Europe’s new space sport aims to launch reusable rockets

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In a vast, remote desert about 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, continental Europe’s first satellite launch port is taking shape.

The spaceport, called Esrange, opened on Friday 13 January in the presence of the King of Sweden and European Commission President Von der Leyen, should soon launch reusable Themis satellites and rockets.

The port is part of a larger plan to give Europe a competitive edge in an industry currently dominated by the United States.

“We have to catch up and that’s it. To have this capability, which is now the norm in the world, we need a reusable liquid-propellant launcher,” said Josef Aschbacher, CEO of the Agency. European space. (ESA).

This rocket comes in the form of the Themis Space Launcher, which consists of three reusable engines powered by liquid oxygen and methane.

Test flights are planned next year at the Esrange port, followed by the European Spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana.

Suborbital tests are scheduled for 2025, raising questions about why Europeans continue to lag behind Elon Musk’s SpaceX program and the Starlink satellites that provide critical high-speed internet for Ukraine. In the war with Russia.

“I was hoping for that, but as always the Americans are a little faster. But I am sure that we will be able to find our place and support here [secure] connectivity,” said Olli Norberg, who heads the Swedish Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna.

Founded by ESA in 1966, the Esrange Spaceport is already one of the world’s largest ground stations providing space-to-space communications and has launched nearly 600 suborbital research rockets over the years, some carrying low-gravity payloads.

But you have to earn money. ESA estimates that the space economy is currently valued at $350 billion worldwide and will grow to $1 trillion in the next few decades. It is hoped that the Esranj spaceport will also attract new talents.

“I think we need a port like this to attract a new generation, like Elon Musk, and our talent is flowing to the US, so we need to be inspiring and attractive to the younger generation,” said Claudie Haigner, the first European manager. . female astronaut.

This includes a new ESA mission launching this year to study Jupiter’s three icy moons for signs of life.

Located in the Swedish municipality of Kiruna, the spaceport’s footprint is twice the size of Luxembourg. Its remote location was chosen to minimize the risk of impact from falling rockets and/or other possible debris.

But for the local Sami indigenous people, the space center is another headache after reports of a large deposit of rare earth oxides nearby.

“There are concerns about the space center,” said Stefan Mikaelsson, deputy chairman of the board of the Sami Parliament.

“The information we have shows that there is military activity and I see the spread of the militarization of the Arctic by the Swedish state,” he said.

Mikaelsson, a reindeer herder, also said that military planes fly low in the spring. He described this time of year as a “birthing chamber for deer calves, elk calves and other animals.”

“This is the time of year when military activity should be as low as possible, but instead it is heightened by airborne aircraft,” he said.

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