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SpacePorting
Part III: US Spaceports

 

While the Kennedy Space Center is the most famous US spaceport, there are a number of other ports.

Cape Canaveral actually includes two adminstratively separate spaceports - the KSC and the Cape Canaveral Air Station.


KSC is run by NASA and concentrates on manned spaceflight, i.e. shuttle launches and landings.

The Air Staiton is run by the Air Force and only launches unmanned rockets, both orbital and sounding rockets, and for both government and commercial customers.

Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California is the second busiest US launch site, especially for military spacecraft

Other launch sites are less well known and tend to concentrate on sounding, i.e. sub-orbital, rockets.

A number of commercial spaceport enterprises have begun, mostly involving the conversion of government launch pads to commercial facilities for private rocket launchings.

Use the schedules here to time your visit for a launch.

 


Credits: NASA Shuttle Reference Manual

This map shows the Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg launch sites and the trajectory ranges for the Shuttle. The Shuttle once was intended to be launched to polar orbits from Vandenberg but that was canceled after the Challenger disaster.


USA Spaceports

The US launches rockets not only from Cape Canaveral but also from several lesser known facilities. Vandenberg Air Force Base, for example, in southern California launches many polar orbiting satellites.

NASA's sounding rocket program, i.e. sub-orbital rockets, uses many sites besides these two most famous spaceports.

Most U.S. launch facilities allow public viewing, and even the more restrictive military sites allow occasional viewing opportunities of non-classified launchings.

NASA's See a Launch site has general info and links about seeing NASA sponsored rocket launches.

In the coming years, reusable launch vehicles will expand the range of available sites, including some airports. However, they will still be limited in their choices for some time by noise and safety restrictions.

More info:


Cape Canaveral:
Kennedy Space Center & Cape Canaveral Air Station

Cape Canaveral is a narrow strip of land on the Atlantic Ocean that is separated from the mainland of Florida by the Banana and Indian Rivers.

The US government instituted a missile test range in 1949 at Cape Canaveral and in1950 the Air Force established the Cape Canaveral Air Station. NASA began building its own facilities there in the late 1950's.

In the wake of President Kennedy's assasination in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson declared that the whole Cape should be renamed Cape Kennedy in his honor.

Because they felt that this was not fair to the long history of Cape Canaveral, many local residents began an effort to change the name back. The geographic area was eventually renamed Cape Canaveral while the NASA facility remained the Kennedy Space Center. (See When Cape Crusaders Played Florida's Name Game-Space.com-May.11.00 )

See the Spaceline site for an extensive history of Cape Canaveral.

The Kennedy Space Center concentrates on manned spaceflight and launches the Space Shuttles.

The Cape Canaveral Air Station, adjacent to KSC, is responsible for unmanned launch missions such as commercial satellites and military payloads.

[See the very nice launch complex map labeled according to Mission vs Launch Pad created by Mark Wade.]

The new Florida Spaceport is a private venture that leases launch facilities form NASA and the Air Force for commercial launch vehicles. Their first launch was the Lockheed-Martin Athena rocket that sent the Lunar Prospector to the Moon.

Note that while shuttle launches have ended, there are regular unmanned launches for scientific, military, and commercial spacecraft. Manned launches from the Cape could re-start as early as 2015 on commercial rocket systems.

So you have a reasonable chance of catching a rocket launch during your Florida vacation. Just check the schedules to see if there are any launches occuring in your time frame.

Kennedy Space Center - Viewing Launches
Kennedy Space Center provides this site with information about viewing launches and shuttle landings. (Unmanned launches are viewable by the public only from off-site.) Car passes are provided to allow viewing of shuttle launches from along the causeway, about 10km from the launch pad. There is no charge for car passes but they are limited in number and must be requested often far in advance.

Inside KSC
Lots of info, history, and news about KSC.

Unofficial Space Shuttle Launch Guide
The Shuttles have stopped launching but the information here may be useful for watching other launches. The sige Includes just about everything you could want to know about watching shuttle launches and landings (including the occasional landing at Edwards AFB in California). All sorts of information not included on NASA's official visitors info page above. See also the companion shuttle manifest. Maintained by Steven S. Pietrobon at Small World Communications.

