After years of preparation and construction, European Union mainland’s first orbital launch complex, Spaceport Esrange, was officially inaugurated on 13 January 2023 by the Swedish Head of State, King Carl XVI Gustaf, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson. Thereby, the European Union introduced a new and long-awaited critical asset to its shared space infrastructure, offering an independent European gateway to Space from northernmost Sweden.
“This spaceport offers an independent European gateway to space. It is exactly the infrastructure we need, not only to continue to innovate but also to further explore the final frontier.”Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
A European Spaceport
“Security, competitiveness, sustainability and our democratic values are key to a stronger Europe and a better world. Space enables all of them. With Spaceport Esrange, EU gets a strategic asset which provides independent access to Space. This will be instrumental for reaching the EU and UN sustainability goals as well as strategies within security and defense,“ said Anna Kinberg Batra, Chair of the Board of Swedish Space Corporation, SSC.
“The important work you have been doing here for many years is a shining example of the enormous potential of space-based research to indeed improve our daily life.”, said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
“This is unique. It is the first facility of its kind in mainland Europe, and I know it has been made possible by teamwork with trusted international partners”, said Ulf Kristersson, Prime Minister of Sweden.
Kiruna: European strategic gateway to space
“Kiruna is already one of Europe’s strategic gateways to Space. And the new launch complex at Esrange is a critical asset that will strengthen Europe’s capability to launch satellites and improve our space competitiveness. I am certain that this spaceport will strengthen Sweden’s active role in space, involved in many of ESA’s flagship projects and through our ground station here in Kiruna,“ said Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency, ESA.
Esrange is located in the very north of Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, near the town of Kiruna, on the edge of a vast, unpopulated impact and recovery area. The facility has been operational since 1966 and is presently used by the international scientific community for launching sounding rockets for microgravity and atmospheric research. It is also used for high altitude balloons for astronomy, atmospheric research and drop tests of space and aerial vehicles. Additionally, Esrange accommodates one of the world’s largest civilian satellite ground stations and acts as a hub in the SSC satellite station network.
First to begin operations at Spaceport Esrange will be Europe’s initiative for reusable rocketry – the Themis program – commissioned by the European Space Agency ESA and lead by ArianeGroup. Themis will begin tests of its reusable space launcher demonstrator at the complex in 2023. Meanwhile, SSC are in advanced discussions with several potential rocket partners for future orbital launches from Spaceport Esrange. A first satellite launch is expected by the turn of the year 2023/24.
Changing the way we ‘do’ space in Europe
In her closing paragraph, Ursula von der Leyen was clear about the role of the private space sector in the further development of the new space centre: “We are working tirelessly to change the way we ‘do space’ in Europe. This means encouraging the involvement of SMEs and start-ups in EU flagship initiatives. There is a lot to do, we need you. For example, the Copernicus Dynamic Purchasing System. It also means promoting access to finance for space entrepreneurs in Europe. There are so many good reasons why we need to accelerate the European space programme. You show us the shining example for it today. I would like to thank everyone involved in this project. Europe has its foothold in space, and we will keep it.”