(ORDO NEWS) — With pomp, in the presence of the king and prime minister, Sweden “opened” a new spaceport – nominally the first in continental Europe.
The quotation marks are not accidental: there are too many nuances to accept in order to recognize it as the first and the spaceport.
The solemn ceremony took place on January 13 in the presence of the most important Swedish officials and the President of the European Commission.
The Chairman of the Board of the Swedish Space Corporation ( SSC , plays the role of the national space agency) Anna-Maria Kinberg-Batra ( Anna Kinberg Batra ) has officially named the Esrange Space Center near the city of Kiruna in the Swedish Arctic as a spaceport.
Three new launch pads were put into operation on its territory.
The first is for suborbital launches and small carriers with a payload capacity of up to 300 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbits (SSO), the second is for rockets with a payload of up to 1200 kilograms into the same orbits.
Another one is reserved for testing reusable missiles. Next to the new site, a building was erected to assemble carriers and integrate payloads into them.
Most of the speeches at the event came down to political questions: how important is constant access to space for Europe?
However, from the technical and economic sides, there are some questions to the site. For example, the latitude of the spaceport (68 degrees) drastically limits the available orbital inclinations.
That is why in the description of the new launch pads, the purpose of the missiles is indicated as MTR. The market for such launches is growing, but slowly, and the supply promises to be excessive in the coming years.
In addition to the long and successfully operating New Zealand-American Rocket Lab , half a dozen more startups around the world are going to fill the niche.
They are either already conducting flight tests of their carriers, or preparing for them, but the sites were not chosen in Sweden.
In addition, there is no shortage of spaceports for this class of rockets even in Europe.
Two sites in Scotland (Sutherland and Shetland) are almost ready at once, there is a test site on Andøya Island in Norway, as well as several test centers in different countries, which are actually ready for launching ultra-small carriers.
Well, as for the status of the first in the continental part of Europe – Esrange can be considered as such only for the EU, since in Europe as part of the world there has been Plesetsk and Kapustin Yar for a very long time.
Esrange has been used to launch more than 500 geophysical rockets since its inception in 1966.
Plans to make it a cosmodrome, that is, a platform for launching carriers capable of launching payloads into near-Earth orbit, existed almost all this time. But there was no urgent need, no suitable missiles.
The recently completed modernization received funding only in 2020, against the backdrop of a boom in small carriers from private companies.
The newly minted cosmodrome, as expected, has problems with being in demand. Other than political statements, the speakers at its opening said nothing about who would use the new launch pads.
According to the SpaceNews portal , it is known that the first client of the Esrange Space Center will be ArianeGroup.
The French company will conduct tens of meters jump tests of the Themis prototype , a reusable rocket technology demonstrator. But its high-altitude launches are planned at a spaceport in French Guiana.
The German Isar Aerospace is testing engines at the Esrange test site, however, the company plans to launch its developed light rocket from Norway.
The situation is similar with another German company – Rocket Factory Augsburg ( RFA ), only the spaceport is different, SaxaVord in Scotland.
Thus, who will perform the first orbital launch from the new Esrange Space Center sites at the end of 2023, as promised at their opening, is not yet clear.
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