Kiruna is not just about mining; it is also a space centre. In 2007, the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna celebrated its 50th anniversary. It all began with five people – today they are roughly 500 in jobs linked to space operations. About 180 of them are at the Swedish Space Corporation/ Esrange Space Center, just over 40 kilometres east of Kiruna. Since the 1960s, they have been launching balloons and rockets carrying scientific experiments and making measurements for scientists all over the world.
The main operation at Esrange nowadays, however, is monitoring and controlling satellites. In 2006, the number or international satellites which Esrange has been commissioned to monitor daily reached 24. In cooperation with the universities in Luleå and Umeå, IRF provides advanced educational courses both nationally and internationally. IRF is at the global cutting-edge of space research, having instruments in earth orbit and travelling to the planets Mars, Venus and Saturn among others.
The next step in the development may be space tourism. Beginning in 2012, the British company Virgin Galactic plans to start flights from Kiruna out into space. The reason why the company chose Kiruna in particular is mainly the skills that are to be found there in space operations and tourism.
Number one tourist destination
Kiruna is the number one tourist destination in northern Sweden, with about 40 per cent of all the guest nights in Norrbotten County. The flagship is the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, which since the start in 1990 has grown into Sweden's best-known tourist destination internationally. The Icehotel is currently setting up Icebars in a number of the world's major cities, so far including Milan, London and Tokyo.In the municipal district of Kiruna, there are also been other big investments since the beginning of the 21st century. In the mountains northwest of Kiruna, the owners of the skiing resorts are planning to drastically increase their capacity in the coming years. In the centre of Kiruna a new motel and hotel opened in 2007, at the same time as construction of another quite spectacular hotel began at the top of the other mountain in the town Kiruna, Luossavaara.
New industry branches
Operations in mining, space and tourism have also given rise to another industry, namely testing operations. Car testing has been carried out for decades by Renault and Volvo among other brands, and you can catch a glimpse of even the newest models from Jaguar and Aston Martin among others on the streets of Kiruna. In January 2007, a new skid track was inaugurated near Kiruna Airport and in the Kiruna Test Area cooperation project, the business sector in Kiruna is planning to further develop testing operations in a number of fields.