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European launch facilities almost ready for liftoff

Europe in Space
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European launch facilities almost ready for liftoff
Six months into the year and several European launch facilities have made significant progress towards the construction of launch sites capable of supporting orbital launches. The below is not an exhaustive analysis. There are several others, including an interesting concept that would see rockets launched from a floating platform stationed in the North Sea. All these concepts, however, are either very early in their development or are just proposals.
Esrange space center
The construction of suborbital launch facilities at Esrange was initiated by the European Space Research Organisation (the precursor of the European Space Agency) in 1964, with the first launch following in 1966. Ownership of the facility was then transferred to the newly founded Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) In 1972.
In October 2020, Swedish Space Minister Matilda Ernkran announced that the government had made the decision to establish orbital launch capabilities at Esrange. The announcement came with a 90 million krona (€8.4 million) funding commitment over three years to upgrade the facility to host small satellite launches. 
The last update regarding the construction of Esrange came in February, with the integration hall weatherproofed and two of the three planned launch pads completed. Despite appearing to look close to operational readiness, in a March announcement regarding new office space secured for Esrange in the Kiruna city center, SSC stated the first launch would occur in 2023. This may, however, be down to its launch partners rather than the readiness of the facility itself.
German launch startup HyImpulse has committed to launching from Esrange. Additionally, Rocket Factory Augsburg, Pangea Aerospace, and ArianeGroup have all signed contracts to conduct testing at the facility.
Andøya Space
Located in Norway, Andøya Space has a legacy stretching back to the 1960s, serving as the launch site for over 1,000 suborbital launches over the decades. In 2018, the decision was made to begin the development of an orbital launch facility, for which NOK 365.6 million (€35.5 million) in funding was granted by the Norwegian government.
Germany’s Rocket Factory Augsburg and Isar Aerospace, and South Korea’s INNOSPACE have all signed agreements committing to launch from Andøya Space.
In May, Andøya Space signed the phase two agreement with contractors SEKK (Sortland Entreprenør and Karstein Kristiansen Entreprenør) and LNS. SEKK is responsible for the construction of the first assembly hall and all necessary support buildings, including a temporary control center, to allow commercial launches to commence as soon as possible. LNS will carry out foundation work which includes the extraction of masses, filling, and concrete work on the first launchpad.
Talking to European Spaceflight, Isar Aerospace confirmed that construction on the company’s “exclusive launchpad” at Andøya is underway. This progress may, however, be hampered somewhat by the arrival of warm weather in Norway.
In a July 1 update on Twitter, Andøya Space announced that with the arrival of summer, there would be lower activity at the construction site throughout the month of July. There will, however, be “some activity during the summer months.”
Initial capabilities at Andøya Space are expected to be operational by 2023. However, construction at the facility will continue until 2025. 
SaxaVord Spaceport
Work on SaxaVord Spaceport (previously Shetland Space Centre) began in early 2018, and in 2020 Leonne International supplied an initial £2 million investment to begin work on the launch site. 
Planning approval for the launch site and surrounding infrastructure was delayed as several hurdles first needed to be surmounted. However, in May, Saxavord secured approval for its final planning applications allowing construction of the facility to commence.
On July 5, SaxaVord shared an aerial shot of its site at Lamba Ness, highlighting the ground preparation progress that has been completed at the stunning coastal location.
A “dress rehearsal launch” is expected to be conducted at the site later this year. The 3-metre-tall rocket will be launched from a portable Asgard launch pad system and will reach a max altitude of 12,000 feet (3600 metres).
SaxaVord has attracted several launch operators with Astra and Lockheed Martin from the US, Latitude (previously Venture Orbital) from France, Skyrora from the UK, and HyImpulse from Germany, all committing to launching from the facility.
Spaceport Cornwall
Spaceport Cornwall is a horizontal launch site that will arguably be the first to host an orbital rocket launch from European soil. I say arguably because it’s not technically from European soil, but from skies off the coast of Europe aboard the Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft.
Plans to turn the airport in Cornwall into a spaceport date back as far as 2019, with the UK Space Agency committing £7.8m to the development of Spaceport Cornwall. In 2021, Virgin Orbit signed a memorandum of understanding with Spaceport Cornwall to launch the first LauncherOne mission outside of its US home. This launch is expected to occur later this year, carrying a tech demonstrator of in-orbit manufacturing startup Space Forge.
Although Virgin Orbit is the only operator to have committed to “launching” from Spaceport Cornwall, Sierra Space is exploring the possibility of using the runway as a landing location for its Dream Chaser vehicle.
Space Hub Sutherland
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) announced that it would back a proposal to develop a vertical launch site on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, Sutherland, in July 2018. The development of the Space Hub Sutherland is being undertaken by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which has allocated £17.3 million towards the construction. £9.8 million of the funding comes from HIE itself, while the remaining £7.5 has been supplied by UKSA and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
According to HIE, planning permission for the launch site was approved by the Highland Council in August 2020 and by the Scottish Land Court in September 2021.
