Film the Future: ESA’s UNREAL Space Locations for Epic Filmmaking

1st Mar 2024
Film the Future: ESA’s UNREAL Space Locations for Epic Filmmaking

Suppose you’ve ever found yourself captivated by the jaw-dropping scenes of a space movie. In that case, there’s a chance you were unknowingly immersed in the cinematic magic of Earth’s very own European Space Agency (ESA). Today, we’ll talk about a groundbreaking collaboration that blends the realms of science and art. ESA is teaming up with the film industry to bring space magic to the big screen!

Lights, Camera, Space! ESA Welcomes Filmmakers Worldwide

Known as Europe’s space gateway, ESA is opening its doors to filmmakers from near and far. The agency invites international film productions to harness the mesmerising allure of its diverse and otherworldly locations.

Hertz Chamber. The chamber simulates the boundless conditions of space
Hertz Chamber. The chamber simulates the boundless conditions of space. Credit: ESA

“Movies reach huge audiences. Putting ESA up on the big screen raises awareness of ESA as part of the reality of space today. Filmmakers help share our passion for space with the general public through movies, TV and video games.” – ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.

From rocket launchpads that kiss the Atlantic Ocean’s breeze in French Guiana to sprawling antenna farms nestled in the Belgian Ardennes, it seems like ESA’s got the goods to make any film pop with uniqueness. Or how about shooting scenes in astronaut training facilities and simulators in Germany? Wait, there’s more: ultra-modern mission control rooms in Germany, where the sci-fi vibes are practically built-in. Imagine the possibilities!

A space antenna farm amid the Ardennes forest
A space antenna farm amid the Ardennes forest. Credit: ESA

These locations serve as more than just conventional film sets, offering a plethora of unique backdrops that span eight European countries and two continents. Let’s dive into a new era of cinematic excellence, where real-life space exploration is the backdrop for stories that transcend our planet and venture into the cosmos. Welcome to a cinematic universe with ESA!

How Can You Apply to Shoot in Authentic ESA Settings?

Whether you envision a space epic, a climate change documentary, a futuristic music video, or need captivating backgrounds for a video game, ESA’s ready-made establishments offer a slice of the cosmos for your creative vision. All you need to do is to fill out the request form on their website. But that’s not all! ESA goes the extra mile by offering technical consultancy, authentic props, stock footage, and 3D models to enhance your production quality.

We bet you’ve already seen ESA’s real-world space locations in big Hollywood blockbusters, gripping TV dramas, and mesmerising music videos!

Proxima (2019)

Proxima movie
Credit: IMDb

It’s a compelling story of astronaut Sarah (portrayed by Eva Green) as she gears up for a pivotal year-long space mission and leaves her young daughter behind on Earth. The film delves into the demanding world of space training, spotlighting Sarah’s physical and emotional journey. Some major parts of it were shot partly on location at ESA EAC, the European Astronaut Centre, in Cologne. Filmmakers used EAC’s neutral buoyancy pool, training hall, simulators, and Columbus mock-up as integral sets.

Here is another challenge frequently encountered in such sci-fi movies – directors, enthralled by intricate plots, often veer away from the laws of physics and conventional space norms. To avoid logical flaws and angry fan comments, Anna Winocour (director and writer of Proxima) consulted with ESA researchers and astronauts to ensure scientific accuracy and authenticity in shaping the story.

“As I met the trainers and visited the facilities, it struck me that all the work that goes into preparing an astronaut to leave Earth, all these years of training, has rarely been shown in cinema,” said Winocour.

Proxima cast and crew at EAC
Proxima cast and crew at EAC. Credit: ESA

A team of ESA staff and contractors played a crucial advisory role for Winocour, her writers, and the cast during the production. Their guidance covered various facets of astronaut training, with a particular emphasis on the underwater training scenes. Actress Eva Green, in preparation for her role, immersed herself in the experience, spending several days at EAC. During her time at the European Astronaut Centre, she had the privilege of meeting ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Thomas Pesquet, adding an extra layer of authenticity to her performance.

Wow! Message from Outer Space (2023)

Scene from
Scene from “Wow! Message from Outer Space (2023)” Credit: ESA

This thrilling space adventure film follows the story of two young space enthusiasts who try to decode signals from aliens. Despite scepticism from others, the duo accidentally becomes stowaways on a rocket launched from the European Space Agency’s spaceport!

To ensure a realistic space setting, the producers of “Wow! Message from Outer Space” sought assistance from the actual ESA. The agency provided invaluable technical advice to create convincing space and ground control scenes. What’s more, authentic props such as ESA-branded signs and patches for the children’s space suits, along with space photos and video footage, were generously provided. Some scenes were filmed on location at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou.

The Mummy (2017)

In a quest to deliver an immersive and spine-chilling experience for audiences, Tom Cruise took his Hollywood blockbuster “The Mummy” to new heights – quite literally. Filming scenes aboard Novespace’s Airbus A310 near Bordeaux in France for over two days, Cruise captured a zero-gravity sequence that remains one of the film’s most impressive and exhilarating moments.