FAQ for Viewing KSC Launches
Robert Osband  answers all those question you have about where, when and how to get the best view of launches.

NASA Tech
A "web gallery featuring the people, the technology and the mission of the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Includes a set of Virtual Tours of the facilities.

Cape Canaveral Virtual Tour
Rob Svirskas presents his photos of the Cape Canaveral Air Station which has a long history predating NASA's facilities. Unmanned launches still occur on their facilities.

Spaceport Florida
This private venture leases launch facilities from NASA and the Air Force for commercial launch vehicles. It's first launch was of the Lockheed-Martin Athena that sent the Lunar Prospector to the moon.

Cape Canaveral at Astronautix
Mark Wade's Astronautix space encyclopedia site shows here a map of launch pad vs mission and also a chronology of major events at the Cape.
Spaceline
"Dedicated to covering the Past, Present and Future of Cape Canaveral" this site holds a huge database about the history of Cape Canaveral and KSC.

Virtual Cape Canaveral
The Virtual Heritage program at the University of Central Florida is developing an extensive set of historical resources about the space related events on the "Space Coast". The Florida Space Coast History Project includes, for example, the Virtual Cape Canaveral interactive tool for finding what happened where on Cape Canaveral

More resources

Vandenberg Air Force Base

The 30th Space Wing of the US Air Force resides at the Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Operations Group runs the launches. Most US polar orbit launches for the military, NASA, and commercial satellites occur from Vandenberg by launching to the south. Also, many missile tests are carried out here.


Mojave Spaceport
California


White Knight with the SpaceShipOne during a flight test
coming in for a landing at Mojave Air & Space Port.
(Photos from Bill Deaver, Mojave Desert News)

America's first inland facility to receive a spaceport license (#LSO 04 009) for commerical space launches in June 2004. The facility is licensed for horizontal takeoff and landing vehicles. Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne was built and flown there and was where it won the X PRIZE. The Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo program is based at Mojave. Several other rocket companies such as XCOR Aerospace and Masten Space Systems are also based there.

 

A 2011 promotional video for the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Produced by Robin Snelson and Haley Jackson -
Editor, Christopher Angel - Camera, Steven Payne and Chip Proser -
Music by Ramón Balcázar



New Mexico
Spaceport America

The state of New Mexico has agreed to support development of a commercial spacportnear Upham, near White Sands and north of Las Cruces. Originally called the Southwest Regional Spaceport, it was later renamed Spaceport America. Virgin Galactic has agreed to become the anchor tenant. The XP Cup and other rocket companies will use the facility as well.

Resources:

Articles:

 

White Sands Missile Range


A V2 lifts off from White Sands.
Credits: White Sands Missile Range

White Sands Missile Range Base in New Mexico was initially used to test the V2 (A4) rockets brought there after the war. Since then it has been used to test numerous missiles and research vehicles. The dry, clear weather make for an excellent launch site.

White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico occasionally allows viewing of launches of missile and sounding rockets and other non-classified vehicles such as the famous reusable DC-X, which had several public tests there.

"Missile firings are not scheduled for tours. However, tours sometimes coincide with firings which we are allowed to take visitors to. Even then, the group may not see the firings as the mission schedule is subject to change without notice."

In 1997, for example, sounding rockets were launched to study the Hale-Bopp comet:

"Starting Monday night (March 24, 1997) the Navy and White Sands Missile Range will begin launching a series of four NASA sponsored sounding rockets to look at Comet Hale-Bopp. The launches will all take place between 8 and 9 p.m. and the WSMR community is invited to watch from the bleachers at JFK Parade Field." -

There is also a popular museum that has a missile park with many famous rockets like the V2 on display. Map Restrictions RangeAccess

More New Mexico Spaceport Info

Oklahoma Spaceport

The Oklahoma Spaceport project was inaugurated in March of 2002. The facility is located in Burns Flat in western Oklahoma on the site of an abandoned US Air Force base known as the Clinton-Sherman Airpark.

