1966 Inauguration of Esrange Space Center
ESRO owns Esrange Space Center
First rocket – 19 November
1972 The Swedish Space Corporation is established and takes over ownership
1974 First scientific balloon
1976 First controlled sounding rocket
1977 First TEXUS rocket (microgravity)
1978 Esrange Satellite Station (ESS) is set up
1982 Satellitbild AB is established (processing satellite images)
1986 Sweden’s first satellite – VIKING (aurora borealis)
1989 Sweden’s first communications satellite – TELE-X
1989 ESA Satellite Station is set up
1991 First MAXUS rocket
1991 NASDA Control Station is set up (satellite control)
1992 Sweden’s second research satellite – FREJA (aurora)
1993 Sweden’s second communications satellite – SIRIUS 1
1995 Sweden’s third research satellite – ASTRID 1 (aurora)
1996 Sweden’s fourth research satellite – ASTRID-2 (plasma physics)
1996 New ground-based research instruments set up – ESRAD/LIDAR
1997 Sweden’s third communications satellite SIRIUS 2 replaces TELE-X
1998 Sweden’s fourth telecommunications satellite SIRIUS 3
2000 The Swedish Space Corporation begins cooperation with the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration FMV (testing operations at Vidsel Test Range)
2002 Sweden’s fifth research satellite – ODIN (atmospheric physics and astronomy)
2005 First NASA long duration balloon from Esrange
2006 The Swedish Space Corporation and FMV enter partnership (testing operations at Vidsel Test Range)
In the early 1960s, the European space organisation ESRO, European Space Research Organisation, was looking for a site in Europe where research using sounding rockets could take place. Sounding rockets are launched with a payload of experiments to be carried out during the time the rocket is airborne. The engines and payload (the experiment part) land on the ground again, leaving nothing orbiting the Earth. At the time, it was primarily the aurora borealis that interested scientists.
ESRO’s requirements for the site were as follows:
1. Located in the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) zone.2. Access to a large uninhabited land area where the rockets may impact.3. Close to a town with communications and services.4. Located in an ESRO member state.
The area north-east of Kiruna was ideal in this context and in 1964 the decision was made to build Esrange. Two years later, the facility was complete and in November 1966 the first rocket was launched. It was a French Centaure rocket that was first, and it has since been followed by 40 other rocket types or combinations of rocket types.
Esrange was owned and run by ESRO, and the rocket base had a status similar to that of an embassy. Of the 80 people working at the base, about 20 were Swedish. The base area and the impact zone north of the base were made available under the terms of an agreement with the Swedish State, the Kiruna Agreement.
In the early 1970s, reorganisation of ESRO began, and Esrange faced a serious threat of closure. In 1972, it was decided that the member states in future should run their research programmes on a national basis, since ESRO wanted to invest more in satellite projects. Sweden was to take over the ownership and operations of Esrange with the help of financial contributions from stakeholder countries. On 1 July the same year, Sweden took over the facility, at the same time as the Swedish Space Corporation was set up, commissioned among other things to run Esrange.
Until then, the use of space rockets had been highly useful in several research fields, including space physics, space chemistry and aeronomy. The scientific results had also attracted considerable international attention. It is practically impossible to explore the altitude range between 45 km and 200 km in any other way.
In the late 1970s, microgravity research using rockets began in earnest. Experiments can be carried out during microgravity lasting from 4 to 14 minutes, depending on the type of rocket used. The first project, TEXUS, started in1977, and is a highly successful Swedish-German project which is still continuing. Several similar projects have been added to this type of research, including MAXUS – one of Europe’s biggest sounding rockets – and MASER, managed entirely by the Swedish Space Corporation. MAXUS can carry a payload of 800-900 kg to a height of up to 800 km, which enables 12-14 minutes of microgravity. Scientists are very interested to have their microgravity experiments on board the sounding rockets, since in many cases they can complement or even replace much more expensive flights on a space shuttle or ISS – the International Space Station.
To date, more than 500 rockets have been launched from Esrange Space Center.
From the very start in 1966, the ground-based scientific instruments at Esrange have played a major role for all the different research groups through the years that the base has hosted. There was initially an ionosounder for measuring the density of electrons in the atmosphere. A number of further ground-based instruments have been installed, e.g. a riometer, a photometer, a Faraday transmitter and a magnetometer.
The measurement results recorded by the instruments on board the rockets have been compared with the measurement results from the ground-based instruments – an important factor in verifying the data collected. The ground-based instruments can also contribute important complementary data to help scientists reach correct conclusions.
In 1996, two new important ground-based instrument facilities were installed at Esrange. They are used above all by IRF researchers in Kiruna when studying the atmosphere, but also by other researchers all over the world. One of them is known as an MST radar (Mesosphere/ Stratosphere/ Troposphere), which comprises about a hundred antennae and which takes atmospheric measurements. The other is a laser instrument – LIDAR – and both these instruments are used for atmospheric research from ground level up to a height of 100 km.
