Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Sweden inaugurates first satellite launch center in continental Europe

In the Arctic Circle, in a hangar surrounded by snow and in an area where reindeer herds can periodically be seen for tens of kilometers, the Swedish Space Agency (SSC) inaugurated this Friday at almost ten degrees below zero. The first satellite launch center on the European continent. The new facility at the European Space Agency (ESA)-linked Esranj Space Base in the Lapland region seeks to accommodate the growing demand for satellite launches and provide the EU with greater autonomy at a very sensitive geopolitical moment. The center wants to compete with other satellites being built on the European continent and manage to launch the first satellite from the EU continental area in early 2024.

“The current geopolitical situation, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, shows how important access to space is for the European Union,” stressed Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Christerson in Jukkasjärvi, some 200 kilometers above the polar circle. The Arctic, where he inaugurated the Esrange Base together with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and King Gustav of Sweden. A center that had already existed for decades and was used for satellite ground control services and for launching stratospheric balloons as well as launching small research rockets. “This spaceport provides an independent European gateway to space and exactly the infrastructure we need, representing a “great moment” for European industry,” von der Leyen stressed.

The European Space Agency already has a spaceport, like the United States, China and Russia, but this one in the Kourou base in French Guiana, in the middle of the South American jungle, from where half a thousand satellites are launched. Half a century, but which for some years has generated conflict in this outermost French region due to social crisis, inequality and unemployment, due to robberies and demonstrations. Traveling to the European Space Agency’s launch port in Kourou, from where Ariane rockets are launched, and taking materials by boat is also expensive.

One of the new rocket hangars at the Esrange Space Center in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.Jonathan Nakstrand (AFP)

With the new facility, the European Union seeks to strengthen its ability to launch satellites into space. The President of the Community Executive in Sweden, which holds the presidency of the European Union this semester and which organized the trip in which EL PAÍS participated, said, “The benefits of small satellites being launched from here are enormous. ” Guest.

Von der Leyen stresses that small satellites are becoming increasingly important for tracking nuclear disasters in real time, gathering information on the climate crisis and guaranteeing global security. “Today, we know that the brave Ukrainian forces effectively use small satellites to track the movements of Russian troops,” he said. Actually, Starlink satellites of Elon Musk’s company have become important for Ukraine.

Advancing space programs and boosting the base of Esrange and cooperation programs will help European competitiveness, said Joseph Eschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency, who also attended the opening of new facilities in the Arctic. “Europe also needs European satellites to operate once they are in orbit and they need space for terrestrial productivity to fulfill their mission,” said the state-owned Swedish Space Corporation (SSC). ) Chief Executive Stefan Gardefjord said. ,

SSC believes that the number of satellites could reach 100,000 by 2040 as compared to the current 5,000 operational satellites. Gardfjord believes the new facilities could be a game-changer because of their versatility – they also work on the European Space Agency’s Themis program to recover vehicles used to launch instruments Can go – and the location of the Assange base. For example, for some types of satellites, a location in the Arctic may provide an advantage to Earth observation satellites. Also, while temperatures several degrees below zero may challenge the materials used, it may reduce launch costs.

According to the SSC, the Esrange base, which occupies an area of ​​about 5,200 square kilometers, has been in existence since 1972, is about 40 kilometers from the small town of Kiruna. A settlement of typical Swedish red and yellow houses on top of the world’s largest iron mine, which is moving from house to house about 3 kilometers further east to continue exploiting the deposits and also due to the instability of the land . my.

The path to developing the base, however, may not be entirely smooth, with Erlanger competing with other European projects and yet to find the big guys. Furthermore, the expansion of the space station, its military implications and applications, coupled with the development of the mine, cause concern among the Sami minority, indigenous people in the area with a long tradition of reindeer herding and fishing. “The impact of the activities and the militarization of the Arctic is a sensitive issue and of great concern,” Stefan Mikkelsson, deputy chairman of the board of the Swedish Sami Assemblies, told a group of journalists in Kiruna.

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