Sweden just opened an orbital spaceport, Europe's new 'gateway to space'• https://www.space.com, By Elizabeth Howell
Sweden's Arctic Circle region is getting an orbital boost.
The nearly 60-year-old Esrange sounding rocket range will soon see missions fly into orbit now that it has been unveiled as the first mainland European orbital spaceport. The forthcoming facility will finally let the European Space Agency (ESA) launch rockets on the continent to supplement decades of missions from French Guiana.
"Spaceport Esrange is a critical asset that will strengthen Europe's launch capability, improve our competitiveness, and continue to guarantee European access to space," Josef Aschbacher, ESA director-general, said in a tweet(opens in new tab) following the Jan. 13 inauguration.
Orbital launches will soar from the spaceport as soon as this year, according to spaceport manager Swedish Space Corp. (SSC). The new facility adds to a cluster of European commercial space activity competing for space access across the continent.
Virgin Orbit made its first, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to send satellites to orbit from the United Kingdom's Spaceport Cornwall on Jan. 9 from a modified 737 aircraft. Meanwhile companies like Skyrora, Orbex, Astra and Isar Aerospace are targeting launches in the coming months or years in European locations such as northern Scotland, Wales, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Spain or the Shetland Islands.
Esrange, based in Kiruna, has its origins during the International Geophysical Year (opens in new tab)(IGY) of 1957-58 that also spurred the Soviet Union and the United States to begin launching space satellites like Sputnik and Explorer 1, according to ESA(opens in new tab).