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A Bumper V-2 rocket being launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 24, 1950. (NASA)

(Space) Launch site is any site for launching something into space i.e. to perform space launch.


Vertical rocket launch is the current method to reach into space. The term rocket launch site is used for any facility from which rockets are launched. It is surrounded with large safety area named rocket range or missile range. The range includes the area over which launched rockets are expected to fly, and within which some components of the rockets may land. Tracking stations, vessels, and aircraft are often located in the range to assess the progress of the launches.

Orbital launch vehicle sites for satellites and interplanetary probes are sometimes called spaceports as a distinction to other launch site and by analogy with seaport for ships or airport for aircraft. Also name kosmodrome is used. The best known spaceports are Cape Canaveral in Florida, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Russia's Baikonur in Kazakhstan and Kourou in French Guyana. Spaceports are usually constructed as close to the equator as possible. Launching near Earth's equator allows rockets launching eastbound to receive extra velocity from Earth's rotation, allowing launch vehicles to potentially carry more payload.

Rocket-powered aircraft is the other currently possible way to launch into space, though it is marginal compared to rocket launches and no orbital launch has yet been made. First horizontal actual space launch site in use is Mojave Airport & Spaceport. It includes runways for takeoff and landing of rocket-powered aircraft like SpaceShipOne.


Typically a launch site as a whole, including the rocket range, is large enough that, should a vehicle explode, it will not endanger adjacent launch pads or anything outside the range. Also for safety reasons a launch site extends over water or deserted land.

Launch pad[edit]

A launch pad is the area and facilities from which rockets liftoff. A typical launch pad consists of the service and umbilical structures. The service structure provides an access platform to inspect the launch vehicle prior to launch. Most service structures can be moved or rotated to a safe distance. The umbilical structure has propellent loading, gas, power, and communication links to the launch vehicle. The launch vehicle sits atop of the launch platform, which has the flame deflection structure to withstand the intense heat and load generated by rocket engines during liftoff.

Most cryogenic launch vehicles need to be continuously topped off as scheduled liftoff approaches. This is particularly necessary as various holds are placed on the liftoff and then removed as support personnel correct problems or verify they are not serious. Without the ability to top off the launch vehicle, the launch would have to be scrubbed when problems slowed down the countdown. Gantries are commonly designed and constructed on launch pads to meet these types of servicing requirements both during launch and in the preparation period leading up to it.

Most rockets need stable support for a few seconds after ignition while the engines ramp up and stabilize at full thrust. This stability requirement is commonly met by the use of explosive bolts to connect the launch vehicle to the pad. When the vehicle is stable and ready to fly the bolts explode, severing the vehicle's ties to the launch pad and structures on the ground.

Launch site types[edit]

There are several different types of launch site, determined by the means by which the rocket gets to the pad.

  • The first large rocket, the V-2, travelled horizontally with its tail forward to the launch site at Peenemünde. This is the most common; it was used for all large Soviet rockets, even Buran.
  • In a similar manner, at the Soviet launch site near Volgograd, a silo used to launch test rockets would have its top opened and a second stage and payload would be driven in horizontally and tilted on top of a first stage already in the silo, the nose cone and some of the second stage remaining visible above ground. Hence no surface pad is used; Russian silos are reusable. This method was only used for the Cosmos series of small satellite launching vehicles.
  • Like the Saturn V and Saturn IB rockets launched from Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center in the past, the Space Shuttle vehicles are first assembled vertically in the Vehicle Assembly Building on a Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP). The assembled shuttle and MLP ride on top of a Crawler-Transporter, which slowly drives to the launch pad.[1] A similar system is used to launch Ariane 5 rockets at ELA-3 at Guiana Space Centre, a French spaceport near Kourou in French Guiana.
  • At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, two parallel standard gauge railroad tracks were used to transport the Titan launch vehicle and its mobile launcher platform from the integration building to the launch areas at Complex 40 and 41, and continue to be used for the Atlas V.
  • In the 1920s, Hermann Oberth described a method in which the rocket is assembled vertically on a floating barge, which he used in the movie Frau im Mond. This has never been used, although it was seriously considered for use at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 for the Saturn V. It was rejected for that application due to the instability of the top-heavy unfuelled rocket and gantry.
  • At Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, the Titan series of rockets were set up vertically in a gantry in a windowless building at SLC-4, the outside walls of which would be rolled away just at launch. This was done for purposes of military secrecy. Similar systems are used at SLC-6 and LC37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the Delta IV rocket, ELA-1 & 2 at CSG for the Ariane 1-4, and Kagoshima for the M-V.
  • Zenit 3SL rockets of Sea Launch are transported horizontally by sea aboard the Ocean Odyssey converted oil rig, which is then used to erect and launch them.
  • Dnepr rockets are transported vertically and then inserted into a silo.

Auxiliary structures[edit]

In addition to the actual launch pad launch site has many auxiliary structures. The launch command center is normally located in the launch site. Normally the spacecraft is assembled near the launch site.

For launch vehicles with liquid propellant, suitable storage facilities and, in some cases, production facilities are necessary. On-site processing facilities for solid propellants are also common.


In Europe[edit]

In Europe, outside of Russia, there are only launch sites for suborbital rockets. Andøya Rocket Range, Esrange and Salto di Quirra are the most important.

While Germany currently possesses no launch sites due to its relatively small size and high population density, prior to 1945 the Nazi German government utilized several launch sites in continental Europe. These were: from 1936 to 1945, Peenemünde, for flight tests of the A4-ballistic missile; from 1957 to 1964, the mud-flats near Cuxhaven, where the Hermann Oberth society and the Berthold-Seliger-Forschungs- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft launched many rocket designs as the Kumulus and the Cirrus; and from 1988 to 1992, in Zingst, where there was a launch site for Russian vehicles of the type MMR06-M. In the 1970s Poland launched suborbital sounding rockets of the type Meteor from military training camps near Łeba and Ustka.

Future launch site[edit]

It is believed that future hypersonic aircraft will require a very long runway rather than a vertical launch pad. Such hypothetical spaceports will present unique challenges in noise abatement, zoning, and passenger access, with as much as a 5 mile wide corridor surrounding a 30 mile long runway.

Space tourism[edit]

The space tourism industry is being targeted by launch sites in numerous locations: Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia [2], Alaska and Wisconsin in the United States, Russia's Baikonur launch site and possibly an Australian site to be developed for the launching of Russian spacecraft.[3] Kiruna, Sweden is also planning to use Esrange as a spaceport [1].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LAUNCH COMPLEX 39, PADS A AND B". NASA KSC. 1992. 
  2. ^ Londin, Jesse (9 February 2007). "Space Law Probe: Virginia Leads The Way". Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  3. ^ Boyle, Alan (13 June 2006). "Regulators OK Oklahoma spaceport - Suborbital test flights could begin in 2007, setting stage for tourists". MSNBC. Retrieved 2006-06-26. 

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