TOP 5 Most Notable US Rocket Launch Sites with Long History6th Jun 2021
With the private space industry development, launches have ceased to be a government-exclusive initiative, which means that plenty of private companies can now use US launch sites. In addition to the federal spaceports at the US Air Force and NASA disposal, several commercial launch sites have received an FAA license. Today, their number is three times higher than the number of federal spaceports (12 versus 4). Three more spaceports belong to leading private aerospace companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin, and are used for their spaceships’ suborbital tests. We will discuss the most significant US rocket launch sites.
Vandenberg Space Force Base: US Rocket Launch Sites Leader
Vandenberg is the record holder in the number of launches. Since 1959, 700 launches have taken place here. The first research satellite in the world, Discoverer 1, was launched from Vandenberg. In 1972, NASA selected this spaceport as one of two sites for its Space Shuttle program. The first space shuttle launch from Vandenberg was supposed to take place in 1986, but the program had to be suspended due to the disaster of the Challenger spacecraft, and later NASA decided to abandon the facility altogether. Today, Vandenberg has six launch sites from which heavy rockets Atlas V, Delta II and IV, Falcon 9, Taurus, and Minotaur are launched.
Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Florida
This is probably one the most famous US space launch sites, even though it is behind Vandenberg in the number of launches (about 400). From here, the first American satellite, Explorer 1, was launched in 1958. Manned programs Mercury and Gemini also started from Cape Canaveral. The Apollo 7 mission in 1968 and the first Mars Pathfinder rover in 1996 also took off from here. Cape Canaveral Air Force Base has a total of 38 launchpads, but only four of those are operational. Currently, Delta II and IV, Falcon 9, and Atlas V rockets are launched from these pads.
Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Kennedy is located on Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida, near Cape Canaveral. As one of the leading USA rocket launch sites, this facility is held by NASA and is known for the Space Shuttle, Apollo, Mercury, and Gemini programs. Since 1953, more than 170 launches have been carried out from here.
After the Space Shuttle program was curtailed in 2007, NASA started to upgrade this launch site for the Ares I and Ares V rockets for the new US manned Constellation program. But in 2008, the government closed that program, and no launches took place from the facility until 2018. Its area used was reduced to 9%, while the rest became a wildlife sanctuary and a tourist destination.
In 2014, NASA leased the L-39A launch pad to SpaceX for 20 years. Today, the Falcon 9 and the crewed spacecraft Crew Dragon take off from here. The L-39B site is being upgraded for future launches of SLS rockets with the Orion spacecraft.
Wallops Flight Facility, formerly WITC, Wallops Island Test Center, is one of the oldest US spaceports that has been operational since 1945. It consists of 3 separate sections: the main base, the mainland center, and the Wallops Islands launch site. Test flights of a manned Mercury capsule with two monkeys on board took place here.
The first successful launch from Wallops took place on 16th February 1961, when the Scout X-1 launch vehicle successfully deployed the Explorer-9 satellite into LEO.
Since 2006, part of the site has been leased by the private aerospace corporation Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority for commercial launches. This area was renamed Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, MARS. From here, the Minotaur and Antares heavy carrier rockets are launched. In total, over 30 launches took place from Wallops.
Mojave Spaceport, California
This is one of the most special rocket launch sites in USA because it is the first commercial spaceport for horizontal launches licensed by the FAA. The facility is known for acting as the testing ground for Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne, which on 21st June 2004, performed the first privately funded suborbital manned flight. Today, XCOR Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, Stratolaunch Systems, Firestar Technologies, and Orbital Sciences Corporation are based here. The facility also hosts commercial LauncherOne air launches by Virgin Orbit.
Houston Spaceport (Texas)
And of course, we could not ignore the NASA Space Center in Houston, which has been rightfully considered the heart of the American space missions for almost 30 years. From here, astronaut landing on the moon as part of the Apollo mission was controlled (it was here that the legendary phrase “Houston, we have a problem” was voiced). The facility also provided controls for the space shuttle program and flights to the ISS.
In 2013, Houston applied to the FAA for a license, and since then, it is not only a center for space cooperation and development but also the only commercial spaceport located within the precincts of Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, at Ellington Airport. In other words, it is a city within a city, home to over 200 aerospace manufacturing and development companies and one of the most famous US rocket launch sites.