference on 24 June. The appearance, during the closing session, of Commissioner Busquin, two ministers, Mme Haigneré and Mrs Moratti, a member of the European Parliament, (then) ESA Director-General (Rodotà) and many other officials certainly sends a clear and strong signal of the interest raised by the Green Paper. Consulting widely the actors of the European space sector has provided a solid basis for the follow-up White Paper, to which ESA is ready to contribute.”

About the developing EC/ESA relationship

“I am more than optimistic,” says Dordain. “I am convinced that the EC/ESA relationship is the axis along which the development of space systems and services for the benefit of European citizens and of countries co-operating with Europe will be built. I was one of the promoters of strengthening ties when I was ESA’s Director of Strategy some years ago and the progress made so far reinforces my conviction about the benefits to be reaped from such a relationship. It’s not easy because of the differences in our cultures, our expertise, our respective Member States, even the vocabulary we use, but it is a relationship that is mandatory for the good of Europe, a relationship based on complementarity.

“The European Union is able to federate the demand for space systems while ESA is able to federate the supply of space systems to best respond to the demand. Even the funding mechanisms are complementary. The GALILEO programme is the first fruit of the ESA/EC relationship. A lot more will come, taking into account the lessons learnt from the difficulties in jointly setting up GALILEO. I shall, with my ESA colleagues, dedicate a significant part of my energy to reinforcing the relationship between ESA and the EC. This is good for Europe and, therefore, good for both ESA and the EC.

About his predecessor

“Antonio succeeded in changing ESA from a closed space agency to a much wider actor on the European scene, responding to the demands of European policy, building up partnerships with industry, extending international co-operation with non-European partners, opening doors to relationships with Central and Eastern European countries etc., and last but not least, reconstructing the internal capabilities of ESA.”

Priorities – no time to waste

Dordain’s says his first priority as incoming Director-General will be to draw up, with ESA Directors, a four-year plan for the Agency to be presented to the Member States in mid-September. “Mine is a four-year mandate,” he explains. “That’s long enough to reach concrete objectives but too short to wait six months before setting those objectives. An ESA Director-General can get a lot done, provided he is supported by ESA’s staff of around 2000 world-class experts as well as the delegations of the 15 ESA Member States.

“ESA has played and continues to play a pivotal role in moving the European space sector forward, and ESA’s objectives are the same as those of the sector as a whole. This is why I will continue to consult and work with the other main space sector players: national agencies; industry; scientists and operators; as well as our primary partner, the European Commission.”