A Rocket Took Off From Sweden. Part of It Landed in Norway.
When Sweden sent a research rocket 155 miles into the air at 7:20 a.m on Monday, the expectation was that it would land in the same country from which it had been launched.
Things did not go as planned.
The route taken by the TEXUS-58 rocket on its return from zero gravity to the Esrange Space Center was longer than anticipated, and part of it parachuted down 25 miles northwest of its original target, in a mountain range.
As it happens, that turned out to be in Norway. And although nobody was injured, the mishap was enough to cause some rare diplomatic friction between the two Scandinavian neighbors.
The rocket part that came down in the far northern municipality of Malselv, roughly nine miles into Norwegian territory, was about 13 feet long and weighed about 1,650 pounds.
Such a landing was “a very serious incident that can cause serious damage,” the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, the public broadcaster NRK reported. The ministry called the episode a “border violation” and accused Swedish authorities of failing to follow the proper protocol and formally report it to Norway.
The Swedish Space Corporation, which owns the Esrange Space Center north of the Arctic Circle, said it was investigating why the rocket veered from its expected trajectory and was waiting for more information.
“This is a deviation that we take seriously,” said Marko Kohberg, the vice president of rocket and balloon department science services at the Esrange Space Center. “It is still too early to speculate about the cause.”
The Swedish Space Corporation added that both Norwegian and Swedish authorities, including the Norwegian armed forces, were quickly alerted to the landing under protocols developed by the two countries.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the government took the matter “very seriously,” and that it had reached out to its Norwegian counterpart.
“The incident is being thoroughly investigated. The responsible Swedish authorities are prepared to provide Norwegian authorities with information on the continued investigation,” it said.
Once part of the same union, the two countries enjoy a relationship akin to siblings and share close cultural ties, along with a border. Citizens of each country are allowed to live and work freely in the other, though Sweden is a part of the European Union and Norway is not.
Though operational since 1966, the Swedish base became the European mainland’s first orbital launch site in January, bringing hopes that Europe will play a larger role in space innovation and begin launching satellites in 2024. The base is currently being used for microgravity and atmospheric research.
The center, according to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, could be “an independent European gateway to space.”
The rocket was carrying out experiments for a European Space Agency program studying the production of carbon-free fuels and the mystery of how dust particles transform into stars in the universe.
Norway’s Foreign Ministry warned the public to stay away from the landing site, adding that wreckage from such rockets may be contaminated by rocket fuel or other hazards.
The material carried by the rocket for the experiments, known as the payload, was recovered in “good condition” and returned to the space center by helicopter, the Swedish Space Corporation said Wednesday.