The first rockets launched into space from Sweden

Sven Grahn, Sollentuna, Sweden

The year was 1961.

In April Gagarin circled the earth. On May 25 President Kennedy announced the intention of the US to go to the Moon. On August 14, a mere 81 days after Kennedy's "Moon-speech", the first modest step into space was taken by Sweden. From a launching tube in a forest clearing just outside a missile range in Northern Sweden a tiny Arcas rocket was launched by a team gathered together for this summer launch from their ordinary jobs in universities, government agencies or private companies. Many of the team members were university students, and one of these students, Fredrik Engström, was the president of Swedish Space Corporation during its first decade.

A Nike-Cajun being prepared for launch
at Kronogård 1962. Sven Grahn on the

AFCRL's Bob Sobermann holding parts of
the payload during Kronogård 1962.

A cloud at 80 kilometers

The objective of this first launch was to create an artificial noctilucent ("night-shining") cloud at about 80 km:s altitude. For a number of years the Institute of Meteorology at the University of Stockholm had been doing ground based studies of noctilucent clouds and when small inexpensive research rockets became readily available at the end of the 1950's the Institute's director, Prof Bert Bolin, advocated their use for upper atmospheric studies. Noctilucent clouds were an ideal research target, mysterious as to character and origin and spectacular to look at. The mission of the first rocket was simple: Explode a load of talcum powder at 80 km. Observed from the ground its optical properties could be compared to those of real noctilucent clouds.

The rocket carried no transmitter, and after it had left its launch tube, it simply disappeared. It seems that the artificial noctilucent cloud never went off!

The Kronogård years

Undaunted, the team of young scientists and rocketeers started to prepare for a new series of rocket launchings planned for the following summer's noctilucent cloud season. The Institute of Meteorology had been able to establish a substantial cooperation with NASA and the US Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory's Meteor Physics Branch. The deal meant that AFCRL provided four Nike-Cajun rockets with payloads designed by Dr Robert Soberman's team for direct sampling of the noctilucent cloud particles, NASA a telemetry van for receiving data from the rockets and various launch pad gear.

Sweden's contribution was the establishment of a temporary launching base at a derelict farm near the village of Kåbdalis in the far north of Sweden. The launch site at Kronogård had all necessary facilities built up on a temporary basis: Electrical power, telephone system, loudspeaker, control center, assembly buildings, direction finding systems for locating the payload etc. (My 1963 badge for accessing the base is shown on the right).

The project, called Kronogård 62, was a major undertaking for the Institute of Meteorology, and just as the year before personnel was "borrowed" from various government agencies and recruited from technical universities and even high schools. From this cadre of people come several of the senior staff members of SSC! So, in a sense the company has a 40 year technical tradition.

In a whirlwind of media attention the launchings from Kronogård began on August 7, 1962. The last rocket in 1962 was launched three weeks later. The second artificial cloud rocket left over from the previous year had been launched in this period as well as all four cloud-sampling rockets. Two of the sampling payloads had been recovered by parachute and were regarded as technical successes.

Getting into the Guinness Book of Records

During the next two summers the noctilucent cloud research at Kronogård continued in cooperation with the US. In 1963 atmospheric temperature profiles through the 80 km level where noctilucent clouds appear were measured by the so-called sound-grenade method. The bangs from explosive charges released from a rocket are observed from the ground. Since the speed of sound is a function of air temperature it is possible to deduct temperature. The launches even got into Guinness book of records! The Nike-Cajuns launched in 1963 carrying 12-grenade payloads measured a temperature of -143°C at 85 km altitude. The lowest temperature measured in the atmosphere!

I install the igniter of the Nike booster!

I also prepare the installation of the Cajun time-delay
igniter. The rod was used to install the igniter.

My first "hands-on" contact with space technology came during the summers of 1962-64 when I worked as a rocket assembly technician at Kronogård. This was a great experience for a teenager - to be part fo a real launch team at the age of sixteen!

The last rockets from Kronogård

In 1964 the Kronogård years reached a fitting climax by the launching of eight rockets. Four noctilucent cloud sampling rockets and four sound-grenade rockets. The research into the physics of the upper atmosphere started in Kronogård has continued very successfully at the Institute of Meteorology and the young atmospheric scientist starting his researches in Kronogård, Georg Witt, is now retired from his position as professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Stockholm. The team of engineers that run the Kronogård 64 operation also contained a "hard core" of fulltime employees led by Lars Rey and Lennart Lübeck (now chairman of the board of directors of the Swedish Space Corporation) and after the end of the Kronogård operations they continued their existence in various organizational forms, but were generally known as the Space Technology Group. This group had a string of meager years in the late 1960's. But they survived and in the early 70's constituted a major ingredient in the creation of the Swedish Space Corporation.


I visited Kronogård 29 years after the last rocket had been launched. It is now a wildlife center. A "heaven" for fisher's and wildlife lovers. The old buildings had been restored and I soent the night in bunks in the main building, the farmhouse that used to be the control center for the launches. My real surprise came when we walked out to the launch pads. A little cottage had been built on top of the concrete slab that was sued for the first launch pad. The circular rail for the Nike launcher was still there. A few hundred meters from there the remains of an old Nike booster had been found. Take a look at some of the pictures I took - so many years after the last rocket.

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