Franco Ongaro graduated as a Doctor of Aeronautical Engineering from the University Politecnico of Milan. In 1987 he joined ESA, working at ESA HQ in Paris on the Columbus project. In 1988, he moved to ESTEC in the Netherlands as Head of the Columbus Payload Interfaces Unit. He was shortlisted as candidate in the European astronaut selection of 1991.
In 1994, Franco Ongaro moved back to HQ, to join the ESA Strategy Directorate as General Studies Programme Manager. In 2001, he initiated and managed the start of the Aurora exploration programme until 2005, when he became head of the ESA Advanced Concepts and Technology Planning Department, issuing the first ESA Technology Long Term Plan and creating the Advanced Concepts Team.
From 2007, he led the preparation and implementation of the Iris programme to develop a ‘satcom’ component for air traffic management. In 2009 he became Head of the Telecom Technologies, Products and Systems Department in the Telecommunications and Integrated Applications Directorate at ESTEC. From 1994 until 2009, he taught a one-semester graduate course in spacecraft design at the University Politecnico of Milan.