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A small history of aeronomy at BIRA-IASB

Historical introduction

We have come a long way, since Viktor Hess took an electroscope on a balloon ride, to see if radioactivity decreased with altitude. He was the aeronomic pioneer to be followed by many. Soon, unmanned rockets and large fragile high-altitude balloons were launched to carry scientific instruments into the until then unreachable zones of the Earth's atmosphere.

The 1957 launch of the Russian Sputnik paved the way to even higher altitudes and in 1958 the United States launched the Explorer 4 satellite into orbit. It was the first satellite to measure charged particles in the terrestrial radiation belts.

Today, aeronomy scientists use a wide range of instruments, from groundbased stations to specific instruments mounted on the International Space Station platforms.

Book: Jubilee edition about 50 years of aeronomy

Since its creation the 25 November 1964 the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) has been very active in research and public service in space aeronomy, which is the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere of the Earth and other planets, and of outer space.

Book cover 50 years of research at BIRA-IASB

The Book "50 years of research at the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy" (.pdf) was written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary the institute in 2014. It is intended to present a large part of the scientific studies carried out during 50 years at BIRA-IASB.

This is neither an exhaustive activity report nor a scientific textbook on aeronomy. The addressed topics illustrate the historical evolution of scientific researches in the field of aeronomy since its infancy, in the sixties. Only a minority of topics is not reported.

  • Paperback | 303 pages
  • Size: 296 x 210 x 20mm
  • Weight: 1,6kg
  • ISBN: 9789090289311
  • Language: English
  • Publication date: November 2014
  • Legal depository: D/2014/678/1


Lectures: Academic Session "50 years of BIRA-IASB"

A collection of talks given 25th November 2014 to celebrate our 50th anniversary, presented as a trip through our history, showing how we fulfilled our mission since 50 years. The speakers explain where we come from, where we are and where we want to and where we can go.

  • Chairman:
    Dominique Fonteyn (BIRA-IASB)
  • Welcome (.pdf) (Video).
    Martine De Mazière, Director General a.i., BIRA-IASB.


  • Belgian support to space aeronomy. (Video).
    Frank Monteny, Director General Research & Space, Belgian Science Policy Office,  President of the BIRA-IASB Management Board.
  • Discovering the Impact of the Sun on the Earth's Atmosphere: Aeronomy in Belgium during the past 50 years. (Video).
    Guy Brasseur, Senior Scientist Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany + National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado.




A word of thanks to all personnel and our directors

The realisations throughout our history wouldn't have been possible without the much appreciated help of the BIRA-IASB personnel, working for the institute from 1964 until now.

Throughout its history, the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy has known the following directors:

Baron Marcel Nicolet
Baron Marcel Nicolet. Director 1964-1978.
Roger Pastiels
Roger Pastiels. Director a.i. 1978-1985.
Baron Marcel Ackerman
Baron Marcel Ackerman. Director 1986-1996.
Etienne Arijs
Etienne Arijs. Director a.i. 1996
Paul Simon
Paul Simon. Director 1997-2005.
Noel Parmentier
Noel Parmentier. Director general 2005-2011.
Martine De Maziere
Martine De Mazière. Director general a.i. 2011-2024.
Ronald Van der Linden
Ronald Van der Linden. Director general a.i. 2024.
Ann Carine Vandaele
Ann Carine Vandaele. Director general 2024-....