Launchpad technology is often overlooked when we think about exploring space. Space companies allocate only small portions of their budgets for spaceport infrastructure support, but a successful rocket launch needs infrastructure as the second most essential component.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (a think tank based in Washington), in the time between launching Sputnik, the world’s first human-made satellite, in 1957, and the emergence of New Space in 2017, a total of 29 spaceports have launched spacecraft into orbit and beyond. Less than two dozen of these have been constructed during the Space Age, with some well known and open to the public and others being top secret closed sites. Today, the world’s busiest spaceports are Baikonur, Plesetsk, Kourou, Tanegashima, Jiuquan, Xichang and Sriharikota, Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg – the most famous launch site for today. In fact, SpaceX plans to launch its Falcon 9 rocket every day from their Vandenberg launch site, and the first launch of the much anticipated FireFly Alpha small satellite launcher, developed by Firefly Aerospace is expected.
Over the decades since 1957, more than 20 000 satellites have been thrust above the atmosphere from these sites. The space programs of the United States and Russia were leading edge, but were followed by the space programs of the ESA, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, India, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Belgium and Spain. As we advance through the 21st century, competition among these nations – private and state-run – is intense and ever-increasing.
It may be obvious that rocket launch sites improve local heavy industries such as steelmaking, machine tool building, chemical and aircraft, but soft industries such as tourism also feel the boost from a launch. For instance, approximately 500,000 people turned up to watch Elon Musk launch his car into space on a Falcon Heavy rocket. Launch sites, and launches themselves, have quickly become tourism destinations.
Today, commercialization of Low-Earth Orbit and the rapid increase of New Space technology companies means a drastic increase in the need for new space ports, of which the most promising are as follows:
Colorado Air and Space Port
Front Range Airport was recently awarded a launch site license by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The facility of Front Range Airport (dubbed the “Colorado Spaceport”) is a general aviation complex not far from Denver with two runways, each more 2,000 meters long. Unfortunately neither runway will be used to launch a rocket. The spaceport’s license is currently limited to “Concept X” vehicles; only vehicles under jet power (like traditional aircraft) are allowed to take off from its runways before proceeding to suborbital flight. However, there are no such active vehicles today and the spaceport sits bereft of space launches.
Despite debate as to the potential of the “newborn” spaceport, local officials laud the project as a boon for the local economy. It would provide an opportunity for local companies to lead the campaign on space technology. The economic impacts to the Denver metro areas and Eastern Colorado include attracting more industries to locate or invest in Colorado, as the issuance of a license could contribute to immense job creation. Fully licenced spaceports (Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida; Ellington Airport in Houston; etc.) have expressed support for the Colorado spaceport development plans.
UK’s vertical spaceport
As a nation of innovators and discoverers, UK invests in the space industry, research and business supply chains in aim to attract growing private space companies. Greg Clark, Business Secretary of the UK Space Agency has recently announced that the agency has selected the first vertical launch site in Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland, and is making available a new £2 million fund to boost horizontal spaceport development across Britain.
In 2018 the UK signed the £50 million Spaceflight Programme that is expected to lead manufacturing of horizontal spacecraft and will help the UK capitalise its peninsular advantage. Over the next decade, horizontal launch demand is worth approximately £3.8 billion to the UK economy.
The launch continues to be the most unpredictable aspect of the supply chain, and could have the largest effect on manufacturing capabilities. Some private companies, such as Clyde Space, Spire Global and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), have already supported the idea of thriving the space industry. Companies want to ensure the region is ready for generating benefits and profits.
Ukraine spacecraft launch floating platform
State Enterprise “Production Association Pivdenny Machine-Building Plant named after O. M. Makarov” (Dnipro) initiates the construction of a floating platform for launching rockets in Ukraine. Serhiy Voyt, Director General of PA Pivdenmash said that Kherson State Plant “Palada”, which produces floating structures (docks) is ready for cooperations. PA Pivdenmash engineers are looking for exact platform position, considering a lot of issues with the falling of launcher used parts during the launch and most of the countries stand against launching rockets over their territory.
Ukraine does not have its own launch sites, although, government companies specialize in rocket production and rocket parts developing for more than 23 countries, including Europe and the USA, during the last 70th years.
The Canso Spaceport Facility
Canso, Nova Scotia
First Canada’s spaceport located near the small community of Canso in eastern Nova Scotia is now waiting for approval to begin construction. Nova Scotia’s environment minister said that the first rocket launch is expected in 2021. The Canso Spaceport Facility will be 20 hectares in size and will include a control centre, launch area and horizontal integration facility for preparing materials and propellants.
Today project meets some potential issues include interruption to the lobster fishing season. Michael Byers, a political science professor at UBC, expressed concernings about use of rocket fuel that already caused environmental damage in Kazakhstan and Russia.
Stephen Matier, president and CEO of Maritime Launch Services Ltd. said that project doesn’t plan to put humans into space and rather aimed at attracting companies and corporations that want to put satellites into orbit. The spaceport project is a private-sector venture but requires environmental approvals and other approvals from government and local officials.
The Whalers Way
Orbital Launch Complex
Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
In December 2018 Southern Launch, an Adelaide based company, announced, that after a year and a half they found safe and environmentally appropriate land for the future launch pad. Australian launch pad will be located on the Eyre Peninsula. Called the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex is the 1190-hectare site about 35 minutes’ from the regional centre of Port Lincoln, 300 km northwest of Adelaide.
Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp said that company plan to launch rockets into a polar or sun-synchronous orbit, into orbits around the North and South Poles. The startup will target rockets with payloads that will carry microsatellites between 50 kg and 400 kg to service Internet of Things applications such as monitoring traffic on roads.
Lloyd Damp confirmed that construction would begin in early 2019 with the aim of being operable by the end of the year.
Southern Launch is one of many NewSpace companies that are developing small rockets, but there weren’t many places to launch these rockets and Australia has this unique geographical advantage.
New and operable launch sites confirm the fact of countries positive technological path and spark of venture thinking among the bureaucrats. The vision of space entrepreneurs creating a future beyond Earth has become an intoxicating and influential idea in itself. No doubt that space companies are entering their “golden age”.
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