HIE publishes a handy monthly newsletter covering the developments at Space Hub Sutherland. In the June issue, HIE revealed that work required for the installation of power to the site is currently underway. The final design of the access road, hard standings, and foundations are nearing completion. The overall assessment of the progress from HIE is that they are “firmly in the pre-construction phase of the project.
Currently, only Orbex has committed to launching their Prime launch vehicle from Sutherland.
A mysterious project commences - Danish satellite manufacturer GomSpace received an authorization to proceed (ATP) from Unseen Labs for the production of key elements for an upcoming satellite project. According to the company, the 12M SEK (€1.1M) ATP was initiated to ensure the availability of components that currently have long lead times due to the current worldwide shortage of semiconductor components. The announcement comes less than six months after GomSpace signed a contract with Unseen Labs to develop a next-generation satellite platform. That contract was worth 8M SEK (€750k).
Safran continues to grow - French aerospace giant Safran has acquired Resilient Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) solutions provider Orolia. “The acquisition of Orolia makes Safran one of the only companies with the full complement of PNT technologies, bringing together Orolia’s precise time referencing and Safran Electronics & Defense’s proven inertial navigation solutions,” said Safran Electronics & Defense CEO Martin Sion.
Did someone pop the balloon? - The balloon-borne Sunrise III solar observatory lifted off from Esrange Space Center in Sweden. The project is an international consortium led by Germany’s Max Planck Institute with partners from the US, Japan, Spain, and Germany that aims to study the height stratification of the solar atmosphere from the deepest observable layers up to the chromosphere. Despite a successful liftoff, the mission was terminated shortly after unexplained irregularities occurred. A full investigation is expected to follow.
You get a satellite. You get satellite. You all get a satellite! - Airbus has won a contract from Northrop Grumman to supply 42 satellites for the US Space Development Agency’s (SDA) low Earth orbit constellation. The satellites are projected to be launched in 2024 and will be part of an initial 126-satellite constellation that will be used to support military communications, surveillance, and tracking of enemy targets.
Dude, have you seen my boat? - Norwegian company Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace has acquired 77% of Lithuania satellite manufacturer NanoAvionics. The deal comes less than two months after Kongsberg ordered a trio of satellites that will serve as a maritime tracking constellation.
Themis and Prometheus get more money - ArianeGroup-led consortiums have been awarded a pair of European Commission Horizon Europe grants totaling €56.4 million. The €39M SALTO (reuSable strAtegic space Launcher Technologies & Operations) award will fund testing of vertical landing by a reusable launcher stage prototype (aka Themis) within the next two years. The €17.4M ENLIGHTEN (European iNitiative for Low cost, Innovative & Green High Thrust Engine) award will fund the development and testing of advanced production and deployment tech for reusable rocket engines (Prometheus).
What is in a name? - French satellite manufacturer ThrustMe announced that it is in the process of renovating a 900-square-metre building in the southern outskirt of Paris to serve as a new production line. The company explained that the new facility was needed to “meet its current clients and the industry’s needs.”
Just two more sleeps - The payload encased in a Beyond Gravity fairing for the maiden Avio Vega C mission was successfully integrated with the rest of the vehicle. The team is working towards a July 13 launch date. The mission will carry the LARES-2 passive satellite for the Italian Space Agency, along with six secondary payloads.
A long-awaited handshake - GomSpace formally signed a contract with DLR to supply the agency with two 12U CubeSats. The signing finalised an award process that was initially announced in mid-June. The contract is worth SEK 13 million (€1.2 million).
Norway again? - Norwegian aerospace component manufacturer Orbital Machines announced that LOX and RP1 electronic propellant pumps that it is developing for Latitude’s Zephyr launch vehicle had passed a final review. The project will now move on to the prototype phase. The company is also producing propellant pumps for Copenhagen Suborbitals’ human-rated Spica launch vehicle.
It’s like Europe’s Got Talent, but for astronauts - ESA has announced that astronaut candidates are entering the fourth phase of the agency’s selection process. ESA has recruited new astronauts just twice before this latest call. The first recruitment campaign occurred between 1978 and 1979 and the most recent between 2008 and 2009. This latest campaign was started in 2021 and garnered over 22,000 applications. Just 400 of those were invited to phase three, with a currently undisclosed number of candidates making it through to this latest phase of the process. Phase four will see candidates undergo a medical evaluation that assesses their health and physical capabilities.
Yes, another Norway story - Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace has signed a contract with ESA for a feasibility study for the Arctic Ocean Surveillance Constellation (AOS). The Norwegian Space Agency-led endeavour seeks to develop a constellation of microsats that will be used for maritime surveillance. 
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Andrew Parsonson

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