Norway Launched Into the Commercial Space Age

Andøya (High North News): On Thursday, Europe's first and only operational launch port for satellites officially opened on Andøya and brought Norway into what is called "New Space," the commercial and privatized space age. The Norwegian Armed Forces are thrilled to see a direct entrance into the fifth domain: space.

By Trine Jonassen, High North News - November 7, 2023
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Article by High North News

Alexandre Dalloneau
Head of Mission and Launch Operations at Isar Aerospace, Alexandre Dalloneau, is a cautious optimist and believes the test launch will take place from Andøya Spaceport soon. Behind Dalloneau can be seen construction stage 1 of the Andøya Spaceport, which was opened on 2 November. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

With the lighting of a symbolic campfire under snowy mountains, it was done: Crown Prince Haakon of Norway declared Andøya Spaceport opened on November 2nd, in Nordmela, Andøy municipality, Northern Norway.

Although the facility is a couple of months away from launching its first satellite, Andøya Spaceport’s first construction phase has concluded in just under 18 months.

That is the cause of celebrating this cold, clear Thursday in November, where the Nordland island is truly showing itself from its best side.

Andøya Spaceport is a “perfect place for launching into polar orbits,” according to co-founder and COO (Chief Operating Officer) Josef Fleischmann at the German company Isar Aerospace, the spaceport’s first customer. Isar will dispose of a separate platform built after their requests.

He lists advantages such as little traffic at sea and in the air, direct access to polar orbits without entering other countries’ airspace, no civilian overflights, and relatively simple logistics with an airport, two ports, and a road connection to the European mainland.

Umbrella for satellites

The spaceport is by no means finished. What we now see is the integration hall, in which the ceremony takes place, as well as the control rooms. And Isar’s launch platform.

But Norway actually has its own spaceport now. Get a feel for that word. A port to space. A commercial port for the launch of private satellites. An umbrella institution for rockets, which anyone who can afford a satellite can use.

And it is the only one in Europe so far.

©Isar Aerospace_Launch site at at Andøya Spaceport.
Andøya Spaceport will be the first operative orbital spaceport on the European mainland to complete the construction of launch platforms. (Photo: Isar Aerospace/Andøya Space)

“It is a new beginning,” says the General Manager of Andøya Spaceport, Ingun Berget, during the opening, which they called “Igniting a prepared future.”

A milestone

The Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor) also gave a digital speech and called the spaceport a milestone.

“With this spaceport, Norway will be one of few countries able to launch satellites from its own territory. And this opens the doors for a whole new ecosystem, like more job opportunities, and it will fire up innovative thinking,” Støre said and devoutly added:

“And it is all happening in the North.”

He emphasized that Norway will now function as a spaceport for a united EU.

The government wants to develop Norway into a space nation that can support the Norwegian defense.
State Secretary for the Norwegian Ministry of Defense, Anne Marie Aanerud (Center)

The customers are ready

The work on the spaceport’s first construction phase started in March 2022 and concluded in October 2023. Last year, German Isar Aerospace signed with Andøya Space.

The contract lasts for 20 years and gives Isar exclusive rights to the first launch ramp that will be ready shortly – Pad A.

The Isar team will not reveal exactly when the first satellite will be launched, but Head of Mission and Launch Operations, Alexandre Dalloneau, says to High North News that the customers are ready.

Exclusive tour

Together with the guys in the Romkapsel (Space Capsule) podcast, High North News is given a tour of the facility on the day before the official opening.

French Dalloneau guides us through technical details on how propane is better fuel and how the flame tail from the rockets will shoot out towards the Norwegian Sea and turn into smoke.

We are allowed to photograph a few areas and only at a distance. The technology must be protected.

Josef Fleischmann
Josef Fleischmann is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Co-Founder of Isar Aerospace. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

When the new spaceport is ready, it will ensure that launchers can lift small satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits around the Earth.

“Small” satellites weigh under 1200 kilos. Rapidly developing technology has made satellites cheaper to produce and, therefore, attractive to businesses and organizations.

