Air & Space Magazine visited Kiruna, Sweden, a mining town 90 miles above the arctic circle. You may have heard of Kiruna due to its proximity to the famed ICEHOTEL built each December. Next year, Kiruna will also be Virgin Galactic's first non-US spaceport. From Air & Space:
Though it will be new to many tourists, Spaceport Sweden is not undiscovered. Because of its remote location and minimal air traffic, Kiruna has been home to an array of aerospace activities for almost half a century. The Swedish government established a space research center here in 1964. The center, called Esrange, today includes a 3,240-square-mile range for launching sounding rockets…
I went to Kiruna to find out how the company leading the space tourism race became interested in the town despite its handicaps. Kiruna has few natural resources beyond a rich vein of iron ore stretching more than a mile below the ground. It's not a skiing destination, and there are few cultural attractions. There's an ample supply of reindeer, but otherwise little charismatic wildlife.
Yet the town has been gifted with something less tangible: a willingness to bet on seemingly crazy ideas—and brilliant marketing. "We have the space facilities with Esrange, and a lot of experience having tourism in Kiruna," Mayor Kenneth Stålnacke says. "It's a good idea to marry these together: space and tourism…"
And those rich enough to buy $200,000 trips to space are going to want to share their experience with spouses, kids, maybe parents and friends. "If a space tourist comes, they'll bring five, 10, 15 people along," (Esrange's information manager Johanna) Bergström-Roos says. All those people will need places to stay and things to do. Plans are already in the works: Bergström-Roos showed me sketches for Space City 2020, a development program that would capitalize on the spaceport's success with space summer camps, centrifuges to simulate high G-forces, and video links to let people on the ground share the spaceflight experience in real time.
Dan Bjork, the IceHotel's marketing director, says the hotel is working with Spaceport Sweden (a consortium made up of four corporations in Kiruna, including the Swedish Space Corporation, and the IceHotel) to come up with a plan to pamper Virgin's customers, from accommodations and entertainment to working with Virgin's medical staff to produce just the right pre-flight menu for their four-star restaurant.