The Future Role of Sweden in Space is Uncertain
The year was 1961 and the month was April. Yuri Gagarin made history in his journey into outer space aboard the Vostok spacecraft. The world was awestruck by this formidable feat, but to an obvious party, this sparked a further sense of competition during a time that was already heating up across the board. The following month, President Kennedy held his famous speech where he set the target to land on the moon before the end of 1969. While the two superpowers of the world were battling it out to achieve these incredible steps in space, a country you might not have realized to also be interested in this voyage into the unknown was Sweden. On August 14, only 81 days after Kennedy’s “moon” target speech, Sweden’s first modest steps were taken into space; a small Arcas rocket was sent from a launching pipe in a forest lane in Nausta, Lapland, by a bunch of summer-graduate students, engineers and researchers from colleges, state-owned enterprises and companies. One of these students was Fredrik Engström, who became the spacecraft’s first director. While Sweden has had its fair share of successes in the past, a rather complex answer to the question of Sweden’s possibility to maintain its status needs to be investigated.
From those first steps into space, there’s been a lot of interesting developments in this costly industry – but space is more than just exploration, it is so much more. By and large, there’s a difference between the things that can be achieved as a private company and as a state. The four principal companies working in the space sector are: Rymdaktiebolaget (Swedish Space Corporation), RUAG Space AB, GKN and OHB Sweden. Sweden is largely focusing its resources on further developing the good position that the Swedish industry has established in the space sector for a significant period of time. The Swedish Space Agency’s strategy also includes investing in the development of new technology and new products in certain selected areas, which increase the technical skills of the industry itself. The companies working in space projects thus get a high level of technical knowledge that can be utilized in space-related projects as well as in projects outside space. These companies are also attractive as partners in international projects.
What about the generalities in this question? Technology development, miniaturization and standardization have resulted in sharply reduced costs and an increase in space service users. Just for the past 15 years, the space industry total turnover has doubled to 350 billion dollars. The US bank, Morgan Stanley, estimates that this turnover will amount to 1 trillion dollars already in 2040. This development, coupled with the update of obsolete law, opens space – and more players are investing. The development of the new opportunities space gives is also crucial for achieving the UN’s climate and sustainability goals.
Governments around the world encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in space, contributing to community development and innovation, which creates new jobs and growth and attracts talent. The UN Space Symposium, which will draw attention to the importance of space activities for humanity today and in the future took place in June. Leaders and responsible politicians from the world’s countries participated and focus on the importance of space issues for young people, women and civil society. This was also a given opportunity for Sweden to highlight its strong space operations.
We now see that space space is changing rapidly and vigorously. New technology means that more and more complex technologies are available in space and provide us with daily services, from data transfer to your smart phone to state surveillance of conflicts and climate impact. The advanced technology means that more and more countries and players can be big players in space, but with its own projects. While Elon Musk’s rockets have attracted worldwide attention, India and China have, for example, increased their ambitions and today have hundreds of own satellites in space and greater ambitions for the future. Not to mention Russia that has always remained a giant across the board in all things related to the stars and beyond and continues to impress.
In this environment, Sweden, with strong industry and research in the area, should have high ambitions, and this should also be reflected in politics. In fact, that’s the principal limitation in Sweden’s ability to go forward. The Swedish political parties are positive to the idea space, but does Sweden actually have a clear space policy?
Looking at the Swedish debate, and to the parliament and government, the political workshops, space for space activities is small. A few documents from parliament and government touch upon the space issues and few big decisions have been made, despite the fact that developments have been slow.
The Swedish space program is mainly carried out in international cooperation, mainly within the framework of the European Space Agency, ESA. Approximately 70% of the budget’s budget is budgeted on projects carried out within the ESA framework. But independent, for almost a decade, the issue of a Swedish space strategy has been discussed on the political forefront. When it finally arrived in May this year, it was welcomed by all space interested-stakeholders in the country. Now, there is the opportunity to give a boost to Swedish space operations, but will it be enacted? The space authority that coordinates and coordinates the Swedish space operations is struggling with scarce resources while increasing its area of responsibility. With the space strategy as a basis, there is now a starting point to strengthen Sweden’s voice in space issues.
Due to the sluggishness of it thus far, are space issues polarized to political opposites?
Hardly, the Association Space Forum has allowed all political parties to answer a number of questions about space operations. Everyone is positive. Everyone wants a space strategy, everyone wants to see higher ambitions for the Swedish space policy. Some parties have more visionary ideas for a distant future and have apparently followed developments, others are more careful. But if you look at the different parties’ answers to the questions, the most striking thing about all of this is that they all agree that it’s a beneficial addition to Sweden.
However, if they do not act proactively and benefit from the ongoing major changes, there is a concern that Sweden can lose its strong position. The government’s space strategy was a welcome step in re-setting the space issues on the agenda, but now we are calling for a quick next step. The investigation underlying the strategy was more important and wanted to see a stronger space authority to enable both Sweden’s benefits to increase and to get a clearer Swedish voice in Europe’s space agencies.
However, there can be some recommendations to the Swedish government:
Improve the prerequisites through offensive initiatives that create community benefits, innovation power, new jobs, attractive research environments, industrial development and increased competitiveness. At the same time, the conditions for long-term and sustainable development will increase. Sweden can not only contribute but also have everything to win through a sharpened forward-looking space policy backed up with concrete efforts. With all of this in mind, Sweden should decide whether it wants to continue to be clouded in a smokescreen of uncertainty or come out of it.
Evolvera – always changing, always evolving.