Sweden wants to position itself as a hub for commercial satellites and is launching a base in the Arctic wilderness aiming to be Europe’s first. Will Sweden beat SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s Starbase plans in Texas? Will Sweden be the next hub for commercial satellites?
The reindeer will probably not be happy when the Swedish government is turning an old research base above the Arctic Circle into a state-of-the-art satellite launching center. The business development agency LTU Business has on behalf of the northern Swedish regional space development program RIT2021 undertaken a study which concludes that a space center in and around the town of Kiruna could double in size over the next 15 years and result in a directly-employed workforce of 1,000.
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The Arctic space research center was first handed over to Sweden in 1972 and may now be taken into a renewed sense of purpose. The Esrange Space Center shares a landing zone that is more than 2,000 square miles and will be the testing ground for Europe’s first reusable vertical rocket next year.
Home to Space technology intelligence
Kiruna is the most northerly town in Sweden. It is the site for the Esrange Space Centre, the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, and the Department of Space Science of the Luleå University of Technology, as well as various space sector enterprises, most notably the state-owned Swedish Space Corporation (SSC).
The Arctic Circle has its advantages when it comes to launching satellites into the space. It gives the satellites a more comprehensive view of Earth, while requiring less energy for a satellite to actually get into space. Sweden will be the first orbital launch site for orbital satellites in Europe – capable of launching spacecrafts into the orbit around Earth or interplanetary trajectories.
Academic and commercial growth
“New technology enables easier and cheaper access to space, transforming the industry from having been exclusive to expensive national initiatives to becoming a market for virtually anyone and everyone with interest and ambition,” says project manager for RIT2021, Johanna Bergström and adds, “This enables the space sector to expand both academically and commercially, and creates opportunities for small businesses to contribute, compete and grow.”
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There should be no shortage of interested parties on hand as Esrange ramps up its efforts to become Europe’s preeminent launching pad for orbital rockets. According to a report from New York Times ISAR Aerospace Technologies in Germany has secured $100 million in funding from an ex-SpaceX VP and is already on site testing out engines.
A unicorn in the space business
“We are a bit of a unicorn in the space business,” said Philip Pahlsson, vice president for strategy and innovation of the Swedish Space Corporation, referring to the government’s ownership of the site. “But we do plan on being the awesomest company in the government’s portfolio.”
Establishing a satellite launch capability at Esrange would probably make Sweden the second country in Europe (after the UK), and the first in the European Union, to have such a capability from its home territory.
Though the effort is certainly ambitious (and has elicited occasional concerns from locals who appreciate the area’s vast wilderness), the Swedish Space Corporation believes Esrange is vital not just for the Scandinavian country’s ambitions but for the continent as a whole.
Space experts claim that with a fast-growing space market, Europe will have an increasingly need for smaller rockets carrying smaller satellites. “Sweden will become a launching state, providing a capability of great importance for research, technology development and expanded international cooperation,” said SSC CEO Stefan Gardefjord.
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“Europe really needs to build infrastructure to get to space. We can provide a proper space base,” said SSC senior VP Stefan Gustafsson.
Kiruna (also the site of a major iron-ore mine, which was the cause of the town’s foundation at the start of the twentieth century) has excellent infrastructure, and benefits from the ameliorating effects of the Gulf Stream current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and crosses the North Atlantic.
Sweden – A Hub For Commercial Satellites, written by Tor Kjolberg
All images © SSC