The World’s Spaceports


In the more than fifty years since the beginning of the space age, the most remarkable and visible installations created have been the launch facilities. These spaceports are not numerous, numbering only 24 active sites worldwide, but many of them are sites where history was made.

This map shows the launch sites, current, abandoned, and projected as of 2008.

There are the well-known launch sites, such as those at the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida, that are open to the public. Others are top secret closed sites shrouded in mystery, such as the Palmachim launch site in Israel. Most of these spaceports are national facilities, located at various places around the globe in response to political realities and geographical considerations.

This launch of the Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, started the Cassini orbiter and its attached Huygens probe to Saturn. Launched on October 15, 1997, from Launch Complex 40 it would undertake a 2.2-billion mile journey that included two swingbys of Venus and one of Earth to gain additional velocity, arriving at Saturn in July 2004 where it entered orbit and soft landed Huygens on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

Each of these sites offers the capability to launch satellites into various orbits around the Earth, most often in a west to east equatorial orbit, but for national security satellites usually in a polar orbit. Some launch sites also have concentrated on non-orbital flights, engaging in sounding rocket research to the upper atmosphere, such as that conducted at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast in Virginia. Since 1957, more than 5,000 satellites have successfully launched into orbit from these various spaceports around the globe.

 The busiest spaceports are operated, as should be obvious, by the most aggressive nations involved in spaceflight. The space programs of the United States and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) have long been comparable in size and operation. But in addition to Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Baikonur, and Plesetsk, there is also Kourou, Tanegashima, Sriharikota, Jiuquan, and Xichang among the world’s most busy spaceports.

Not all launch tests were successful. This test of a reentry vehicle in 1963 had to be destroyed by the range safety officer at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

As the twenty-first century progresses, the activity of these current spaceports will probably increase, and new sites will be added to fulfill future requirements for space access.

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