The latest addition is KEOPS, the acronym for Kiruna Esrange Optical Platform System. It is a platform for optical instruments, placed on a hill near Esrange, which there is very little light interference. There are several small buildings housing optical instruments belonging to different international research groups. Fresh scientific data are continuously sent to the research groups via the internet, and they can if wished steer their instruments from their home location.
In 1974, operations at Esrange expanded through the addition of launches of large helium-filled balloons. The Swedish Space Corporation hereby expanded its capacity to carry out space-related experiments, something that has proven crucial to continued operations.
With the help of balloons, scientific experiments could now be elevated to a height of 45 km and take measurements for as long as 30 hours continuously. The size of the balloons varies with the payload weight. A normal-sized balloon load weighs about 100 kg and is borne skywards by a 150,000 cu. m balloon.
In the beginning of the 1990s, interest in balloon launches grew considerably, due to the alarming scientific reports about the ozone hole. European researchers united in a worldwide ozone campaign named EASOE. About 30 experiments were launched from Esrange in 1992, with highly satisfactory results from a research point of view.
This was followed by several major worldwide ozone campaigns involving both European and American scientists: SESAME 1994/95, THESEO/SOLVE 1999/2000, VINTERSOL 2002/03. Esrange became established as a leading centre for ozone research, both in Europe and the world in general.
In 1993, a new launching technique was introduced at Esrange. Traditionally, balloons are launched with the help of an auxiliary balloon, through which the payload is lifted before release, and a main balloon which at a given signal lifts the payload to a pre-determined height. To release really large balloons, another launching technique must be used. The method is called dynamic release and means that the payload is first raised by a crane truck before release and in this way the payload is mobile at the time of the launch itself. This is necessary since large balloons are much more sensitive to wind and therefore there is a risk that the payload will impact on the ground before the balloon is fully buoyant.
In 1997, the first circumpolar flight from Esrange took place. The balloon flew five times around the North Pole in 21 days, making measurements inside the polar vortex where ozone depletion occurs in winter. The balloon transmitted both research data and positional information via en satellite, so that the exact position was known through the entire flight. An automatic descent system comprising a GPS receiver and a microprocessor were on board. Since then, polar flights have taken place several times.
The ability of balloons to act as high-altitude hoisting cranes was first investigated in 1995, when a probe which was later to land on one of the planet Saturn’s moons was tested at Esrange Space Center. The probe, named Huygens, was lifted by balloon to a height of 35km, after which it was released to test whether the parachute system functioned as intended. In summer 2001, this technique was verified when the French/ Japanese HSFD II (High Speed Flight Demonstrator Phase II) campaign was carried out at Esrange. A model of a future space shuttle was lifted by balloon to a height of 38 km, and it was then released, among other things to carry out aerodynamic tests. The tests were refined after the first campaign and carried out once more two years later, in summer 2003.
In December 2001, a balloon flight was carried out with the telescope ARCHEOPS, which landed beyond the Ural Mountains in Siberia. The total flight time was 20 hours, which is considered a generous period in view of the fact that we can still guarantee scientists a dry impact area. In addition, the measurements could be carried out in total darkness, what is called the polar night. This was a requirement.
In summer 2005, balloon operations at Esrange took another important step in their development. A gigantic balloon measuring 1,200,000 cu. m carrying experiments funded by the US space organisation NASA was launched to cross the Atlantic, landing 5 days later in eastern Canada. A large sub-millimetre telescope named BLAST was on board to carry out observations of the lifecycle of stars and to answer some of the most important questions about the cosmos regarding the evolution of stars, galaxies and clusters. The following year there were two similar flights with new NASA experiments.
There are many advantages to launching scientific instruments by balloon from Esrange. Above all, the geographical position is important when making measurements in full sunlight over several days. When total darkness is required, the instruments are launched in the winter when there is polar night around the clock. There is a large launch site at Esrange the size of 40 soccer pitches, with several well-equipped building for preparatory work with experiments. Esrange can also offer long-duration flights with a land impact area, since the winds in the stratosphere are stable, making it possible to pre-calculate the flight trajectory and impact site. Naturally, the large uninhabited land areas at this northerly latitude are also extremely valuable with regard to safety.
To date, more than 550 balloons have been launched from Esrange Space Center.
A northerly location is of considerable importance when communicating with satellites in a polar orbit around the Earth. It was natural therefore to locate a ground station for this particular type of satellite at Esrange. In 1978, the Swedish Space Corporation took its first step into satellite operations, and today these operations have expanded considerably, with several satellite stations and more than a dozen parabolic antennae for communicating with orbiting satellites. This concerns control and operation of and data reception from remote sensing, scientific and telecommunications satellites. Today more than half the 170 employees at Esrange work with satellite operations.
