Just days after a failed British satellite launch, Sweden on Friday inaugurated its new launch site as the race heats up to be the first country to send satellites into orbit from the European continent.
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Christerson cut the ribbon during a ceremony at Spaceport Esrange, billed as “Europe’s first satellite launch complex.”
“There are many good reasons why we need to accelerate the European space programme,” von der Leyen said. “Europe has a foothold in space and will keep it.”
The first quarter of 2024
The site is an extension of the Esrange Space Center in the Arctic in Sweden, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city of Kiruna.
About 15 million euros ($16.3 million) has been invested in the site, which is expected to complement the European Space Center at Kourou in French Guiana.
It will also provide launch capabilities at a time when cooperation with Russia and the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan has been curtailed by the war in Ukraine.
A spokesperson for Sweden’s space company (SSC), state-owned Esrange, said it aims to launch its first satellite from the site “in the first quarter of 2024”.
That would make Sweden the first country in continental Europe – apart from Russia – to send a satellite from its soil.
Other European spaceports are also participating in the race.
Projects in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, the Norwegian island of Andoya, Spanish Andalusia and Britain, among others, are vying to be the first to succeed.
Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), a German specialist in smaller launch pads that are increasingly being used by countries and companies sending more compact satellites into space, recently said that its first launch will take place in the SaxaVord region of the Shetland Islands at the end of 2023.
An attempt to launch the first rocket into orbit from Britain – on a Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 that took off from a spaceport in Cornwall – ended in failure on Tuesday.
The center said that the satellite industry is booming, as it is expected that the number of operating satellites in 2040 will reach 100,000, compared to 5,000 now.
With a reusable rocket project called Themis, Esrange will also host ESA tests of rockets capable of landing on Earth, similar to those used by SpaceX, one of billionaire Elon Musk’s companies.