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.
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.
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.
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.