The commercialization of space has even been given a name: New Space.

“Crown Prince Haakon’s participation in today’s opening emphasized the important work we do and placed us on the New Space map in Europe,” says Ingun Berget.

Important for the defense

The spaceport’s other major actor is the Norwegian Armed Forces, which according to the plan, will operate from their own launch platform where they can quickly launch, replace, and defend their own satellites.

None of our current systems gives us direct access to space.
Rolf Folland, Chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

The opening of Andøya Spaceport is of great significance for Norway, the Nordic region, and Europe, and it marks a new era for Norway.

State Secretary of the Ministry of Defense in Norway, Anne Marie Aanerud (Center), says that Andøya Spaceport is the next natural step for the Norwegian defense.

“The government wants to develop Norway into a space nation that can support the Norwegian defense. The spaceport will also be important to NATO,” says Aanerud, and emphasized the possibility of a quick response, whether it is to replace defective satellites, defend its own structures, or deter Russia.”

She says that Andøya Spaceport is an important part of the Norwegian defense.

Kart Andøya Space
Andøya Spaceport in the world. (Map: Andøya Space)

Direct access

“None of our current systems gives us access to space, the fifth domain. Therefore, it is important that we are part of this development,” says the Chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Rolf Folland.

The relatively new US Space Force visited the facility under the auspices of the Norwegian Armed Forces just a week ago. They were looking at the possibilities for launching.

In 2019, the NATO countries agreed that space was “the fifth domain,” along with land, sea, air, and cyberspace. Even though NATO’s Secretary General then stated that space was not to be militarized.

The General Manager of the spaceport, Ingrun Berget, is happy to have the Armed Forces on the team.

Four platforms

Back to the day before the tour, we meet the director of operations at Andøya spaceport, Jon Harr, in crystal clear three minus degrees.

In front of a sky that bathes the island in pink November light, Harr says that they will eventually be able to offer four launch platforms.

“And a “Space Village” will also be built.”

“They know the risks of a test launch.”
Alexandre Dalloneau, Isar Aearospace

Test is approaching

Launching of launch vehicles for satellites has never before been conducted in Norway, and the first test launch at the end of this year will be the first.

Andøya Spaceport works closely with the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) and the Civil Aviation Authority Norway’s Space Agency to meet the necessary safety requirements. DSB regulates safety on the ground, and the Norwegian Space Agency regulates launch activities.

The first test launch from Andøya Spaceport will be the launcher Spectrum from Isar Aerospace. The payload consists of small satellites to be transported to polar and sun-synchronous orbits, and is owned by European institutions, including FramSat1, which was developed by students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“They know the risk of a test launch,” says Alexandre Dalloneau.

The entire facility will be completed in 2025

Kronprins Håkon åpner Andøya romhavn sammen med barna
Crown Prince Haakon of Norway opens Andøya Spaceport with children from local schools. He talked about Andøya as a meeting place for many, also in the past. “One of the campfires of our own time is space technology. The exploration of the universe and the study of the Earth from space works best when we work together,” said the Crown Prince. (Photo: Isar Aerospace/Andøya Space)

Young company

Isar Aerospace is only five years old, and its vision is to change access to space.

“We can help customers who want climate monitoring, data storage, monitoring of fire and agriculture. We can connect the unconnected,” says Dalloneau enthusiastically.

The world is on the threshold of privatization and commercialization of space, and Norway has just signed up.

Indispensable

It has been a long time since the satellites that already orbit the earth became indispensable to us. They give us weather data, show us the way on the mobile phone, and ensure that we can talk together.

“Cleaning up space debris is something some businesses work on.”
Josef Fleischmann, Isar Aerospace

The challenge with the privatization of space is that there are no updated regulations. The international Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is considered outdated and basically only prohibits weapons of mass destruction and military bases in outer space.

According to UNOOSA, the space treaty is intended for state activities in space. However, it states that the exploration of outer space should be for all humanity and that no state should be able to make territorial claims.

