The beginnings of a new space launch pad race happened in the middle of the 20th century. To start with it was only the USSR and the USA that took part in the race, but soon China, Japan, and some European countries joined in. Since then, the number of platforms for both horizontal and vertical launch has consistently grown. The main requirement for their selected locations is generally the distance from human populations. Here we share with our readers the main spaceports positioned all over the world that collectively carry out dozens of launches every year.
The main spaceport of the former Soviet Union is situated in Kazakhstan near the city of Baikonur. It covers an area of 6,700 sq. km. Originally, it was built to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. The first artificial satellite to orbit Earth was launched from there – an event that marked the beginning of the space era. That is why this spaceport is at the top of our list. It really was the first one to exist. Baikonur continues to operate as a launch pad even today. The majority of Russian rockets have been launched from there, as well as the legendary Ukrainian “Zenit” missiles.
Kennedy Space Center (USA)
One of the most well known American spaceports is located at Cape Canaveral, Florida. It consists of two facilities – the U.S. air base and NASAs John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island. The center has a surface area of 567 sq. km and has conducted more than 600 launches, 558 of which were successful.
NASA hasn’t conducted any missile launches since 1958, but the spaceport still remains the property of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Rockets launched from the facility include space programs such as Apollo, Shuttle, Mercury, and Gemini. 38 launch pads are located at Cape Canaveral, with 4 of them still functioning. Currently, there are a number of launch programmes operating at the spaceport including Delta II and IV, Falcon 9, and Atlas V.
Sea Launch (Pacific Ocean)
The Sea Launch pad is a floating spaceport that was built in 1995 for commercial satellite launches from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The facility started life as an oil drilling platform “Odysseus” which was converted to a launch site and command ship.
Sea Launch was created as an international project involving the American company “Boeing”, the Norwegian shipyard Akker, Russian “Energy” and Yuzhnoye Design Office and Yuzhmash from Ukraine. A modified version of the Ukrainian launch vehicle “Zenit-3SL” was used for launches. In 2007, the project filed for bankruptcy and the Russian S7 Space company bailed out the spaceport. In 2019, “Odysseus” was moved to Novosibirsk in Russia where it is expected to be reactivated.
This was the first and the largest launch pad in China. Jiuquan is located in the Badain Jaran desert and covers an area of 3,000 sq. km. It is the only range that is used by the Chinese manned space flight programme.
The spaceport was opened on October 20, 1958. There are 3 launch sites at the facility – two of them are used for military purposes, and the third for space mission use. Over 50 launches of rockets and spaceships have taken place there, including the satellite “Red East” (1970), the first unmanned spacecraft “Shenzhou” (1999), the navigation satellite “Big Dipper” and the first Chinese astronaut (2003).
Guiana Space Center, Kourou
The Kourou spaceport or the Guiana Space Center is located in French Guiana in South America. The French Space Agency opened it in 1968. The launch pad occupies an area of 1,200 sq. km. In 1975, it was used for the European Space Agency’s projects. The spaceport’s main challenge is to put into orbit the commercial geostationary satellites onboard Arianne carrier rockets.
These are only a few of the many spaceports that currently exist. India, Iran, North and South Korea, Israel, Japan, Australia & New Zealand have their own launch pads with the UK, Iceland, Ireland and others all planning to build their own.
Private commercial aerospace companies, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin also own spaceports. Both of which are located in Texas.
There are also many current or potential horizontal launch sites where rockets are launched from the fuselage or under the wings of modified aircraft that takes off from a standard runway.