To a New Horizon: Dawn of the Spaceports (Part Three)
With SpaceX announcing its first paying customer to the Moon, Virgin Galactic getting ready for its first space mission, and Blue Origin planning its own crewed mission in 2019, space tourism for the ultra-rich is launching off. But in order for this industry to literally take off, fully operational spaceports are an absolutely necessary component.
In Part One, we looked at the legal foundation for spaceport licensing in the United States. While in Part Two, we explored the eleven actively licensed U.S. commercial spaceports. In this Part Three, we extend our reach abroad and look at some of the international spaceports in operation.
Highlights across the Globe: International Spaceports
With many nations looking skyward, a new modern space race is emerging. Many countries are laying the foundation to explore humanity’s final frontier. While there are numerous spaceports, both active and under construction, around the world, this post attempts to highlight the most significant ones currently in operation.
1. European Spaceport | Guiana Space Center
Located in French Guiana, South America, the Guiana Space Center is owned by the French government; this spaceport is also the home launch site of the European Space Agency (“ESA”)—and as such, ESA is also responsible for two thirds of the spaceport’s annual budget. Because the Guiana Space Center is located near the equator (just about 500 kilometers away), the spaceport is the ideal launch site for placing satellites into geostationary orbits. Additionally, as the launch sites are located on the eastern edge of the continent, launches at this spaceport, which are directed eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean, are also able to take advantage of the earth’s rotational momentum, thereby saving fuel and money. Currently, the spaceport’s launch operations are managed by the ArianeGroup (who also operates the Ariane 5, Vega and Soyuz launch sites at the spaceport).
2. Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1
Situated on the Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 is owned and operated by Rocket Lab USA (as discussed in Part 2, their second launch complex will be located in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, USA). Rocket Lab USA chose this site for two reasons: (1) it would be ideal for sun-synchronous orbital flights (the primary objective for most of its customers) and (2) the location is close to Rocket Lab USA’s manufacturing facility in Auckland (which was originally supposed to be in Christchurch). Officially opened on September 26, 2016, this spaceport is licensed to launch a rocket every 72 hours for 30 years.
3. Baikonur Cosmodrome
The Baikonour Cosmodrome is the world’s first and largest spaceport. Originally a part of the Soviet Union, the Baikonur Cosmodrome is now owned by Kazakhstan and leased to Russia through 2050 through a $115 million per year lease. The Roscosmos State Corporation and the Russian Aerospace Forces jointly operate this spaceport, which launched both Sputnik 1 (ushering in the space age) and the first human spaceflight. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program, the Baikonur Cosmodrome is currently the only launch site used for manned missions, via the Soyuz program, to the International Space Station.
4. Plesetsk Cosmodrome
Controlled by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, the Plesetsk Cosmodrome is located in Mirny, Arkhangelsk Oblast. Originally a military launch site for intercontinental ballistic missiles, Plesetsk Cosmodrome is now primarily used for satellite launches into high inclination and polar orbits. The spaceport’s high latitude that enables the Plesetsk Cosmodrome to perform these launches safely to the north by passing through largely uninhabited territories in the Arctic region. With Russia eventually looking to shift operations away from Baikonur Cosmodrome, it is likely that the Plesetsk Cosmodrome will see increased launch activities in the near future.
5. Satish Dhawan Space Centre
Operated by the Indian Space Research Organization, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre is located in Sriharikota. With about 145 square kilometers (56 square miles), this spaceport currently has two launch pads and will be building a third to support the Indian human space flight program. Its first successful launch occurred on July 18, 1980, when Indian’s Satellite Launch Vehicle placed Rohini RS-1 into orbit. Since April 20, 2011, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre has had 35 launches with only one launch failure during the span.
6. Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center
China’s first spaceport, the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center was founded in 1958 in the Gobi desert, Inner Mongolia. This spaceport has a seminal place in Chinese spaceflight history as it is both the launch site for China’s first satellite, Dong Fan Hong 1, in 1970, and China’s first manned space mission, Shenzhou 5, in 2003. More recently, the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center was also used to place the first quantum communication satellite, Mozi (QUESS – Quantum Experiments at Space Scale) into orbit. Additionally, two private space enterprises, i-Space and oneSpace, have both used this spaceport for their own sub-orbital rocket launch operations.
7. Tanegashima Space Center
Located in the Kagoshima Prefecture, Tanegashima Space Center, with an area of 9.7 square km, is the largest spaceport in Japan. Operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (“JAXA”), the spaceport was established in 1969 after 3 years of construction. The location was chosen because of its proximity to the equator and the fact that the area is away from densely populated area so as not to hinder Japan’s important fishing industry. The Tanegashima Space Center also supports the International Space Station by launching cargo supply missions via the HTV Launch Vehicle, or Kounotri, program.
Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1: https://www.rocketlabusa.com/launch-info/launch-complex-1/
Baikonur Cosmodrome: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/baikonur.html
Plesetsk Cosmodrome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plesetsk_Cosmodrome
Satish Dhawan Space Centre: https://www.isro.gov.in/about-isro/satish-dhawan-space-centre-sdsc-shar
Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center: https://www.nti.org/learn/facilities/71/
Tanegashima Space Center: http://global.jaxa.jp/about/centers/tnsc/index.html