Data transmissions will be moved to near-Earth orbits in the future. Numerous companies are already racing to build a fleet of satellites that will consist of thousands of micro-satellites. The Norwegian company Andøya Space has set itself the goal of earning a share in the construction of these satellite constellations. But this will require an expansion of the infrastructure for missile launches. The new rocket station should be ready by the end of 2022.
The climax of the Cold War, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis – or should we say anticlimax – is etched in our memory. When the Russians began installing missiles with nuclear warheads in Cuba, the Americans responded with a naval blockade. The Russian ships turned in and turned away. The world had narrowly missed the outbreak of another war.
No less explosive, but far less known to the general public, is an incident that occurred in 1995. Since 1962, rockets have been launched on the Norwegian island of Andøya to explore the atmosphere. The first rocket launched from Andøya was a collaboration between Denmark, NASA and Norway. Since then, over a thousand research rockets and scientific balloons have been successfully launched from Andøya Space Center.
However, the Black Brant XII missile, which was fired on January 25, 1995, was much larger than the missiles used previously. Of course, the surrounding states and thus also Russia were informed about the planned missile launch. But the news bogged down in Russian bureaucracy and radar stations were not informed. Russian Missile Attack WarningSystem (MAWS) personnel misinterpreted the Norwegian research missile on their radar screens as the launch of a Trident missile fired from an American submarine. The officer in charge acted strictly according to regulations and reported the incident directly to Moscow, where President Yeltsin activated the nuclear suitcase. Fortunately for the world, the misunderstanding was then cleared up relatively quickly.
Since the start of research activities on Andøya in 1962, the Norwegians have acquired extensive expertise in launching rockets. Today offers Andya Space Services and technologies that enable science to explore the atmosphere and near space environment. Andøya Space’s customers are renowned space agencies such as NASA (American National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), DLR (German Aerospace Center). A large number of international universities and research institutes are also among its loyal customers.
Since September 2018, Norway has been able to feel like a proper spacefaring nation, as the first entirely Norwegian-made rocket launched from Andøya Space Center. It passed the symbolic 100-kilometre Kármán Line and then plunged into the sea as planned. On board the rocket had several experiments and test equipment.
Currently has Andøya Space has two rocket launch sites. One on the island of Andøya (69 ° N) and a second on Spitsbergen near Ny-Ålesund (79 ° N). Together, these two sites offer a variety of options for different rocket trajectories and thus access to all layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. But now we need to be ready for the future.
Data transmissions for Internet, telephone and other data will be moved from Earth to orbit in the near future. Thanks to countless small satellites, data can be transmitted to any point on earth. In this way, the Internet will become more powerful and faster even outside the large metropolises. Numerous start-ups, supported by Amazon, Apple and Google, among others, are engaged in a real race with established satellite operators such as Viasat, Eutelsat and Imarsat to build up a near-earth satellite fleet. Elon Musks company SpaceX alone will launch more than 10,000 satellites into orbit. Future satellite constellations are also expected to generate Andøya Space good business.
In June 2020, the owners Andøya Space (the Norwegian government (90%) and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace) confirmed their full support for the construction of an additional spaceport. The new launch site Andøya Spaceport will be located on the east coast of the island of Andøya, approximately 35 kilometres south of the current headquarters.
The third location is urgently needed for the future and expectations are correspondingly high. Andøya Space already offers an end-to-end service. This means that the customer can concentrate exclusively on his actual project or experiment, while Andøya Space develops the payload area in parallel, procures the engines and the rocket, and then carries out the launch procedure from one of its launch sites.
Due to the constant reduction in the size of electronic components, satellites that once weighed several tons have now reached the size of a shoebox. The so-called CubeSat concept is now considered the established standard for mini satellites. A CubeSat consists of cube-shaped units, each with an edge length of ten centimeters. Like Lego bricks, the cubes can be put together to form a larger unit. The satellites are so small that they can fly along relatively cheaply. This will not only make rocket launches cheaper, but more importantly, easier. For less payload, correspondingly less thrust is required. Andøya Space has set itself the goal of being the first in Europe to launch small satellites into the earth’s atmosphere in large quantities. Andøya is already one of the few places in Europe for launching satellites into northern orbit. However, an expansion of the business area requires larger capacities than are available at the current site in Oksebåsen. The new site will provide access to three launch pads including the required support infrastructure and is aimed at operators of carriers in the 1.5 tonne payload class.
Two sites were originally evaluated for the initial planning process: Børvågen and Bømyra. Both places are located on the west coast of Andøya, 35 km and 48 km south of Andenes respectively. After an initial preliminary study, the decision was made in favour of Børvågen.
The planned area extends to the north over the Kinnfjellet with its large bogs. To the west, the plan area borders on the open sea. There are a number of valuable natural areas within the planning area. The entire stretch of coastline is considered an important habitat for various seabirds, most of which nest on the bird cliff at Bleik. The large bog areas north and east of Børvågen are important habitats for wading birds. Rare red-listed birds are seen here both during the breeding season and during spring and fall migration. In addition, peatlands also provide important ecosystem services. Swamps store enormous amounts of carbon, limiting the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Outside Andøya, the continental shelf breaks off steeply into the depths, forming Bleik Canyon. Water from the Gulf Stream is mixed here with cold water from the deep, making for a nutrient-rich marine area. This in turn forms the basis for an above-average abundance of fish. Andøya is also world-famous for the large occurrence of different whale species. There is also a large population of seals along the coast.
However, there are a number of heritage assets within the area that will need to be taken into consideration when implementing the plans. The cultural monuments range from Iron Age burial mounds to Sami cultural monuments. South of Børvågen, for example, lies Bukkekjerka, a Sami sacrificial site. In the summer of 2017, a first inspection of the heritage site was carried out by the County Conservation Officer and the Sami Parliament. The resulting findings have been incorporated into the planning process and provide the basis for further decisions
But an expansion in Børvågen does not only have consequences for the surrounding land. During a missile launch, shipping must be closed in the safety zones, resulting in fishing incursions. How local fishermen will react to these restrictions remains to be seen. Quite a few fear that local fisheries will migrate.
Great care must also be taken with regard to the risk of contamination by chemicals or fuel. An environmental catastrophe would have effects on fauna and flora for years.
The original plan was to build a jetty into the sea at Børvågen and to place two launch ramps at the end of the jetty. But the plan was rejected because building out to sea would take too long and cost a lot of money. Moreover, according to Andøya Space’s own calculations, the two launch pads would have been too close together. The new plan now calls for three ramps to be built directly on land. Since the launch area is particularly vulnerable to accidents, a correspondingly larger land area must now be declared a safety zone. This means that owners who have their holiday homes (norweg. hytte) in this safety zone must be informed or evacuated at every launch. In addition, the road Fv976 must be closed for several hours. Already, voices are being raised to suggest that the road that runs through the picturesque area will lose its status as one of the 18 national tourist routes.
Originally, the first launch from the new launch pad was scheduled for fall 2021. However, due to the current unresolved issues, Andøya Space will not offer its services for launches at the new small satellite launch site before the end of 2022. With the new satellite station Norway wants to further consolidate its place as a space nation. But the competition never sleeps. Sweden, Scotland and Portugal are also working to become the future headquarters for satellite launches in Europe. So time is of the essence.
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