Zero gravity scene from

Not Only Movies

ESA’s modern and cutting-edge locations also serve as ideal backdrops for music videos. Snow Patrol chose the Hertz Chamber and Large European Acoustic Facility at ESA ESTEC in the Netherlands to shoot their video for the single “Life on Earth” and promotional material for their chart-topping album “Wilderness.”

Scene from "Life on Earth" video clip
Scene from “Life on Earth” video clip. Credit: Snow Patrol Youtube Channel

At ESA ESRIN near Rome, award-winning Italian director/cinematographer Daniele Ciprì used the enigmatic interiors of the Phi Experience and Data Centre for indie band Marcondiro’s music video, “Amati,” depicting a love story between two robots.

How about connecting space and fashion? Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana took centre stage for a space-age fashion show paying homage to the late fashion designer Pierre Cardin in 2023.

ESA Locations to Shoot Cosmic Scenes In

Now, let’s explore the cosmic film sets of the European Space Agency across Europe, where stunning locations await filmmakers seeking the perfect backdrop for their interstellar stories.

BELGIUM: ESA ESEC European Space Security & Education Centre

ESA ESEC European Space Security & Education Centre
Credit: ESA

It’s all about the picturesque beauty of the Belgian Ardenne at ESA ESEC, surrounded by over 40 large-scale antennas communicating data from Earth’s orbiting satellites. Nestled near the village of Redu, the contrasting vintage and modern equipment make ESA ESEC a unique feature of the landscape.

FRANCE: ESA Headquarters & Novespace

ESA Headquarter in Paris

In the heart of Paris, ESA Headquarters Novespace blends ultra-modern architecture with the iconic backdrop of the Eiffel Tower. Following five years of refurbishment, this flexible space embodies the cutting edge of high technology, offering an amazing canvas for cinematic brilliance.

Zero Gravity Marvel: Yes, it’s the only location in Europe offering authentic zero gravity conditions at Novespace’s Airbus A310 Zero G. The largest of its kind globally, this extraordinary setting has graced major films, including the above-mentioned Tom Cruise’s The Mummy.

Credit: ESA

GERMANY: ESA EAC European Astronaut Centre, European Space Operations Centre, And Concurrent Engineering Lab

Neutral buoyancy facility.
Neutral buoyancy facility. Credit: ESA

Cologne hosts ESA EAC, the European Astronaut Centre, a hub for astronaut training equipped with replicas of the European Columbus laboratory. Dive into the world of spacewalk preparations in the 10-meter-deep Neutral Buoyancy Facility. Simultaneously, ESA ESOC in Darmstadt operates as mission control, connecting ground teams to spacecraft and exploring the frontiers of human knowledge.

ITALY: ESA ESRIN ESA Centre For Earth Observation

ESA ESRIN, located in Frascati near Rome, is a hub for Earth observation activities. With a focus on safeguarding the planet, this site is where Vega, Vega C, and Space Rider were developed. ESRIN’s Virtual Reality Theatre offers a visual feast of Earth Observation and geographic data.

Main Control Room in ESA.
Main Control Room in ESA. Credit: ESA

THE NETHERLANDS: ESA ESTEC The European Space Research & Technology Centre

Large Space Simulator
Large Space Simulator. Credit: ESA

Embrace the technical heart of Europe’s space efforts at ESA ESTEC in Noordwijk. This colossal site births and guides ESA spacecraft projects, boasting Europe’s largest satellite test centre, the Large Diameter Centrifuge, and the Large Space Simulator.

SPAIN: ESA ESAC European Space Astronomy Centre & Cebreros OGS Optical Ground Station

Optical Ground Station
Optical Ground Station. Credit: J.C. Casado (

Step into the heavens at ESA ESAC, where signals from celestial bodies are first studied. The Optical Ground Station in Tenerife supports deep-space communication, confirming orbits, testing optical systems, and engaging in communication experiments with international satellites.

UK: ESA ECSAT European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications

ESA ECSAT, situated on Oxfordshire’s Harwell Campus, focuses on developing commercial satcom products and services. This UK hub also houses the Earth Observation Climate Office, utilizing satellite data to address global climate challenges.

FRENCH GUIANA: Europe’s Spaceport

Kourou, French Guiana.
Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: ESA

Nestled in the lush landscapes of French Guiana, Europe’s Spaceport sets the stage for Ariane and Vega launches. With 90% of the site preserved in its natural state, including tropical rainforests and coastlines, it provides a captivating backdrop for celestial liftoffs.

That’s a Wrap!

It seems like the European Space Agency knows how to turn the cosmos into a cinematic masterpiece! Its diverse locations, ranging from the lush landscapes of French Guiana to the ultra-modern mission control rooms in Germany, become the backdrop for storytelling magic.

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