Sweden eyes small satellite market with expanded space center

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WARSAW, Poland — The Swedish government has commissioned a feasibility study on the possibility to adapt the country’s Esrange Space Center to launch small satellites.

Built in 1964 and located in Sweden’s north, the Esrange facility was used last April to launch Europe’s largest sounding rocket. The center was officially opened in 1966, and since then, more than 550 sounding rockets and 520 stratospheric balloons have been launched from Esrange, according to data from the state-owned Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) which manages the facility.

The feasibility study is to be jointly prepared by the SSC and the Swedish National Space Agency. The SSC is tasked with managing launch services for sounding rockets and stratospheric balloons from Esrange, operating a network of ground stations for satellite data download, and engineering services for space programs. The agency is a government body responsible for distributing grants to space research and development projects, initiating research in space and remote sensing areas, as well as representing Stockholm in international space cooperation.

“I think it is important that we explore the potential within this area. If we can launch small satellites from Esrange, Sweden would be one of over ten countries that could launch satellites,” Swedish Minister of Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson said in a statement.

Project to expand space center

Jens Petersen, the spokesperson for the Swedish Minister of Higher Education and Research, told SpaceNews that the authorities aim to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to expand the facility’s scope of activities beyond sounding rockets and stratospheric balloon launches.

“The site was chosen with the European partners because of the favorable conditions for space activities. The space base is a central part of a space cluster in the region, with the Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna performing advance research, and several universities having satellites in Kiruna as well as a space college,” Petersen said.

Two years ago, the Swedish government commissioned a special enquiry on the country’s space sector. Its findings were presented in a special report, A space strategy for societal benefit and growth, according to the spokesperson.

Commercial potential

“One recommendation [of the report] was to explore a potential upgrade of Esrange to a capability to launch small satellites into orbit, given the rapid development in the space sector globally and an apparent market need for dedicated launches of small satellites. The current project, to be reported by the [end of this] year, should establish whether there still is a sound base for upgrading Esrange to this end,” Petersen said.

Regarding the commercial potential of the project, the spokesperson recognizes that “there are different opinions on this from the space community” in Sweden.

This is why the country’s authorities “gave the Swedish National Space Agency a mission to produce an updated plan together with the Swedish Space Corporation in order to have a solid base for a decision on the future development,” according to Petersen.