Sweden’s Esrange Space Center has secured a multi-million-euro loan that keeps the Kiruna facility on track to meet its goal of launching small satellites into orbit in 2022, making it the first major orbital launch site in the European Union.
The €12 million ($14 million) loan from the Nordic Investment Bank finalized on Wednesday is expected to be the final funding that the Swedish Space Corporation (the state-owned firm that operates the facility) needs to complete a modernization project begun in 2015 and expected to make it possible to launch satellites weighing less than 150 kilograms aboard reusable rockets.
“With the new spaceport capability, it will most likely become the first launch site on European mainland to provide a platform for space companies to develop their next generation rocket technologies and launch their satellites,” said Philip Påhlsson, a Swedish Space Corporation spokesperson.
Esrange Space Center opened in 1966 and has primarily been used by scientists to launch sub-orbital rockets and high-altitude balloons. The modernization, which will includes development of rocket-testing facilities and ground technologies that can communicate with satellites, is expected to cost a total of €50 million.
The Swedish state has invested heavily in development of the Esrange Space Center, including a 90 million kronor ($10 million) investment last year and another 60 million kronor in 2021.
“Sweden is to be at the absolute forefront of the development of space technology,” Matilda Ernkrans, the research minister, said.
The funding comes as part of a 2018 strategy that calls for Sweden to develop its space capacity as a strategic economic asset.
For the Swedish Space Corporation, being able to launch satellites will allow it to tap into a rapidly growing market that it reckons is already under-served.
“[Launch] capability does not yet exist at all from European soil,” the company said in its 2020 annual report. “With the existing infrastructure and our vast experience from launch operations, Esrange Space Center is perfect for this purpose.”