Just days after a failed UK satellite launch, Sweden inaugurated Friday its new launching site as the race heats up to be first country to send satellites into orbit from the European continent.
Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson cut the ribbon during a ceremony at "Spaceport Esrange", described as "mainland Europe's first satellite launch complex".
"There are many good reasons why we need to accelerate the European Space Programme," von der Leyen said. "Europe has its foothold in space and will keep it."
The site is an extension of the Esrange Space Centre in Sweden's Arctic, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the town of Kiruna.
Around 15 million euros ($16.3 million) have been invested in the site, which is expected to serve as a complement to Europe's space hub at Kourou in French Guiana.
It will also provide launch capabilities at a time when cooperation with Russia and the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan has been curtailed by the war in Ukraine.
Esrange's state-owned operator, the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), aims to launch its first satellite from the site "in the first quarter of 2024", a spokesman told AFP on Friday.
That would make Sweden the first country in continental Europe -- excluding Russia -- to send up a satellite from its soil.
Other European spaceports are also in the race.
Projects in Portugal's Azores archipelago, Norway's Andoya island, Spain's Andalusia and Britain, among others, are all vying to be the first to succeed.
Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), a German specialist in smaller launchers that are increasingly used by countries and firms sending more compact satellites into space, said recently its first launch would take place at SaxaVord in the Shetland Islands at the end of 2023.
An attempt to launch the first rocket into orbit from Britain -- on a Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 that took off from a spaceport in Cornwall -- ended in failure on Tuesday.
The satellite industry is booming, with the number of satellites in operation in 2040 expected to reach 100,000, the SSC said, compared to 5,000 now.
With a reusable rocket project called Themis, Esrange will also host the European Space Agency's tests of rockets able to land back on Earth, similar to those used by SpaceX, one of the company's owned by the billionaire Elon Musk.