It all started with sounding rockets launched from a simple forest glade. Half a century later, SSC is a global leader in advanced Space operations, involved in many high-profile missions and projects supporting a sustainable development of life on Earth. Senior Vice President Strategy & Sustainable Business, Stefan Gustafsson, paints a picture of the eventful past and a much promising future.
Approximately sixty years after The Wright brothers successfully flew the first motorized airplane in 1903, the precursor to the current European Space Agency, ESA, was searching for a location above the arctic circle to develop Space technology and beginning to explore Space.
An area twice the size of Luxembourg without competing air traffic in the Northern part of Sweden was the perfect place to start conducting Space experiments. The place was named ESRO Sounding Rocket Launching Range, later shortened to its current name Esrange.
Benefiting Earth from Space
Today, Esrange is still the heart and soul of Swedish Space operations. It’s the home of one of the largest and most versatile ground stations in the world. Starting off doing atmospheric research of the lower parts of the universe, studying the effects of aurora borealis and looking deep into the ozone layer, SSC is nowadays a global enterprise with a collective heritage from worldwide Space operations and in high-profile space missions. The company is today part of something that could be described as the future of life on Earth.
“Most of what the Space industry is doing today is highly important for our daily lives and for the future of humankind. And the need for Space operations is greater today than ever, with everything from Earth observation using satellite constellations to biologic research onboard sounding rockets in microgravity. It’s fair to say that we help life on Earth by exploring Space,” says Stefan Gustafsson.
“Most of what the Space industry is doing today is highly important for our daily lives and for the future of humankind”
100,000 satellites by 2040
Over the years, rockets have become bigger and bigger while satellites, on the other hand, have done the opposite development, becoming smaller and smaller.
“Technological development has been exponential since the start and keeps growing rapidly. In 2013 there were something between 1,300 and 1,700 satellites orbiting the Earth. Thanks to miniaturization and quick digital transformation there are today about 5,000 satellites in orbit, rapidly approaching 10,000. Some estimations indicate as much as 100,000 by 2040,” says Stefan Gustafsson and continues:
“This has made it possible to establish telecommunications in Space, as a complement to fiber on Earth. Meanwhile, technology is also pushed forward by the need for sustainability tools. Advanced Earth observations are a key to efficient farming, transparence in geopolitical crises, managing natural disasters and much more. With every square meter of the planet observed every day, we get real-time data of our changing planet, and we get closer to total transparency of our societal processes.”
“With every square meter of the planet observed every day, we get real-time data of our changing planet, and we get closer to total transparency of our societal processes”
Exploring rainforests and solar eruptions
Up until today, SSC has gathered an impressive track record in Space research. For instance, as involved in the Rosetta mission which landed on an asteroid in 2014. Or as an explorer of solar eruptions and new materials developed in vacuum. Or as a vital partner in the world’s first Space debris cleaning satellite. And these are just a few examples.
”There are so many world-changing Space missions where SSC has had a hand in the game, embracing everything from applications in our daily lives to science and research projects finding sustainable solutions for our common future. For example, SSC is part of an on-going project covering the Amazon rainforest. By using stratospheric images, we can compare differences in humidity between the northern and southern hemisphere, allowing us to predict future consequences from climate change,” says Stefan Gustafsson.
Future missions in our solar system
Coming this far is the result of long hours of hard work as well as multiple partnerships between countries and organizations. During the years SSC has had a lot of collaborations with ESA and NASA.
One example is ESA’s expedition ExoMars which will explore if there ever was life on Mars and investigate how the Martian water and geochemical environment varies. The mission had its first launch in 2016 and face two planned launches during 2022, all prepared partially through high altitude drop-tests from Esrange Space Center in Sweden.
“We will keep pushing the evolution of our societies by benefiting from the possibilities that lie in Space, ultimately finding new solutions to develop life on Earth in a sustainable way”
And together with NASA, through the Artemis program, SSC is going back to the Moon with plans to explore more of the lunar surface and to build a permanent base camp there. And later preparing for the next giant leap: sending astronauts to Mars. Stefan Gustafsson explains that SSC has won all the contracts for supporting these coming missions.
“We have a unique heritage from lunar missions all the way from the Gemini and Apollo missions in the 60’s. Lunar missions is of great importance to humanity and our planet. That is what we aim for. We will keep pushing the evolution of our societies by benefiting from the possibilities that lie in Space, ultimately finding new solutions to develop life on Earth in a sustainable way.”
But with so much happening in Space, Stefan Gustafsson emphasizes that the need for basic regulation is a growing concern that need to be addressed:
“With all the traffic leaving, returning, and orbiting the planet, Space traffic management has a natural place in the future to keep things in order. That is something that SSC is focused on helping to develop. This is also part of our mission of being an important asset to Sweden, Europe and the rest of the world in Space.”
Increasing access to space
Half a century has passed since SSC started exploring Space. Looking fifty years ahead, Stefan Gustafsson visions a future with a lot more players in the Space market:
“In the beginning, Space research was very expensive and only reserved for scientists and astronauts. This is rapidly changing with private entrepreneurs and innovative companies – prices are dropping, miniaturized satellites can be manufactured in series and rockets are made reusable. For example, we are already seeing entrepreneurs like Musk and Bezos taking big steps, enabling exploratory services and technologies, including Space travel and colonization of other planets.”
Although Space travel have a long way to go, it’s safe to say that in the next century dreams of going to Space will also be possible for common people. But rather than gazing toward future colonization of other planets, Stefan Gustafsson wants to highlight the countless possibilities for Space data and AI to revolutionize life on Earth:
“As parts of Earth’s infrastructure are now in Space and becoming a basic part of society’s common safety net, we can track and manage real-time events on our planet“
“Thanks to an ever faster digital transformation, new opportunities arise for solutions to the existential challenges that humankind face today, but also solutions that assist and develop everyday life on Earth. As parts of Earth’s infrastructure are now in Space and becoming a basic part of society’s common safety net, we can track and manage real-time events on our planet,” says Stefan Gustafsson and continues:
“With affordable and more advanced Earth observation satellites it’s now possible to collect large amounts of data which is then processed by AI programs and transformed into understandable information, about everything from Earth’s health to automation of societal functions and everyday life. Space is no longer something dark and distant, it’s a prerequisite for humanity to continue develop in a sustainable way.”