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A global game change through space


In the 1960s, Europe was lagging behind the United States and the Soviet Union when it came to space exploration and space-related advances. To help bring Europe into the game, the first space center was founded outside of the small Swedish town of Kiruna. The area would become known as the Esrange Space Center.

The European Space Research Organization (ESRO) was officially founded and the first rocket was launched in 1966. In 1972, the Swedish government took control of the Esrange Space Center and still holds 100% of the shares within the company.

SSC is government owned, but business oriented. The company has two missions: being active in the commercial space market and benefiting the public. “In terms of our public mission, we provide services for access to space to scientists in Sweden and Europe,” says Stefan Gustafsson, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Public Affairs.

Launch and operate stratospheric balloons and sounding rockets are important parts of these scientific services. Sounding rockets, also known as research rockets, are instrument-carrying rockets designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during their flights.

Esrange launches a variety of rockets to a maximum altitude of 750 km. As a point of reference, the International Space Station is 400 km out. Scientists have experiments on the rockets that require distances of anything from 200 km up to the maximum 750 km.

The sounding rockets stay in space for between 10 and 20 minutes in micro gravity, and then fall back to earth, landing in the vast area of Esrange. “Since 1966, we have launched 600 of these rockets, which is a record in the West,” adds Mr. Gustafsson.

Stratospheric balloons fly in the stratosphere, about 40 km from Earth for longer or shorter flights. The largest balloons get twice as big as the Ericsson Globe arena, which holds 30,000 people, and can carry a payload of up to 4 t. The flights, depending on the size of the balloons, can vary from a couple of hours for small balloons and several days for the larger ones.

The longest flights are the circumpolar missions, where balloons travel with the stratospheric winds more or less around the polar circle. These flights provide excellent opportunities for relatively cheap long duration experiments and data gathering, using instruments such as large telescopes and techniques for measuring the status of the atmosphere. Since they fly in the stratosphere, there are little disturbances affecting the gauges and other measuring instruments.

Another use of balloons are drop-tests, where the balloons lift different kinds of flying payloads to an appropriate altitude and release them for a controlled drop flight to earth, doing for instance aerodynamic test.

The rapid micro-technology development have made satellites smaller and cheaper, making it possible for more actors to use them for new applications, providing a revolution in communication and ability to watch what is going on on Earth.

These satellites can be used in constellations of many satellites that co-operate to provide solutions that in turn make applications only previously dreaming on a reality. As an example, in the coming decade we might be able to watch all parts of the world from space, in close to real time, with high resolution in our computers wherever we are on the globe, via internet links also provided by space based infrastructure.

“This technology will make it very difficult to lie or hide wrong-doings such as nuclear weapons, human rights violations, etcetera,” says Mr. Gustafsson. “People across the globe can be enlightened from a free flow of information, enabling new opportunities for a real sustainable development.”

As well, this new technology will further increase the already excellent possibilities to provide information to combat climate change. One of the capability gaps that currently hamper the realisation of these constellations of satellites is the lack of launching facilities.

“The market needs dedicated launches for smaller satellites, rather than the smaller ones, only having the option to piggyback onto larger ones,” explains Mr. Gustafsson. “This will allow for a more exact placement, which will have many benefits.”

Helping to fulfil this gap, SSC now plans to establish capability to launch small satellites into orbit from Esrange. “This is a very exciting opportunity,” says Mr. Gustafsson.

The only European launching facility is the one in French Guyana, only dedicated to large satellites. The Swedish initiative will be a complement of strategic value to Europe, meeting with strong market demands, he continues.

SSC is and will remain extremely active in the satellite market. The company runs one of the largest ground networks in the world. “We offer customer-aligned solutions to a variety of customers all over the world”, explains Mr. Gustafsson.

SSC is now investing in new more cost-effective, flexible and resilient services concept focusing on the new constellations of small satellites. The concept, called SSC INFINTY, provides an even more dense global coverage of opportunities to download information from space in real time and large quantities.

With locations on all continents and about 600 employees, SSC is ready to make Earth and space as interconnected as possible. The future is here.

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