Sweden's Arctic spaceport moves one step closer to orbital launches

Done photo over launch site at SSC with added rocket launch animation. A snowy landscape filled with trees surrounds the snowy launch site.
Image showing what a launch will look like from Esrange, Sweden. (Image credit: SSC)

In a groundbreaking move for the European and international space markets, Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) and South Korean rocket company Perigee Aerospace Inc. have entered into a collaborative agreement to jointly launch satellites from Esrange Space Center in northern Sweden starting in 2025. 

All being well, Perigee's Blue Whale 1 microlauncher will be the first-ever orbital rocket launched from Esrange according to the press release statement

"The partnership secures the final component to complete SSC's satellite launch service from Esrange since its inauguration of the launch complex in 2023," Philip Ohlsson, Head of Communications for SSC told Space.com in an email.

"The new partnership will add launch capabilities that do not currently exist in mainland Europe, " Ohlsson continued. 

Related: Sweden just opened an orbital spaceport, Europe's new 'gateway to space'

Esrange, Europe's first mainland orbital spaceport, is situated far above the Swedish Arctic Circle, approximately 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Kiruna. Currently, it serves as a hub for launching sounding rockets, conducting microgravity research, and performing high-altitude balloon experiments for astronomy and atmospheric studies. Esrange also carries out drop tests for spacecraft and aerial vehicles, tests rocket engines and fuels, and hosts one of the world's largest civilian ground stations. Leading the "European Space Race," the spaceport is developing new launch pads to support orbital launch vehicles and reusable rocket tests.

Esrange has been launching sounding rockets for nearly 60 years, including the Maxus 4 suborbital microgravity mission in 2001. (Image credit: ESA/ESRANGE/Lars Thulin)

Charlotta Sund, CEO of SSC, expressed her excitement over the new partnership: "I'm very pleased to announce this historic collaboration, our first orbital launch partnership, The market demand for this service is huge and it's needed now, by both European and international satellite owners," Sund said in a SSC press release statement

"With this partnership, SSC will be able to offer a competitive commercial European orbital launch service at our spaceport in Sweden. This is exciting news for us, and for the global space market." Sund continued. 

Perigee Aerospace's Blue Whale 1 rocket, soon to be ready for orbital missions, will play a crucial role in this collaboration. Yoon Shin, CEO and Founder of Perigee Aerospace, highlighted the synergy between the two companies: "SSC has an impressive 50 years of launch heritage and the new orbital launch infrastructure at Esrange is laying the foundation for the years to come. 

Graphic illustration of Blue Whale 1 launching. (Image credit: Perigee Aerospace)

"By bringing our Blue Whale 1 rocket, soon ready for orbital missions, we will partner with SSC to create a state-of-the-art orbital launch service, including further delivery through SSC's ground service offering. After a successful orbital launch from South Korea next year, we look forward to beginning this historic journey at Esrange."

The Blue Whale 1 is a two-stage launch vehicle with the capacity to place up to 440 lbs (200 kg) into a 310-mile (500 km) sun-synchronous orbit. This makes it an ideal choice for a wide range of satellite missions. The collaboration with SSC aims to develop a service concept with a shared payload space onboard Blue Whale 1 to make space for both companies. 

Despite being located high in the Arctic Circle where winters can be brutal, Esrange plans to launch all year round, starting with a few launches per year and then increasing the cadence slowly.

A March 2015 auroral display over Kiruna, Sweden, where Esrange is located. (Image credit: Mia Stålnacke)

"We think this is a realistic approach, while focusing on creating a standardized launch service around a sustainable business model. As we develop, we plan to increase the number of launches annually. But there is no real limit to how many launches can be conducted from Esrange — the market will guide us in our developments." Ohlsson told Space.com.

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Daisy Dobrijevic
Reference Editor

Daisy Dobrijevic joined Space.com in February 2022 having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K. Daisy is passionate about all things space, with a penchant for solar activity and space weather. She has a strong interest in astrotourism and loves nothing more than a good northern lights chase!