In 1991 ESA (European Space Agency) set up its own satellite station 7 km from Esrange to receive data from the satellite ERS-1 (Earth Resource Satellite). The station is run by the Swedish Space Corporation, which manages operating and data reception from ERS-2 and ENVISAT, ESA’s (and the world’s) largest Earth observation and atmospheric research satellite.
In 1999, the Swedish Space Corporation entered a partnership with the American company USN (Universal Space Network Inc.), forming a global network of satellite ground stations. The network, which goes under the name PrioraNet, has become a major asset in attracting new customers, above all for missions involving placing new satellites in the desired orbit. Once the contracts are signed, they are often extended for related routine tasks related both to operating and data reception throughout the satellite’s life.
Since 2004 the Swedish Space Corporation has also had a subsidiary in Germany, LSE, which underpins the company’s position in satellite control and consulting missions in a number of technical areas within satellite operations.
So far, the Swedish Space Corporation has had assignments connected to about forty different satellites, ten of them Swedish.
It began with a decision to set up a data reception station for remote sensing satellites at Esrange, and the station was given the name Esrange Satellite Station (ESS). The satellite that needed a receiving station as far north as possible was the American remote sensing satellite Landsat 2, which was equipped with optical instruments to take satellite images of the Earth. If you were to place a receiving station at the North Pole, it would be able to receive useable data from the satellite on every Earth orbit it made. If on the other hand the station were located on the Equator, one could receive data only 2 or 3 times per day. Esrange is so close to the North Pole that data can be received on 12 of the 14 daily passages made by a remote sensing satellite. Ever since the start, operations have steadily grown, and today we have long-term contracts with a score of international satellite owners, with the result that Esrange today is the most utilised civil satellite station in the world, with over 100 satellite contacts daily. ESS also has a number of more short-term contracts every year for services linked to the satellite launch phase. The missions take between 3 and 14 days and involve positioning new satellites to put them in the desired orbit. During this initial phase all the onboard systems are started up.
At the same time as satellite operations were expanded, there was a growing demand for processing the data transmitted down by the satellites to ESS. In 1983 therefore, the subsidiary Satellitbild AB was set up, with the purpose to refine data from the French remote sensing satellite SPOT 1. Subsequently, many more commissions were undertaken for other satellite owners. Eventually, the Swedish Space Corporation wanted greater focus on its aerospace operations and so the processing of satellite data was taken over by Metria (a division of Lantmäteriet – the Swedish national land survey) with offices and production in Kiruna.
Satellite operations expanded in 1986 when the satellite VIKING was launched into Earth orbit. VIKING was Sweden’s first research satellite (aurora observations) and was launched from ESA’s rocket base in French Guyana. At Esrange, a dedicated control station for VIKING was built up, it too in ESS. For the first time, Esrange was given complete control over a satellite passing inside Esrange’s coverage area, i.e. Esrange both controlled it and ensured that everything onboard was functioning as planned. VIKING would collect data for studies of the Aurora Borealis and was the first of a series of Swedish research satellite projects, commissioned by among others the Swedish National Space Board. The second research satellite with a similar mission, FREJA, was launched in 1992 from the Gobi Desert in China and a further control station was built at Esrange. FREJA was the first satellite to be designed and built by the Swedish Space Corporation.
Sweden’s third satellite of the aurora research series was launched in January 1995 from a rocket base north of Moscow. The control station was located at Esrange and the satellite was given the name ASTRID. Shortly afterwards, ASTRID 2 was launched with the same purpose. The ASTRID satellites were the first microsatellites built by the Swedish Space Corporation in collaboration with the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna. A microsatellite is much smaller and cheaper to build and launch than a conventional satellite. Cost is becoming an increasingly important factor for researchers, and the Swedish Space Corporation is gaining a strategically important position in the world as “faster, better, cheaper”.
Sweden’s fifth and latest research satellite is named ODIN and was launched in Russia in February 2001. ODIN, which is considered one of the world’s most advanced research satellites, was built by the Swedish Space Corporation and the control station was of course located at Esrange. ODIN was designed for two different missions; one in atmospheric physics (including ozone depletion) and one in astronomy (the birth of stars etc.). Research data from both currently active and formerly active satellites are still highly valuable to scientists, and will in all probability be used for many years to come.
