It looks like a location from The Lord of the Rings, yet on this island in Northern Norway, sounding rockets are launched under the aurora.
Lots of aurora activity
Do you have a passion for space and the northern lights? Then you have come to the right place! Few places on earth are more suited for northern lights research than Andøya in Vesterålen.
From early autumn to early spring, you can see a lot of northern lights activity over Andøya. This gives space players from all over the world a unique opportunity to launch rockets into the heart of the aurora, from the rocket range at Andøya Space center.
“Much of the research is on the northern lights, and we are very strategically located under the northern lights oval,” says Anita Grønseth, astrophysicist at Andøya Space.
On a very basic level, the phenomenon is quite easy to explain. Northern lights are created from the collision between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the atmosphere of the earth. The northern lights, which are also called aurora borealis, appear at night when the sky is dark. It’s like a celestial ballet of light dancing across the night sky, with a colour palette of green and blue, and sometimes even pink and violet.
The perfect space location
On 18th august 1962, Norway entered space by launching the rocket Ferdinand 1 and flying it 101.5 km into the atmosphere from Andøya Space. Norway’s only permanent rocket range is located among dramatic rugged peaks and the surging sea on Andøya island. While the area is remote and lies north of the Arctic circle, there is an airport nearby with several daily flights to Tromsø and Bodø.
“There aren’t very many places in the world where you can launch such large sounding rockets,” Grønseth explains.
Their customers are scientists and space agencies from all over the world, including NASA.
• The facility is located in Oksebåsen on Andøya, 5 km southwest of Andenes.
• Andøya Space is expanding and is establishing an additional launch site for small satellites at Andøya.
• Andøya Space also operates a launch base for research rockets in Svalbard (SvalRak).
Disrupting electrical systems
During the 60 years it has existed, the space center on Andøya has contributed key knowledge about how the aurora borealis and interaction between earth and sun affect communication systems.
“We saw that these solar flares had the effect that they could disrupt electrical systems, such as navigation systems and satellites, for example,” Anneline Laupstad of Andøya Space Education explains.
According to NASA, the explosive heat of a solar flare can’t make it all the way to our planet, but electromagnetic radiation and energetic particles certainly can. Known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME, these solar explosions propel bursts of particles and electromagnetic fluctuations into Earth’s atmosphere. Those fluctuations have the potential to induce electric fluctuations at ground level that can blow out transformers in power grids.
“In today’s connected world, we are very dependent on technology working properly. Research on these phenomena contribute to a better understanding of the sun, and better space weather forecasts that can predict strong geomagnetic storms,” says Anneline.
The Norwegian rocket incident
On 25 January 1995, a rocket launched from Andøya triggered an alert in Russia. It was picked up by radar and interpreted as a Trident missile launched from an American submarine in the Norwegian Sea.
Photographs of Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president at the time, together with his ‘nuclear briefcase’ were shown around the world before it was discovered that the rocket’s trajectory had been miscalculated by the Russians. Today, strict guidelines are in place to prevent such things from happening – fortunately.
Aurora and Mars missions
At the Spaceship Aurora visitor center you can experience what it’s like to launch your own rocket. The visitor and activity centre offers exciting experiments, an escape room, astronaut training activities for kids, films, and exhibitions about space and the northern lights.
In the virtual missions, you can choose between travelling to near space to observe the aurora, or to journey all the way to Mars in search of life. See how pilots, navigators, scientists and engineers work together to solve the same scientific and engineering problems that real astronauts face!
Are you ready to engage your inner explorer?