Thus, no one can “plant their flag” in space, but there is also no one to prevent states, organizations, and companies from carpeting space with satellites and waste from these, so-called “space debris”.

The Kessler effect

The more satellites and the more space debris that circulates above our heads, the greater the chance that something will hit important satellites. Our desire to conquer space can end up sabotaging critical functions.

In fact, if a small piece of metal hits the wrong satellite, it could release a cascade of clouds of debris and result in what is known as the Kessler effect.

Jon Harr, Operations Director at Andøya Spaceport
Jon Harr is the head of operations at Andøya Spaceport. The opening of the spaceport marks a decisive milestone on Isar Aerospace’s path to its first test flight. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022, the regulation of space has not kept pace with the development of technology and new military threats.

The report points to an “urgent need” for an international body to manage the launch and repair of satellites and to establish space traffic control with joint regulations.

New industry

Josef Fleischmann at Isar Aerospace says that space debris has actually generated a new industry.

“Developing solutions to clean up space debris is being worked on in some companies,” says Fleischmann, who also reminds us that Isar is a private company that profits from private satellites.

Jon Harr from Andøya Spaceport adds that those who send up equipment are also responsible for what eventually comes down, but that it likely burns up in the atmosphere before it reaches the ground.

“It is more important than ever that there are possibilities for launching satellites in Europe.”
Jon Harr, Andøya Spaceport

Currently, there is a region in the South Pacific east of New Zealand that serves as a Spacecraft cemetery. The area called “Point Nemo” is the place furthest from any country on earth and is referred to as uninhabited. By humans, anyway.

Jon Harr agrees that an international regulation is needed for the return of equipment that is no longer in use.

Intensified by Russia’s war

Andøya Spaceport’s first phase has finished quickly. The war in Ukraine was barely a month old when construction began.

In the fall, the government announced that they would allocate NOK 150 million to the new spaceport in the state budget for “necessary security measures to enable Andøya Spaceport to meet military requirements as a launch site for satellites that must be replaced in crisis and war.”

Russia’s war in Ukraine with subsequent sanctions from the West has also been a catalyst for the Norwegian space adventure to have progressed quickly.

“If the war did not directly speed up the development, it strengthened the feeling that it was urgent for Europe to get its own spaceport in place,” says Fleischmann.

Ingun Berget
It has been a day of celebration for Ingun Berget, the General Manager of Andøya Spaceport, who proudly hosted the opening event when Andøya Spaceport celebrated the opening of the first operational spaceport in continental Europe. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

“It is more important than ever that there are possibilities for launching satellites in Europe,” adds Harr.

In the DNA

But the spaceport also brings value creation with it. On the opening day, a proud mayor of Andøya municipality stands and boasts about the local community, which has welcomed the new future with open arms.

“Many new opportunities are emerging in the wake of the spaceport. It has been a process, but impossible is not a word we from Andøya know,” says Kjell-Are Johansen (Labor).

Ketil Olsen, head of Andøya Space, also pays tribute to what sometimes seemed like an impossible task.

“18 months ago, there was nothing here, and building a spaceport in the middle of a war and a pandemic has been challenging, to say the least. Now it is a dream come true. Now it is just a matter of pressing on, and I quote Buzz Lightyear, of whom some of you may have heard: To infinity and beyond!”

At the time of writing, Andøya spaceport competes with Swedish Esrange Space, located outside Kiruna in Northern Sweden, to become the first European spaceport outside Russia to launch satellites into orbit. Britain’s SaxaVord missile base on Shetland is close behind.

About Andøya Spaceport:

  • Andøya Spaceport is a wholly owned subsidiary of Andøya Space, which has over sixty years of experience in the aerospace industry.
  • Andøya Spaceport aims to offer launch sites and related services to companies that want to launch small to medium-sized satellites in polar and sun-synchronous orbits.
  • Andøya Spaceport operates a complete toolbox, including tracking radar, telemetry, and ground-based flight termination systems.
  • The location on Andøya is ideal with simple logistics and direct track insertion.