Spaceport Esrange illustration (Illustration: Swedish Space Corporation)

WASHINGTON — Sweden’s first-ever strategy for space defense is aimed building the capabilities of its armed forces to play a larger role as nations around the world gird for potential conflict in the heavens.

“The overall objective of the strategy is to secure Sweden’s defence and security interests in and through space. To achieve this, Sweden will establish itself as a significant and responsible space actor in the defence and security area through national and international activities,” according an English-language press release issued by the Swedish Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The Swedish MoD announced the new strategy on July 5 —  only days before Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström and Minister for Defence Pål Jonson were set to arrive here for this week’s NATO summit. Bolstering the alliance’s military space chops and interoperability among the 32 members is one of the priorities for the meeting that starts today and ends on Thursday.

“With this strategy, we are strengthening the defence and security dimension of space policy so that Sweden is better postured to meet the challenges in space and to use space for defence and security,” Jonson said in the press release.

MoD’s announcement highlights four major “pillars” to the strategy:

Ensure freedom of action in and through space by having the ability to anticipate and address challenges associated with space.
Create a portfolio of space capabilities, services and capacity to support our total defence and crisis preparedness.
Be an active and responsible partner in the international space arena and contribute to the common security.
Conduct a coherent and knowledge-based space policy that contributes to the development of crisis preparedness and total defence.

The language used by MoD to describe the strategy’s motivations echo those long used by the US Defense Department — for example, citing the fact that space is “increasingly competitive and contested” putting national space systems at risk.

Sweden, along with France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ukraine, last month complained to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) about deliberate interference in their domestic satellite networks that, among other problems, could interfere with air traffic control systems. Ukraine’s complaint called out Russia as the perpetrator. The other nations only asked the ITU to investigate, but a number of national officials have previously cited Russian jamming as the cause.

The ITU, made up of 193 member states including Russia, is responsible for regulating satellite use of radio frequency spectrum to avoid interference, and its underlying treaty prohibits harmful interference in another nation’s satellite operations. That said, the ITU has no direct enforcement powers to block such activities, rather can only play the role of mediator.

Sweden’s strategy makes no mention of Stockholm’s budget plans for military space. The government, however, has been working steadily to build up the overall military budget since 2020, in part to underpin its bid for NATO membership. (Sweden was accepted to NATO in March.) MoD’s 2023-2024 budget, announced last September, is set at 127.4 billion krona ($12 billion) and the ministry has proposed a jump to 185 billion krona ($17.5 billion) by 2030.

While neither the strategy nor the budget documents available in English detail space-related spending, Sweden has been seeking to establish space launch capabilities. The country has been home to the European Space Agency’s Esrange Space Center since the mid-1960s, and in January 2023 the center inaugurated a new rocket launch facility called Spaceport Esrange. The spaceport’s managing company, Swedish Space Corporation, is planning a first launch under a partnership with Korean startup Perigee in 2025.

On June 27, the company further signed an agreement with Firefly Aerospace, to launch Firefly’s Alpha rockets from Esrange. Firefly, based in Texas, in January was tapped by the US National Reconnaissance Office to join its pool of small launch providers, following a successful Alpha launch in September under the US Space Force’s Victus Nox mission to turn around a satellite launch within a 24-hour window.