In the far north of Sweden, it takes the form of a space complex


Kiruna, Sweden – The road to the springtime home of reindeer herders led him across four frozen lakes and countless snowy hilltops. On reaching the light dust of snow, the shepherd, the Alas wires, stopped his snowmobile, and an overwhelming silence settled in the Arctic in Sweden.

His gazelle, thousands of them, were nowhere to be seen. “They are very afraid of the noise,” said Mr. Alas, pointing to his car.

He then pointed out the distant hills strewn with birch trees, and their buds swelled with the heat of the spring sun. Mr. Alas sighed, “Now, the noise coming from there, it will be something else.”

The noise is expected to arrive with a roar next year, when Sweden is due to complete construction of a missile launch complex in the frozen lands north of the Arctic Circle and jump in the commercial space race, the first country in Europe to do so. .

With the perfectly clean air of Arctic night and decent telescopes, it’s easy to catch some of the thousands of shoebox-sized commercial satellites orbiting the Earth. Their numbers are set to explode in the next decade, aided by the use of reusable lightweight missiles developed by innovative American companies like Elon Musk. SpaceX. He and several competitors plan to send as many as 50,000 of these satellites into space in the coming years, compared to fewer than 3,000 there now.

While the United States, China, Russia, and many other countries already have space ports, Sweden will be the first orbital launch site for satellites in Europe – capable of launching spacecraft in Earth orbit or on interplanetary paths. Currently, the intergovernmental European Space Agency is launching its program Traditional single-use I see that Missiles from French Guiana.

Many European companies are private Design Space airports in Europe to host a new generation of small rockets. Portugal is studying Building One is in the Azores, two locations are remote Custom In Britain Norway is modernizing the Andoya Space Center.

But none is as far away as Sweden, which has turned an old Arctic Space Research Center into a complex housing many new platforms for orbital launch and landing operations. The Esrange Space Center it will be Ground to experiment Europe’s first reusable vertical rocket in 2022, and it can do engine tests as well.

In 1972, the Swedish government seized the base from the European Space Agency, which no longer needed it. For decades, the Swedes have leased the site for smaller, slower research missiles, ground-based surveillance services via satellite and launching stratospheric balloons. But with the commercial space race promising new revenue, the government has it Swedish Space Foundation, Who manages the site, provides launch services for special projects that want to send satellites into space.

“We’re a bit like the space business,” said Philip Palson, vice president of strategy and innovation at the Swedish Space Foundation, referring to the government’s ownership of the site. “But we plan to be the most impressive company in the government portfolio.”

Esrange shares a subsidence area of ​​more than 2,000 square miles – more than twice the size of Rhode Island – with locals mostly bears, wolves, reindeer and a handful of shepherds such as Mr. Alas. If the launch fails, it is unlikely to cause any harm to human settlements.

For some satellites – those launched in polar orbits – the Arctic position provides major advantages. These orbits, which pass over the North and South poles, are ideal for Earth observation satellites, because as the Earth rotates, the entire surface of the planet passes below them. And launching into polar orbit at higher latitudes takes less energy.

As the space market grows rapidly, Europeans increasingly need launch sites for smaller missiles that carry smaller satellites, experts say.

“Europe really needs to build infrastructure to get to space,” said Stefan Gustafsson, senior vice president of the Swedish Space Foundation, in an interview at its headquarters in Stockholm. “We can provide a suitable space base.”

This base is located near the northernmost city of Kiruna in Sweden and home to the largest underground iron ore mine in the world. It’s so huge, in fact, that many neighborhoods are in it Being moved, As the city slowly sinks into the dug caves below.

A 50-foot-high rocket stands at one of the major intersections, a testament to Sweden’s aspirations in space. Space is woven into the fabric of the city.

The Swedish Institute for Space Physics It is based in Kiruna, as is the Space High School for Gifted Teens. The Aerospace engineering A program at Lulea University of Technology, also in Kiruna, attracts Ph.D. Students from all over Europe. enormous Satellite dishEmerging out of the woods in a vast white valley, it serves as a geographical landmark.

Esrange has many features of other space niches – High fences and warning signs Some of the rockets in use are shown. But it also has a church, visitor center, and Aurora Hotel, named after the northern lights that color the winter sky. Snow is everywhere, of course, reindeer roam the terrain (nobody knows how to get past the fence), but astronauts and moon landers can’t find them anywhere.

While driving a tour of the land, Mr. Balson is slightly annoyed when the photographer starts taking pictures. He said, “We have contracts.” “Some of our customers do not like their equipment being photographed.”

Orbital missile launchers, most of which are stacks of construction equipment and materials at this point, are four miles up from the central position. This was the site of a future “launch vehicle integration building”, Mr. Palson indicated, pointing to a pile of sand during a tour of the grounds.

By the end of next year, he said, they hoped to use the launch site to test Europe’s first reusable missile, called the ThemisAfter an ancient Greek Titanic who was the personification of the Divine Command.

On this day, the main activity consisted of engine testing by two fiercely competing German space companies. Augsburg Rocket Factory And the ISAR Space Technology.

“You can really call me the world of missiles,” said Joseph Fleischmann, 30, one of the three founders of ISAR. In 2017, he and his fellow students won an award via Building The fastest pod In competition Elon Musk for high-speed transport in the Hyperloop, or travel in a vacuum tube. This caught the attention of Bulent Altan, the former Vice President of Space X, who decided to support Mr. Fleischmann and his friends.

“Now, we have a $ 100 million investment and we’re building the missiles.”

“The location looks far away, but this is the right place for space,” said Renée Louvre, professor of space technology at Luleå University of Technology. “Also, you don’t want to test rockets in your backyard.”

So far, Essring hasn’t drawn criticism from environmentalists, but that may change. Solid rocket fuel can leave a heavy carbon footprint, and liquid fuels pose a toxic risk. Exhaust clouds after takeoff and during flight are also concerns.

Swedish Space Minister Matilda Ernkrans said in an interview that she expects al-Qaeda to play a major role in helping to map global climate change.

Back in his humble home, Mr. Alas, the reindeer patron, supports this idea, and he plans to do something about it, even if his backyard is one of the few unconnected in some way with the space industry.

Mr. Alas is more than just a man driving an ice wagon and lots of reindeer. He is the chairman of the board of directors of the same Talma, one of the largest Sami regions in Sweden. The Single They are the last indigenous of Europe and live in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.

In 2019, after resuming from his area, Mr. Alas managed to block some expansion plans for Al Qaeda, and now his eyes are on upcoming noise pollution.

“They might say we need to launch or else we lose our customers, but the reindeer herding has been here as long as you can imagine,” said Mr. Alas, adding that a legal battle seemed inevitable. “For us, the Space Foundation is the oldest intruder on our lands, but we have much older rights.”

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