Scientific cooperation across borders

What is the EASP agreement, and what can it do for your science?

– The Esrange and Andøya Special Project (EASP) agreement is an international agreement for launching sounding rockets and balloons from the Andøya and Esrange launch sites, along with related scientific projects, explains Kolbjørn Blix, Vice President, Andøya Space Sub-Orbital. He is the manager for the EASP agreement at Andøya Space.

Five member states of the European Space Agency (ESA) are a part of the agreement. These are France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Norway joined in the early 1990s.

The EASP agreement is directed by ESA from their headquarters in Paris, yet it is not an ESA agreement.

– The agreement has two main parts, one describing the objectives, organization and its undertakings covered by Norway and Sweden, such as infrastructure facilities, sounding rocket and stratospheric balloon activities, annual contributions to basic maintenance costs, operational fees and cost reimbursement, the programme advisory committee, the role of ESA and so on, says Blix.

The second part, or annexes, covers the support provided for the scientific projects that are included in the agreement. For example telemetry, radars, complementary instruments, assembly halls, services, accommodation, dining, and recreational facilities.

One or two EASP launches per year at Andøya

The EASP agreement includes potential launches with sounding rockets, telemetry and tracking of the rocket if needed, full crew for performing the launch itself, and use of equipment and assembly halls on site necessary to prepare the payload and sounding rocket for launch.

The German sounding rocket “STORT” was lanched from Andøya in 2022.

– We usually have one or two EASP launches every year, occasionally with two sounding rockets going up in the same rocket campaign, says Blix.

These can be sounding rockets for scientific research, such as for investigating noctilucent clouds high up in the atmosphere, or they may be technology tests or demonstrations of for example new rocket motors.

This year’s EASP launch at Andøya Space will be a technology demonstration of a new type of rocket motor developed by a German company. This test is conducted through the German space agency DLR. The demonstration is named SOAR, and will be launched in November 2023.

Sounding rockets, balloons, and related ground-based research

The EASP agreement covers launches with sounding rockets as well as with scientific balloons.

– This means that the EASP agreement also is open for scientists who wish to use stratospheric balloons for their experiments, as well as related research on the ground, says Blix. – But most of the launches from Andøya are sounding rockets. 

Contributes actively with projects to the agreement

The EASP agreement is automatically renewed every five years, and the next time will be in 2025.

– We do not only participate in the agreement, we also contribute actively with scientific projects for it, says Blix.

He manages, along with scientists from Norway and USA, a large international collaboration of research of the middle and upper atmosphere called The Grand Challenge Initiative Mesosphere / Lower Thermosphere (GCI M/LT).

This collaboration allows scientists from countries outside of the EASP agreement to be a part of the ground-based or sounding rocket research covered by the agreement.

– At the Grand Challenge Initiative website, interested parties can also find a white paper describing the collaboration, with information that can be used for applications for joining the cooperation, Blix says.

Grand Challenge Initiative mission patch