HELSINKI — Norway inaugurated its northern Andøya spaceport Thursday as commercial launch competition on continental Europe heats up.

Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, inaugurated the spaceport at a ceremony Nov. 2. The spaceport is located at Nordmela on the Norwegian island of Andøya inside the Arctic Circle and is in the final stages towards operating capability, according to a Nov. 2 press statement.

Andoya Space says the spaceport will become the first operational orbital spaceport in Europe. 

The development comes as Europe faces a bottleneck in launch capabilities, with delays to the Ariane 6 and grounding of the Vega C, and a need for strategic autonomy.

The fully constructed spaceport is planned to host several launch pads. German rocket developer Isar Aerospace has exclusive access to the first launch site, which has been built to Isar’s specifications. This infrastructure includes a launch pad, payload integration facilities and a mission control center. 

The launch site will support Isar’s two-stage Spectrum launch vehicle, designed to deliver up to 700 kilograms to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) and up to 1,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit.

The company says it is set to carry out final stage testing of Spectrum. It recently conducted integrated hotfire tests of its Aquila engines for 260 seconds. 

Crown Prince Haakon of Norway at the inauguration of Andoya Spaceport on Nov. 2, 2023.

“Today, Norway, the Andøya region and Isar Aerospace take a big step towards space,” Daniel Metzler, chief executive and co-founder of Isar Aerospace, said. “Over the last five years, we have built a rocket that will help to solve the most crucial bottleneck in the European space industry – sovereign and competitive access to space.” 

“Together with Andøya Spaceport, our team has created an excellent piece of engineering, the first orbital launch site in continental Europe which will bring this access to space to Norway, and back to Europe.

“The opening of the spaceport on Andøya island marks an important milestone for Norway, [the] European New Space industry and our partnership with Isar Aerospace,” Ingun Berget, President of Andøya Spaceport said. 

“This enables us to have the first satellite launches ever from European soil to take place from Andøya.”

When that launch will take place is not clear. Isar noted its recent progress but did not provide a timeline for testing and a first test flight. Earlier agreements suggest a launch from Andøya in 2025.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden inaugurated its Spaceport Esrange earlier this year. Again, royalty carried out the ribbon cutting. Esrange already hosts suborbital launches and engine testing facilities for Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA). SaxaVord and Sutherland spaceports in Scotland, UK, are also looking to attract launch partners.

Matija Renčelj, research manager at the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI), told SpaceNews that emerging European spaceports will need to find their niche, and this may mean extending beyond commercial launch.

“While Andoya, Kiruna and other spaceports in continental Europe can be a major stepping stone in the overall transformation of the European launch landscape, the success of these spaceports in the long-term will depend on several features,” Renčelj said.

These include availability of launchers, their reliability and demand for their services, as well as the level of intra-European competition that can be sustained in the long run. 

“Looking at broader European developments, Kourou spaceport appears to be opening up to new initiatives, UK and Sweden have progressed in the past period, and initiatives in other European countries are stepping up.”

“Given the rise of multiple spaceport initiatives, individual European spaceports will need to find a niche to justify operational expenditures, which may be rather of a strategic nature, than purely commercial, to sustain their viability in the long-term.”

Isar’s fellow German launch competitor RFA is also working towards its first launch. That will take place from SaxaVord Spaceport, located on the UK’s Shetland Islands, lying between Scotland and Norway. The UK Space Agency recently provided funding to help prepare for that flight, which is scheduled for 2024. 

RFA was earlier planning to launch the three-stage, 30-meter-tall RFA One rocket in the last quarter of this year. Scotland-based launch startup Skyrora is also planning to launch from SaxaVord. RFA also has an agreement with Andøya to secure launch capacity. The UK’s Orbex and Germany’s HyImpulse are also developing orbital launchers.

Meanwhile construction of Sutherland spaceport on the Scottish mainland is underway. Spaceport Cornwall in southwestern England hosted an orbital launch attempt in January this year, but the Virgin Orbit launch failed. Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy months later.

Europe’s institutional and other launches take place from Kourou, French Guiana, on South America’s Atlantic coast. 

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...