Sweden inaugurates mainland Europe’s first orbital launch site
Sweden has just inaugurated Spaceport Esrange, mainland Europe’s first-ever orbital launch site, at the Esrange Space Center in the northern part of the country.
During the brief inauguration ceremony, the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) said the facility was ready to accommodate users. SSC board chairwoman Anna Kinberg Batra explained that the site would be a strategic asset for the entire European Union as it gives the region an independent gateway to space.
“With Spaceport Esrange, E.U. gets a strategic asset which provides independent access to space.”
Anna Kinberg Batra, chair of the Board of Directors of the Swedish Space Corporation
“This will be instrumental for reaching the EU and UN sustainability goals as well as strategies within security and defence,” Batra added.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made EU countries more aware of the importance of space to the region’s security. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described the opening of the launch site as a “big moment” for Europe.
The EU already has a spaceport operated by the French space agency CNES. However, it is located in French Guiana in South America. The Guianese spaceport accommodates Ariana and Vega launches. It is currently renovating a pad to allow multiple launches of small rockets.
“The current geopolitical situation, not least, of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has demonstrated how important it is that the European Union has access to space.”
Ulf Kristersson, Prime Minister of Sweden
The Swedish site has three pads and one launch vehicle integration facility. The first pad supports suborbital rockets and “micro launchers”, each weighing around 300 kilograms, while the second pad can handle up to 1,200 kilograms of vehicle. The third pad is intended for testing reusable vehicles.
A reusable launch vehicle demonstrator named Themis will be the first rocket to be tested on the new site after its opening. Themis developer ArianeGroup explained that it would only perform limited to low-altitude “hop” tests at Esrange. High-altitude tests will be done in the French Guiana facility.
“It’s a big moment for Europe. It’s a big moment for Europe’s space industry. The first orbital launch site on the European mainland.”
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission
Rocket Factory Augsburg, a German launch vehicle startup, had performed several tests at Esrange before the new orbital launch site was inaugurated. The startup plans to conduct the first orbital launch of its RFA One, but it will launch the rocket from SaxaVord Spaceport instead of Esrange.
The SSC is still in discussions with several potential partners for future launches. However, the agency plans to have the first orbital launch at the facility by the end of 2023.
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