50 years of space history to end in Sweden

This weekend sees the opening of the launch window for the last ever Skylark "sounding rocket", which is planned to be launched from the Swedish launch facility at Esrange near Kiruna in the north of Sweden. This will bring to an end almost 50 years of space science using the Skylark rockets.

Sounding rockets are described by Esrange as “a cost efficient alternative to the Space Station and Space Shuttle” and offer scientists the opportunity to conduct experiments in zero gravity conditions.

The Skylark series of rockets were developed in the UK and have been used for science experiments since the first launch from Woomera in Austrialia in 1957.

“The Skylark was first developed for the International Geophysical Year in 1957,” explained Hugh Whitfield, a consultant at the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), which runs Esrange.

“It was seen as an alternative to the Russian’s Sputnik satellite and the US space programme.”

Over the years, the Skylark rockets have carried over 1,000 experiments but a lack of British investment has seen the programme dwindle.

“Only interest from Germany and Sweden has kept the Skylark programme alive in recent years,” said Whitfield. “There is no facility to produce rockets in Britain anymore.”

While Skylarks have been launched from Norway, the UK and South America, a total of 96 of the rockets have been launched from Sweden’s Esrange.

This final launch will contain a payload of protein to investigate the effect of zero gravity.

It will also carry an experiment in turbulence in evaporating liquids as part of the MASER 10 mission, a Swedish-run microgravity programme for the European Space Agency (ESA) involving scientists from Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

This final Skylark mission will take place during a launch window that opens this Saturday, April 30th, and closes on May 15th.

Sources: SSC, Space Daily

Andrew Wallace

Andrew Wallace is a freelance science and technology writer based in Sweden. He maintains a personal website.