NASA launches its rockets from outdoor launch pads from locales like balmy Florida and sunny California. That’s not always the case with the European Space Agency.
This launch site, located near Kiruna in Sweden, is so far north — more than 90 miles above the Arctic Circle — that it must be enclosed and heated to protect the rockets and payloads from the elements until launch.
The vertical opening, as described by the ESA, guides the rocket’s fins during launch.
Now managed by the Swedish Space Corporation and used by the ESA, the Esrange Space Center, including this heated tower, was built in 1966.
The rockets launched here — more than 500 to date — are suborbital sounding rockets, which are used for conducting experiments in microgravity.
Climbing more than 160 miles above Earth — for reference, the International Space Station orbits 240 miles above — the rockets experience six minutes of weightlessness during their descent.
Many experiments conducted at Esrange rely on instruments containing liquids, which increase the importance of sheltering the delicate payloads from the elements. To this end, the site also has its own weather towers and releases weather balloons prior to each launch to check conditions at various altitudes.
Although isolated, the tower’s location allows an impact area of about 5,600 square miles for the rockets returning to Earth.