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Move Over Cornwall, Here Comes Spaceport Esrange

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 22, 2022
Filed under , , , ,
Credit: Spaceport Esrange

British spaceports face competition from bases in Europe’s frozen north

While much attention has been focused on Virgin Orbit’s plan to launch from Spaceport Cornwall in England and the creation of launch facilities in Scotland, the development of new orbital spaceports in Scandinavia has largely flown under the radar. But, now one of those Nordic bases is ready for its closeup.

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other dignitaries will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony at Spaceport Esrange on Friday, Jan. 13. The ceremony will be the culmination of years of work in developing an orbital launch complex at the Esrange Space Center, which has supported only suborbital sounding rocket flights to date.

“This new launch complex will help creating a foundation for a resilient Europe in space. New satellite constellations in orbit, responsive launch capabilities and development of reusable rocketry will enable a secure, competitive and sustainable Europe. This will make Europe stronger,“ said Stefan Gardefjord, CEO of the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) that owns and operates the center.

Europe currently launches heavy-lift Ariane 5 and medium-lift Vega rockets from a spaceport in French Guiana on the east coast of South America. In recent years, there have been efforts to develop spaceports capable of supporting launches of smaller orbital rockets in Europe.

MAXUS 9 launched at Esrange Space Center. (Credit: SSC)

“This is a giant leap for SSC, for Sweden, for Europe and the rest of the world. Satellites are decisive for many functions of the daily lives of today’s modern world, and the need for them will only increase in the years to come with Space playing an even more important role,” Gardefjord said.

While SSC said that it is expecting the first orbital launch to occur in late 2023, it did not identify which company would be conducting the flight. Two German startups, Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg, have been conducting engine and stage tests at Esrange.

Isar’s two-stage Spectrum rocket is designed to place 1,000 kg into low Earth orbit or 700 kg into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). Rocket Factory Augsburg’s RFA One booster is designed to lift 1,300 to 500 km high SSO, 850 kg to 2,000 km high polar orbit, 500 kg to 6,000 km high medium Earth orbit, 450 kg to geostationary transfer orbit or 150 kg to cis-lunar space.

However, both companies have signed contracts to launch their small satellite boosters from the Andoya Space Center in Norway. Andoya is another suborbital launch facility that is being expanded to accommodate satellite launches. The center is 90 percent owned by Norway’s Department of Trade and Industry and 10 percent owned by Kongsberg Defence Systems (10 percent). 

SSC and SatRevolution of Poland have signed an agreement to launch SatRevolution’s STORK Earth observation satellite constellation from Esrange. The agreement includes satellite operations management and cooperation on developing services using SSC’s Earth observation data analytics capabilities through its GlobalTrust subsidiary.

“Apart from launching satellites into orbit, Spaceport Esrange will host testing of Europe’s initiative for reusable rocketry – ESA’s Themis program lead by ArianeGroup. Themis reusable space launcher demonstrator will begin tests at Spaceport Esrange in 2023, starting with first-stage tests aiming to achieve vehicle liftoff and recovery – known as ‘hop tests’,” SSC said.

“The development is done within the frame of the [European Union] funded Salto project. The launch facility will also host suborbital test launches of several next generation rockets,” SSC added.

In addition to competition from Andoya, Spaceport Esrange faces competition from four United Kingdom spaceports.

Virgin Orbit received a license this week to conduct the first launch to originate from Cornwall Airport Newquay. The company’s LauncherOne booster will be dropped over the Atlantic Ocean from a modified Boeing 747 jetliner named Cosmic Girl. The launch is scheduled for January.

A company named Astraius has plans to launch satellites using rockets dropped from a C-17 cargo plane. Those flights would originate from Glasgow Prestwick Airport in Scotland.

Two other Scottish launch facilities — Space Hub Sutherland and SaxaVord Spaceport — are under development. Sutherland will host launches of Orbex’s Prime booster, which will be capable of placing payloads weighing 180 kg into SSO.

SaxaVord has signed agreements with ABL Space Systems of the United States, Scotland’s Skyrora and HyImpulse Technologies of Germany. The payload capacities for the companies’ rockets are:

  • ABL RS1 – 1,350kg to LEO
  • Skrora XL – 315 kg, and
  • HyImpulse Launcher SL1 – 500 kg.

All of these companies will be competing with the leader in small satellite launch, Rocket Lab. The company has launched the Electron booster 32 times from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Rocket Lab will conduct its first Electron launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia next month.

Small satellite launch operators also face competition from SpaceX’s Transporter rideshare missions. Elon Musk’s company has launched more than 400 payloads aboard Falcon 9 boosters on five Transporter missions.

9 responses to “Move Over Cornwall, Here Comes Spaceport Esrange”

  1. redneck says:

    If the Europeans reach the point of having a reliable reusable launcher, the east coast of Spain would seem to offer options. Launching southeast over the Mediterranean first stage could land on a barge or ashore in several north African countries. Careful azimuth selection could avoid population centers in the Sahara. Would be an interesting political problem.

  2. Robert G. Oler says:

    Happy holidays to all the gang and happy new year. hope Doug puts up a prediction thread

  3. Ball Peen Hammer ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ says:

    Back in the day people used to claim the future was in fully expendable heavy lift vehicles with 5 F-1 sized engines and an escape tower. Later people said it was with hydrogen expendables. Then still others said it was with a hydrogen first stage with parachute/helicopter engine recovery and methane powered vertically landing side boosters.

    If there’s one thing that’s for certain it’s that predictions of the future seem less likely to come true when they are made by people other than those who are bringing that future to pass.

    • duheagle says:

      “People” – myself among them – used to claim that government-built expendable Super Heavy Lift Vehicles were OldSpace and not needed. I still claim that.

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