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In the Swedish Arctic, the race to launch satellites from Europe

By -20°C, a scientific rocket detaches itself from the snowy canopy of the Swedish Arctic: from this space center among the most northerly on the planet, a satellite must be launched in the coming months, for a possible first on the planet. European continent. The King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen are due to inaugurate this new extension of the lost site in Jukkasjärvi, in the far north of Sweden, on Friday. Not a cat on the horizon, only a few reindeer on transhumance in the summer: the desert of forests that covers the region explains why the space base is installed at this location, at the foot of the “Radar hill”, 200 kilometers above the polar circle. “Here, we have 5,200 square kilometers where no one lives, so you can easily fire a rocket that falls without hurting anyone,” Mattias Abrahamsson, commercial director of the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), told AFP. space agency e (ESA) in 1966 to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the aurora borealis, the site has invested massively in recent years to afford facilities capable of sending satellites. In a vast new hangar capable of housing the assembly of two thirty-meter rockets, Philip Påhlsson, head of the “Nouveau Esrange” project, activates a large lifting door. new launch pads.- A big step – “It is from here that the satellite launches will take place” in the coming year, underlines Mr. Påhlsson. “It’s a major step, the biggest since the creation of Esrange”. Nearly 600 so-called suborbital rockets – including the “Suborbital Express 3” on this freezing day at the end of November – have already been launched from this corner of the extreme north of Sweden. But with the future first launch of a satellite, the base hopes to join a closed club of big names in the history of space conquest such as Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Kourou in French Guyana or Cape Canaveral in Florida. From the Portuguese Azores to the from the island of Andøya in the Norwegian Arctic to Spanish Andalusia or the Shetland Islands, the list of competing European projects continues to grow, all determined to fire first. “We believe that we are clearly the most advanced”, assures the SSC, which aims for a first launch at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024. British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit company made its first launch – failed – on Tuesday, but uses a Boeing 747 to send a rocket. The small German launcher RFA has just chosen the SaxaVord site on the British Shetland Islands, for a launch expected at the end of 2023. If the Plesetsk base in northwestern Russia carried out a few launches after the end of the Gue rre cold, no other country on the European continent can claim this title. Why is Europe, so far from the more favorable equator for satellite launches, experiencing such a space boom? and cheaper, and instead of sending one big one you can divide them into several small ones, and that drives demand”, analyzes Philip Påhlsson. Never since the dawn of the conquest of space have so many objects been launched in space than in 2021. And new records are expected in the years to come. A North Pole-South Pole (rather than East-West) orbit is sufficient for many of them, making sites like Esrange interesting .Another advantage: being close to European customers avoids the long and costly ship transport of satellites to Kourou.- Ukraine -Here, as elsewhere in Europe, we are currently talking about “micro-launchers”. Rockets of about 30 meters capable of carrying cargoes of a few hundred kilos. In the longer term, SSC is aiming for launches exceeding one ton. Working in the harsh Arctic climate “includes a certain number of challenges”, we recognize at SSC. , made more fragile. But the war in Ukraine – where the engines of the European Vega rocket are manufactured – and the breakdown of Western space cooperation with Russia have further increased interest in space bases on the Old vk/jnd

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