Sweden’s first telecommunications satellite was launched in 1989 and a control station for telecommunications satellites, Mission Control Center (MCC), was put in place at Esrange. The satellite, named TELE-X, was used to broadcast television and radio over the Nordic countries as well as other datacommunications in all the Baltic Sea countries. Swedish TV 4, Kanal 5 and Norwegian TV were among the channels involved from the start. The radio channels that used the satellite included Rix FM, NRJ and Mix Megapol. After 9 years’ faithful service, Tele-X was replaced by SIRIUS 1, which was bought in 1993 by NSAB (today SES-SIRIUS) from the UK company BSkyB. The satellite was then already in orbit, and at the end of 1995, Esrange took over control. The demand for telecommunications services remained high and the decision to buy another two satellites was made by the owners NSAB. SIRIUS 2 was launched in November 1997 and SIRIUS 3 in 1999, both from ESA’s launch facility in Kourou, French Guyana. When SIRIUS 2 was launched it was Europe’s biggest TV satellite, with 32 transponders on board. This combined satellite capacity can provide the market with services until 2013. In 2004, the Board of SES-SIRIUS decided to build a fifth Swedish telecommunications satellite, named SIRIUS 4 and it is due to be put into orbit in 2007. SIRIUS 4 will provide services until 2027.
Stockholm Teleport in Ågesta, south-west of Stockholm, is a new addition to the telecommunications operations of the Swedish Space Corporation. The facility was bought in January 2003 (from the state telephony provider Telia) and will provide links between Stockholm and the rest of the world via the Swedish telecommunications satellites. Stockholm Teleport is expected also to evolve into Sweden’s leading provider of IPTV services.
In 2000, cooperation began between the Swedish Space Corporation and the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, FMV to jointly market and carry out testing of space, flight and weapons systems at the two facilities Esrange Space Center and Vidsel Test Range. FMV has carried out military testing at Vidsel since 1957, and by merging these two facilities we gain a unique testing area over a large uninhabited tract of land and relatively congestion-free airspace. The facilities each have about 6,000 sq. km of restricted airspace, but by temporarily reserving an air corridor between the areas, an area covering 20,000 sq. km can be made available, enabling a 350 km flight in each direction. There is nothing comparable in the rest of Europe, and it is hoped therefore that the project will achieve the same success as the other operations at Esrange.
The cooperation project is marketed under the name NEAT (North European Aerospace Test range) and cooperation was further intensified in 2006. A business agreement was reached to strengthen the position of NEAT as a leading European testing facility for weapons, flight and space systems. The strengthened marketing is aimed to increase the degree of utilisation of NEAT, so that operations are secured and more jobs are created in the long term. A merger also increases opportunities for skills exchange, strengthens resources and streamlines joint technological development.
As regards rockets, the future looks somewhat uncertain, since other research methods have in part taken over, above all research satellites. It is above all research in microgravity that seems to be continuing with undiminished intensity. We will also be seeing much research involving sounding rockets in the field of meteorology and atmospheric studies, since it is difficult to make measurements at heights between 40 and 200 km above the Earth’s surface in any other way.
As regards balloons, interest seems unabated, since balloons are excellent for research into meteorology, the environment and ozone: extremely relevant and high-priority fields in the world of research. In addition, balloon projects are much cheaper and easier to organise than for example satellite projects. Naturally, they cannot replace satellite projects in every situation, but they sometimes can, and balloons can function well in practice projects ahead of more complicated projects planned for the future.
Control and operation of satellites will continue to be the fastest growing area. This applies especially to remote sensing satellites, since the market has matured greatly in recent years and the use of satellite imagery has veritably exploded. This applies to important applications in everyday life such as map production, weather forecasting, catastrophe warnings, positioning, monitoring, rescue operations and much more. Communications satellites for the purpose of TV and other media dissemination are also something that we take for granted today. Satellites for research purposes will also be constantly used as important research platforms in astronomy, space physics and atmospheric research.
There are good prospects that testing operations of civil and military space and flight systems will be enormously successful. Today there is a shortage of uninhabited land areas which also offer free airspace where testing can take place under safe conditions. This in combination with the skills and experience offered within the NEAT concept is highly valuable to a large segment of the world’s aerospace industry and air industry.
Our next very interesting challenge is personal sub orbital flights. Many people dream of flying into space and now the dream is close to coming true! Spaceport Sweden and Virgin Galactic plan to offer people trips into near space from Kiruna Airport as early as 2012. The space travellers will, amongst other things, experience 4-5 minutes of weightlessness while enjoying the astonishing view of our beautiful planet Earth.
Virgin Galactic’s mission is to provide excellence in commercialized human sub orbital space flight. Its aim is to create 500 new astronauts within the first year of operation, and up to 50,000 within 10 years of operation. Some of these flights will take place from Kiruna.
Spaceport Sweden is a co-operation between Swedish Space Corporation , ICEHOTEL, LFV Group (Luftfartsverket) and Kiruna’s business-development company Progressum. The aim of Spaceport Sweden is to make Kiruna Europe’s first and most obvious place for personal suborbital spaceflight.