The Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) is planning to form a joint venture with the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) to market two test ranges in a bid to attract reusable launch vehicle test work.

The two organisations are to convert a loose marketing agreement formed around the North European Aerospace Test (NEAT) range into a full company by the end of this year. The joint venture's launch was originally set for the beginning of this year, but the FMV, as a division of the defence ministry, is forbidden from owning part of a limited company. "We are working out the legal framework and this should be in place during this year," says Mattias Abrahamsson, NEAT programme manager for the SSC.

NEAT combines SSC's Esrange facility outside Kiruna in the Arctic Circle and the military range at the Swedish air force's Vidsel base, 350km (217 miles) to the south. Each range has a permanent no-fly zone of around 6,000km2 (2,320 miles2) and temporary exclusions in the corridor between the two extend the total area to around 20,000km2, says Abrahamsson.

Esrange is largely used for sounding rocket tests, stratospheric balloon launches and unmanned air vehicle trials, while Vidsel is the Swedish air force's primary aircraft and missile test facility. Co-operation between the two facilities started in 2000, with a test flight of the EADS Eagle UAV in 2002 the first project to use both centres' facilities.

NEAT will be aimed at two main areas: full-flight testing of re-usable launch vehicles and UAV operational tests, says Abrahamsson. Both ranges fly tests above land, rather than water. The combined area makes NEAT the largest land-based test range in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Vidsel has a 2,500m (8,200ft) airstrip and longer provisional runways can be created using the region's frozen lakes, says Abrahamsson.

The joint venture has received interest from non-European customers including South Korean and US space companies. The Japanese High Speed Flight Demonstration unmanned spaceplane model underwent transonic tests between the two sites last year and the EADS Phoenix launch vehicle demonstrator is to start automatic landing trials at NEAT in May.

Source: Flight International