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The north of Sweden has been attracting space ventures for a long time. In 1957, an observation centre was founded in order to observe the Northern Lights, to measure and better understand the phenomena. Some decades later Esrange Space Centre, a governmental rocket range and research centre built by the European Space Research Organisation, was founded. But in recent years, the activity at Esrange is increasingly used by private companies exploring the possibilities of space technology. Some of them are inspired by the success of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
– There is strong interest from international companies who see Norrbotten as a great place for future space investments, thanks to the excellent infrastructure that has been built to support Esrange over many decades, but also because of our arctic climate and renewable energy that allows for highly efficient data storage with zero CO2 emissions, said Jörgen Eriksson, CEO at Invest in Norrbotten
Johanna Bergström Roos at LTU Business has worked in the industry for 30 years. Today she works as the project manager for RIT2021, (the Swedish abbreviation for “Space For Innovation And Growth 2021”), a collaborative EU funded project. The goal of the project is to strengthen the whole ecosystem around the space sector, to help attract investments and promote the north of Sweden as the space centre of Europe.
– More and more companies and investors in the space industry are coming to the north of Sweden. Especially the testing of new reusable rockets is an important focus area today. The next step will be to launch satellites into orbit. Amongst the many reasons that companies choose to come here, is because it is easier for European companies to operate within the EU. But there are also geopolitical reasons, said Johanna Bergström Roos.
A constantly growing number of local consultants, companies and producers also offer knowledge and support to new business ventures. Importantly, the low population density of the area is highly unusual for Europe, and when testing and experimenting with reusable rockets, large uninhabited areas are a must. Northern Sweden is thus one of the few genuine rocket testing options in Europe.
– At present we have two companies operating at Esrange, ISAR Aerospace and RFA. They are both developing technologies to send out satellites into space with reusable rockets. The two companies are growing rapidly and their presence here is highly important for the promotion of Kiruna and Norrbotten as the space technology centre of Europe, said Johanna.
Another important factor that makes the region attractive is that the Luleå University of Technology (LTU) offers programs in space technology and science. LTU collaborates closely with the space industry locally and internationally, and RIT2021 has worked hard to streamline this cooperation, and several of the commercial ventures now inspire research at the PhD and postdoctorate level. Space technology companies can also use the test units at LTU Space Campus, and students sometimes continue working for space technology companies after graduation.
– Our intent to build an ecosystem around Esrange has been really successful so far. The space industry up here is booming, and we are only at the very beginning of the journey, said Johanna.
– In collaboration with other important actors from our region, we are looking forward to continuing the growth of the space sector and to attract more international companies and investors to Norrbotten, said Jörgen.
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