Andøya Spaceport: Training For What Is Not Supposed To Happen

Andøya Spaceport kriseøvelse

Exercise: The ambulance has responded to a fictive fall accident at Isar Aerospace's launch pad at Andøya Spaceport. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Andøya (High North News): A rocket going astray in international waters, and a fall accident at the launch pad. Andøya Spaceport must be prepared for anything before the first satellite-carrying rocket is launched from the European mainland.

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Recently, Norway and Germany signed a declaration facilitating German launches from Andøya Spaceport in Northern Norway. With this, a significant piece is in place for German Isar Aerospace to launch its first satellite from the island, which could also become Europe's first satellite launch ever.

The launch pad, built exclusively for German Isar Aerospace, puts the partners in the lead to become the first to launch a satellite into orbit around Earth from the European mainland.

"We are currently only competing with Shetland, although it has turned from a launch race to being a quality race," says Ingrid Hanssen, referring to the British SaxaVord Spaceport on Shetland.

Hanssen, the Director of Systems and Maintenance at Andøya Spaceport, is responsible for the crisis and cooperation exercise that recently took place at the facility.

What is not supposed to happen

High North News is invited to follow the exercise – the second of its kind – and meet the crisis team at Andøya Space's visitor's center outside of Andenes while trying to have some fish soup between planning meetings.

What is not supposed to happen.

Ingrid Hanssen, the Director of Systems and Maintenance at Andøya Spaceport.

There is a calm over the group that will head the exercise the following day. The day before is an academic day with representatives from the police, fire, and health departments, Isar Aerospace, and the civil defense. The latter are observers.

What exactly are you training for?

"What is not supposed to happen," answers Hanssen and adds:

"But we have to practice anyway."

Learned a lot

Andøya Spaceport officially opened last winter with a splendid display by Crown Prince Håkon and a digital greeting from PM Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor). Back then, President Ingun Berget still had hope that Isar Aerospace could launch a test rocket before the summer. But the necessary permits took time.

Ingrid Hanssen, Andøya Space

Ingrid Hanssen is the Director of Systems and Maintenance at Andøya Spaceport. Together with the crisis team at the spaceport, she has put together a staff at Nøss community center, waiting for a bang. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

The first crisis exercise in November last year went fine, but the emergency network, among other things, did not work as it was supposed to.

"We learned a lot. Among other things, we now know exactly where the emergency network did not work. This time, we have secured those areas," says Ingrid Hanssen.

Crisis staff

With Operations Director Jon Widerøe Harr and the rest of the management team, she appoints a crisis staff at Nøss community center, about a ten-minute drive south of the spaceport.

"Normally, we would have a regular work day at our office when a crisis occurs," explains Hanssen.

And then they have to wait for the bang.

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Rocket gone astray

Two types of accidents are to be practiced.

The first is a fall accident at the launch pad. The emergency responders are to be notified, and the team will practice communication and response across long distances.

The other incident involves a launch vehicle going off course. If the launch vehicle goes out of orbit, it could land in international waters and risk colliding with something, such as a vessel.

The spaceport must also practice an incident where parts of the rocket end up outside the planned areas, although it is highly unlikely, according to the crisis team.

This also revolves around communication and notification to a high degree but without the local emergency responders. A launch vehicle leaving orbit outside of Norway's borders triggers another type of notification, starting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"The MFA is responsible for further notification. We then have to make several notifications concerning flight safety and airspace. All notifications will take place via public channels," says Hanssen.


Andøya Space is a stock-based company. Ten percent of the stocks are owned by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, and 90 percent are owned by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, which is managed by the Norwegian Space Agency.

Andøya Space also manages SvalRak on Svalbard.

Andøya Space is a private company with four subsidiaries:

  • Andøya Spaceport
  • Andøya Space Sub-Orbital
  • Andøya Space Defence
  • Andøya Space Education

Correct information

The spaceport's crisis staff is also responsible for bringing information to the media.

Do the inhabitants of Nordland need to know about a rocket going off course?

"There will be information, but it will be well coordinated with the MFA and the customer Isar Aerospace. We also give notice before the launch. We will naturally consider whether we can provide detailed information because we must be sure to provide correct information," says Hanssen.

"If anything happens, it will happen safely. But there is always a risk with launches, which is why we must practice," says Hanssen.


Could the rocket end up in another country?

"No, that is highly unlikely. It would likely end up in international waters," says Hanssen.

We must still practice it falling.

Safety Manager Line Stensby Bogan

Safety Manager Line Stensby Bogan has arrived and nods confirmingly.

"The rocket falling down in another country should not be possible. We can terminate the rocket by concluding the flight via an operator. We can cut the fuel or blow it up. It is a failsafe system," says Bogan.

"We must still practice it falling."

Practicing contact

"Our job is to ensure that the launch happens safely. Even a flight going out of orbit. What comes down must come down in established danger areas, and there must not be people there. It will not be a danger to life and health," clarifies Bogan.

"So we are now practicing a scenario where many things go wrong. These are things that should not be possible but which are useful to practice. Contact and the division of responsibilities with the MFA are particularly important."

