Here you’ll also find the Esrange Rocket base that carries out world-class space-related research and development. This is where space travel for private persons is planned to take place within a few short years. Moreover, parts of central Kiruna are to be transformed when the mine expands directly underneath the city.
Just thinking about how it all started a little over a hundred years ago, when the mining company, LKAB, began their mining of iron ore from the mountains of Loussavaara and Kirunavaara, makes your head spin. In addition to revamping and turning the mine around, the managing director of LKAB, Hjalmar Lundbohm, was given the task of building a new city from scratch, big enough for a population of 7-8000. He hired the country’s best city planners and architects with the vision of creating a society never before seen in Lapland.
“At the end of the 1800s, it quickly became popular to work in Kiruna. The wages were two to three times higher than those offered in the mines in the more southern regions of Sweden. Many adventurous young men found their way here, and it was a bit of a wild-west atmosphere from the beginning, a Swedish Klondike if you will, with plenty of gambling, brawls and drinking,” says Peter Stenberg at the historical cultural site of Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården in Kiruna.
Peter continues, “Hjalmar Lundbohm, who wanted anything else than this lawless city, directly took charge of the reigns and put a ban on liquor and ‘loose women’. He organised art exhibitions, constructed schools, a church, fire station, and hospital. The city developed rapidly into the modern society he had imagined. Quite simply, it was a very good place to live.
Kiruna stretches its limits
The city owns a unique character, friendly and inviting it continues to challenge the limits of what is possible. The mine has developed into a high-technological industry, with ore that is craved around the globe. The ore from Kiruna has great environmental advantages since it requires less energy in the refinement process leading to lower carbon dioxide emissions than other ore sources.
Somewhere around half way along, soon fifty years ago, an entirely new opportunity sailed along the horizon: space. ESA, the European Space Agency, was looking for a place to establish a rocket base for research. “In Kiruna, they found what they where looking for: an established airport, close to a city with a well-working infrastructure and plenty of unpopulated land for safe launches and landings of sounding rocket payloads”, says Johanna Bergström-Roos, Information Manager at Esrange Space Centre in Kiruna.
International cooperation in space
“Today Esrange runs the world’s most active satellite ground station. We launch rockets and balloons for research on weightlessness, aeronomy, astronomy, space physics, and meteorology.
We also work with the control and receiving of data from Swedish and international satellites. In addition to that, we offer the possibility to test and validate new aircraft such as unmanned craft and new space flight systems. Just the fact that these flights can be carried out over land is unique, which means higher levels of safety and better control”, says Johanna and continues “We’re talking about the second space age, when private money is invested to realize the dream of allowing more people to experience space. In the end, this is good for all space operations, which is important for everyone’s future here on Earth. As an example, a lot of the environmental research is carried out up in the atmosphere and space”.
A natural process
Kiruna is moving in more than one way. The world’s largest underground iron ore mine is expanding directly under the city, where the rich body of iron ore is hiding its valuable treasure. “The ore body slants towards the city at a 60 degree angle. The resulting ground deformations that creep towards the city are a result of the mining technique, called sublevel caving. This means that within a few years, parts of Kiruna must be transformed,” says Lina Näsström at LKAB.
A heritage to manage
“LKAB has another task and another responsibility today. We are five actors: LKAB, Kiruna municipality, Banverket (the Swedish Railway Authority), Vägverket (the Swedish Road Administration) and Vattenfall (a power company), that work together to navigate the right paths and the best conditions for a new Kiruna. The common goal is to manage the heritage left by Hjalmar Lundbohm and guarantee that the future Kiruna is an attractive place to live, invest and work in”, says Lina. The transformation of Kiruna has three national interests to consider valuable minerals, consideration of a cultural environment and reindeer husbandry.
The direction of the new construction is still an unsolved question. Thomas Nylund, the city architect, tells us: “We are looking at a flying start since we are in a bit of a hurry. For along time, everything indicated that the new city centre would be placed to the northwest. Because of meticulous inspections of the area, we now know that, among other things, the ground is unstable and thus inappropriate for construction.
The transformation is a long process
Areas that leading politicians were dead set on in 2007 have proved to be unthinkable today. We now have reliable information to build upon. This means making fresh efforts, backed with our new knowledge. All partners work together to do the very best for Kiruna. Quite simply to manage the grand and valuable heritage handed down by Hjalmar Lundbohm,” says Thomas.
Now just like back then, it is about creating a city that attracts people, where you are comfortable and want to stay. A city that offers good living conditions, can offer living environments that stand for function and quality of life. And of course, the extreme climate is considered an important parameter.
“What we add when we build places to live, living areas and planning for a new city centre is today’s demands on technology and function. I’m looking forward to innovations with solutions such as passive houses. How would these work at our longitude? We are going to build sustainably, economically and socially as well as environmentally. This means, among other things, that we have to think long-term. Kiruna will continue to be a modern model society, pleasant and well working in every way, both physically and psychologically. In addition to the residents of Kiruna, the city is to attract visitors, students and investors,” says Thomas.
Kiruna leaves no one unaffected
The list of attention-grabbing projects going on in Kiruna is quite long. The feeling lingers for a long time and refuses to be shaken: what is it with Kiruna, why are there so many spectacular projects and ideas concentrated in this out-of-the-way place, far north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland? Could the source be the testified attractive force of magnetite? Or is it all the people who never fear dangerous thoughts of new ventures? Perhaps the cause is the vast expanses and the open horizon, the fact that the ceiling is sky-high up here in the north. Whatever the answer, Kiruna leaves no one unaffected. The place, the feeling, and dynamics must quite simply be experienced.