By Chiara Moenter
During this week’s Space Café, SpaceWatch.Global publisher Torsten Kriening caught up with the project manager of RIT2021 and a business developer with a mission to strengthen Luleå University presence in Kiruna Johanna Bergström Roos.
Johanna Bergstrom-Roos is employed at LTU Business AB since October 2011 and is working with the Kiruna base. She is a business developer with a mission to strengthen Luleå University presence in Kiruna by developing cooperation between the university and the local business community. She also has a special assignment as a senior consultant to develop the university’s space operations at the Space Campus in Kiruna. Johanna has a long and broad experience of the space sector, mainly within communications and marketing activity in strategy, management and operational work.
This week, she and Torsten talk about the history of this northern space region, the obstacles and collaborations with different groups, and the RIT21 (Rymd för Innovation och Tillväxt / Space for innovation and growth) project.
History of the region: “Auroras are the whole explanation”
“We, the northern parts of Sweden are, of course, very far north. So where I live is something about 200 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. So, it means that we are within the Aurora oval.”
This proximity to the Auroras, the northern lights is what attracted the scientists to the area in the first place. Many 100 years ago, people have been looking up to the sky and wondered what these lights are about. Researchers started to look into the Aurora from ground-based instrumentations. Soon they realized that they would really like to go into the Aurora and do some measurements. So, they started to set up a base centre, some 40 kilometres from the base they were working at. This is the place where Johanna was sitting while talking to us.
“The Auroras are the whole explanation you could say. And there’s also a lot of other interesting phenomena is up in the northern hemisphere, that is easy to access from here, of course. So, by being here, you can do this kind of experiments and science.”
Looking at the present day there are a lot of things going on inaugurated by the first drop sounding rocket launching in Kiruna in 1966.
“In the 70s Esrange Space Center (SSC) started to launch giant balloons as well with experiments underneath because with balloons you can fly not as high as with rockets, of course, but you can fly much longer. And you can do measurements for a longer time.”
Following this, the SSC started to develop their first ground base station to communicate with satellites. Looking into satellite communication and satellite services today, they have built one of the largest civilian networks of ground base stations for satellite communication.
Current testing taking place
The Esrange Space Center has become a very important test facility.
“It has evolved fantastically, because you know, when you’re talking about sounding rockets that they have been dealing with in the first place, you send up a rocket and they go down again, so you need a large impact area. And we happen to have one on land up here, which is kind of not unique, I shouldn’t say but it’s very good because it makes things easier.”
Often it is difficult to do recovery, for instance, if there are experiments that need to be retrieved. But with this large area on land, which is also a relatively empty area open up in the air and space, it allows for very smooth operating conditions.
With these conditions, there are many exciting tests happening which Johanna shared:
“Talking about ESA aerospace and rocket factory who are here, they have built up their own test stands in this area so that they can perform the whole test phase before they start to do real launches.”
“We also have other kinds of tests like ExoMars, for instance, that was launched to Mars in 2016. To be able to have a mission that will land on Mars with both a rover and a platform and to be really successful you need parachutes that functions when you when you develop them. So, lots of qualification tests can be done now at SSC before you go and do the real thing, so to say, so that you’re sure that you’re your technical systems actually work when they need to work because you don’t want to have a parachute failure landing on Mars, that’s for sure.”
“And there’s another very nice and interesting ESA campaign, the Themis campaign, it’s the future launch system for ESA. So, we are talking about reusable science, reusable rockets here, it will be the first stage that will be tested out at SSC. So going up, hovering a bit and then going down again.”
Obstacles and Agreeance
The testing area itself is uninhabited, so nobody lives there. Which is good when rockets land there every now and then. But this area is also populated by reindeers and so reindeer herders are in the area occasionally too. There are some challenges when these groups coexist in the same area.
“Since many, many years, there are continuously dialogues going on between the Sámi villagers, we call them and also the space business because we have to work side by side. Sometimes the reindeer keepers have to be in the neighbourhood, and it’s not a question about will we launch on Monday, because the launch can be postponed and postponed and postponed. And when you’re in the second week, and you’re still postponing, maybe people need to go into the area. So, you have shelters, and bunkers in the area, if you really have to be there.”
Johanna explains that there are communication lines, and everything is made for safety reasons. And sometimes it becomes evident that there are challenges, but these can also be shared.
“They can also be on the same side because both the reindeer keepers and the rocket launchers, they want to have no mining exploration, for instance, in the area there lots of interesting materials in the ground. So, they and they don’t want to have a lot of tourists going into the area. Sometimes they can be on the same team.”
The RIT2021 project is operated in the northernmost parts of Sweden, a region that is on the verge of providing unique access to space from European ground. There are four different work packages involved and all these work packages are there to stimulate innovation.
“We started out six years ago and said we have to gather everybody in our region, who are partners in this project, because we are spread out in the region.”
Just a day after this Space Café, the RIT21 seminars and meetings started. Luckily, people can currently come together and meet in person as Sweden does not have a lockdown at the moment. Meeting in person holds many benefits:
“When people meet, things started to happen.”
There is a broad target group attending such a meeting ranging from professors working together with the engineers in the industry in research and development projects, to students working together with industry, but also there are incubators, and business idea coaches, etc. All of these relate to different work packages, and they have their own goal.
“But one important part is to find synergies between every one of us. So, we try to do our thing, but also to reach out to each other and find synergies within this whole project. Because that’s what project is all about. Otherwise, you can work alone. But we need to reach out to each other and figure out where we have the lightning, you know, the sparkles when people meet.”
Open for All
When asked who can engage, Johanna explained that RIT21 is open for partnerships from all over.
“Preferably you should be in the region. But I mean, the space business is not a regional matter.”
In the space sector it is important to not only work nationally but also internationally. Furthermore, there are many actions taking place outside of the RIT21 project that can lean on the project or be helped by the project.
“The project is just one tool. And there’s so many things going on in all the organizations up there. So, what you can do is you can turn to us in the right project so we can open doors for you. Perhaps our door, or perhaps we’ll find another door that will suit you better.”
To listen to Johanna Bergström Roos’s insights on Sweden’s space region and her insights and experiences working with Kiruna base, you can watch the full program here:
Chiara Moenter is the event coordinator of SpaceWatch.Global and the co-founder of “SDG18: Space for All”. Currently, she is doing her masters in Sustainability Science at Maastricht University.