Kriseteamet ved Andøya Space

The crisis team from the left: Line Bogan at Andøya Space, Jørn Kristiansen from the Oslo fire department, Birgit Sandin Vildalen at Andøya Space, Ingrid Hanssen at Andøya Space, and Tom Arild Fredriksen Rikheim from the Oslo fire department. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)


No accidents

Over the course of Andøya Space's 60 years, there have never been any serious incidents involving people.

With that said, it is almost expected that the first test launch will not necessarily go as planned.

"There is a relatively high chance of something going wrong when a launch vehicle is launched for the first time. What Isar Aerospace is conducting is a test launch," explains Operations Director Jon Widerøe Harr, who is also part of the strategic preparedness team.

Although, what they are practicing now includes a larger satellite-carrying rocket.

"This is not just a physically stronger rocket than the sounding rocket normally launched from Andøya, but there is also greater attention surrounding it. There has not been as much international attention around what we have launched before. However, with more commercial launches, the launches will be marketed differently. With "New Space" (the commercialization of space, ed. note), it has become normal to stream and commentate launches directly."

Ingun Berget

President Ingun Berget at Andøya Space is briefing the management before the crisis exercise at Nordmela Community Center. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Harr refers to Space X's launches with subsequent explosions—most recently, in May, when one of the company's rockets didn't even take off before it blew up.

"The normal procedure is to end the flight if the rocket goes off course," says Harr.

High degree of security

Can the rocket or the systems be sabotaged?

"That is something we are always looking out for. But not something we are training for this time," says the leader of the exercise, Ingrid Hanssen.

"It takes a lot to sabotage this system. It is a system of high reliability and many security barriers, which Andøya Spaceport controls," confirms Harr.

Jon Widerøe Harr, Andøya Space

Operations Director at Andøya Space, Jon Widerøe Harr, says it is normal procedure to end the flight if the rocket goes off course. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Major accidents

The Oslo fire department is also part of the exercise. The two representatives of the capital's heroes say they will not be the ones responding if an accident happens on the island. They have been called because the Oslo fire department has the most experience with major accidents, involving dangerous substances.

And Andøya Space is categorized as a major accident company.

In an actual situation, the Andøya fire department is in charge.

Testing the emergency network

In the community center at Nøss, the strategic crisis staff has been set, and Hanssen and the staff are ready.

What do you hope to learn from this exercise?

"We hope that we can confirm that our plans have improved and that we are left with the knowledge to do even better so that we can be ready if there is an accident."

Particularly regarding the emergency network.

We are thinking more about security than before.

Operations Director Jon Widerøe Harr

"It is useful to test the emergency network. There are a few areas where coverage is not as good, so it is interesting to us and the emergency response to know where we can expect good communication and where we must be extra careful to place an extra person in order to have good communication."

The spaceport is now planning regular exercises. They aim for a minimum of one joint annual exercise, during which local police, fire, and health departments will cooperate.


Andøya Spaceport is the youngest member of Andøya Space and garners a great deal of attention in the media, particularly regarding the intelligence threat.

The media continuously refers to Andøya Space as a company that could be particularly vulnerable to espionage. How does Andøya Spaceport deal with this threat?

"We take vigilance seriously and think more about security than before. A new development is that we will be subject to the Security Act. We have been notified of this, but we do not know when it will apply. But it will have consequences, and we will have to upgrade our systems, which is good," says Harr.

"We know that we are of interest, so we must be extra careful."

Daglig leder Andøya Space, Ingun Berget

President of Andøya Space, Ingun Berget, keeps track of all elements during the crisis exercise. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

An interesting target

The CEO of Andøya Space, the spaceport's mothership, is aware that they are an interesting target for foreign intelligence.

Andøya Space, with its four legs, has seen almost explosive growth in the past years. 170 employees of eight nationalities are now part of the space adventure.

With such growth and international staff, how do you manage the threat of espionage?

Ketil Olsen, with 40 years of experience in the Armed Forces, believes that attention to the topic is good.

"It is about safeguarding our values. We must protect them. We have been very trusting in Norway and will continue to be. But we must not move into naivety. What we do here is important to Norway."

Ketil Olsen, Andøya Space

CEO of Andøya Space, Ketil Olsen, has 40 years of experience in the Armed Forces. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Yet, the CEO is not worried.

"We have worked on this for 60 years. Our values are important to the customers. Launching a rocket is not the most important part in itself; it is the information you gain that is valuable. Protecting those data is important to us, so we are working on that. But we have built this security in layers over many years. So to us, the transition is not major," says Olsen.

"And we live in a defense municipality where people are used to having the Armed Forces here for almost 70 years. They are used to handling this type of interest. Yes, society is changing. But here, people still speak up if they observe something abnormal."

How do you manage the necessary recruitment with the threat of espionage hanging over you?

"We have a thorough preliminary process, and people handling sensitive information must have a security clearance from the Norwegian state."

Satisfied manager

After the exercise, President Ingrid Hanssen is left with good experiences, as hoped.

In an email the following week, she says the team continues working on being as prepared as possible.

"It was a well-executed exercise that gave us both confirmation of what is good and aspects to learn from to be as well prepared as possible before the first launch from the spaceport."

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