The emphasis of the project differs from most of the other state spaceport projects in that it focuses on nurturing small businesses in the "emerging space markets" (see New Space Businesses in the Investing section), especially with regard to sub-orbital operations. These include sub-orbital vehicle development, space tourism, high altitude balloon projects, educational and scientific projects, etc.

For example, the small company JP Aerospace helped to inaugurate the spaceport. OSIDA ( Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority) assists Rocketplane Ltd., TGV Rockets and other companies to base their operations in Oklahoma. Rocketplane Ltd. recieved tax credits from the state in 2003.

Articles:

 


Texas Spaceports

Texas has several small spaceport projects. Most of them have struggle since the X-33/VentureStar projects died. However, some are starting small with various startup rocketry companies using them as their launch sites.


Alaska Spaceports
 


Alaska launch facilites are located at Poker Flat, shown with launch trajectory
areas, and on Kodiak Island.

 

Poker Flat Research Range
This University of Alaska facility near Fairbanks launches suborbital sounding rockets to study the aurora borealis and other space physics phenomena.

"Poker Flat Research Range is the world's only scientific rocket launching facility owned by a university. Poker Flat is located approximately 30 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska and is operated by the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute under contract to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, which is part of the Goddard Space Flight Center..."

There seem to seem to be no particular restrictions on viewing launches. However,

"Most launches have a launch window which may be days or weeks long. The launch(es) may take place at any time during the window, depending on logistical, geophysical, weather, and other considerations. It is rarely possible to predict the exact time at which a given rocket will be launched. Launches are usually at night for auroral studies, but some daytime launches are performed for other types of research."

Kodiak Launch Complex, Narrow Point, Alaska
This launch facility on Kodiak Island, off the southern coast of Alaska (see map above) and home of the famous Kodiak Bear, was developed by a private group to support launches of commercial vehicles. Their first launch of a suborbital missile by Orbital Sciences for the US military occurred in Nov. 1998.

No information yet found about launch viewing.


Nevada
Nevada Test Site
The NTS in southern Nevada is where most of the US nuclear tests, both above and below ground, were carried out. It is a huge area and is bordered by the Nellis Air Force range. Also, bordering on the north is the famous Area 51, where various secret military aircraft were first tested such as the stealthy S-117.

As the nuclear program has shrunk and testing prohibited, the NTS, run by the US Dept. of Energy, is looking for new roles. One of the suggestions was to provide facilities for commercial launch providers. Kistler Aerospace tried to take advantage of this opportunity and planned develop a second launch facility at NTS in addition to its Woomera, Australia site. However, that company is now defunct.

Info about NTS:
DOE/NV - Nevada Test Site Tours


Wallops Island, Virginia


Mid-Atlantic states
Credits: NASA Wallops Island Maps

Trajectories map
Credits: NASA Wallops Maps
Flight trajectories from Wallops Island, Virginia.

Few people in the Washington D.C. area know that they have a busy spaceport next door. The NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility has long been active launching pad, mainly for suborbital rockets for scientific studies.

A commercial spaceport facility -Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) - is also under development for launching commercial satellites to orbit.

Wallops Island Flight Facility
Wallops is NASA's prime launch site for suborbital rockets and low cost orbital missions.


More State Commercial SpacePort Projects

See also the map at Launch Sites - FAA / AST

The boom in satellite activity towards the end of the 1990s, plus the purported plans by Lockheed -Martin to develop the VentureStar commercial launcher as a follow-on to the X-33 sub-orbital prototype, encouraged the development of spaceport projects in several states.

Most of the projects involved facilities at existing government facilities such as the Florida Spaceport's plan to use Cape Canaveral launchpads. A few would use state properties such as Oklahoma's plan for an abandoned Air Force base. A few intended to develop totally new properties.

Unfortunately, most of these projects became inacitve due to seveal factors because of the X-33 cancellation and the lack of commercial space transport activity following the collapse of the satellite constellation projects like Iridium and Teledesic.

Some ports, however, have actually produced at least one commerical launching, e.g. Alaska's Kodiak Spaceport. Also, few, Oklahoma Spaceport is seeking to encourage new space businesses such as sub-orbital space tourism.

State spaceport projects:

 

 

The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey
NewSpace Watch at NSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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