What is a Spaceport?
A spaceport, also known as a cosmodrome or launch complex, is a specialized facility designed for the construction, maintenance, launch, and recovery of spacecraft and their payloads. Here are the key components of a spaceport:
These are reinforced, flat surfaces designed to withstand the intense heat, vibrations, and forces generated during rocket launches. Equipped with support structures, umbilicals, and flame trenches, they ensure the safe and efficient release of spacecraft into orbit.
Vehicle Assembly and Integration Facilities
Spaceports contain large hangars and workshops where spacecraft and their launch vehicles are assembled, integrated, and tested. These facilities are equipped with clean rooms and specialized tools to handle sensitive components, such as satellites or scientific instruments.
The nerve center of any spaceport, the control center, is responsible for managing and monitoring all aspects of a launch, from pre-flight preparations to tracking the spacecraft once it leaves the Earth’s atmosphere. Control centers are staffed by engineers, scientists, and mission specialists who work together to ensure the success of each launch.
Tracking and Communication Systems
To monitor the progress of a spacecraft and maintain contact with ground-based teams, spaceports employ advanced tracking systems, such as radar and telemetry equipment. These systems collect valuable data on the vehicle’s performance and enable real-time adjustments, if necessary.
Recovery and Refurbishment Facilities
Some spaceports, particularly those supporting reusable launch systems, have infrastructure for recovering and refurbishing used spacecraft components. These facilities reduce costs by enabling the reuse of valuable parts, such as rocket boosters or capsules.
In addition to the primary facilities, spaceports require a range of support infrastructure, such as power plants, water supply systems, fuel storage, transportation networks, and accommodations for personnel.
Where are the Spaceports Located?
Spaceports are typically located in remote areas, often near coastlines or deserts to minimize risk to populated regions. They are large complexes comprising numerous advanced technologies and infrastructure elements.
Prominent examples of spaceports include the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. As commercial space travel becomes more prevalent, new spaceports are being developed around the world to accommodate a perceived growing demand for access to space.
Characteristics of US Spaceports
US Spaceports Locations
Insights into US Spaceports
Insights into US spaceports as of October 2022:
- 21 spaceports
- 66.7% of spaceports are FAA licensed
- 28.6% are located in Florida
- 57% support vertical launches
- 64.3% of FAA licensed spaceports have not supported a launch or orbital reentry
Additional information related to FAA licensed launches is available in What is the FAA’s Role in Commercial Space – A Quick Overview.
US Launch Statistics Historical and Forecast
The FAA is forecasting between 59 and 186 launches in 2026.
Note that all US headquartered companies must have an FAA license for launch regardless of geographical location of launch. Also note that the vast majority of launches by US headquartered companies originate from spaceports in the United States. The FAA forecast includes orbital and suborbital launches. The history and forecast only includes US headquartered launch services companies.
What Has Been the Historical Market Demand for Launches?
The vast majority of the 5,966 smallsats (including Starlink and OneWeb) launched between 2018 and 2022 were carried to orbit by medium to super heavy lift vehicles.
Moreover, the vast majority of the approximately 550 smallsats (excluding Starlink and OneWeb) launched in 2022 were also carried to orbit by medium to super heavy lift vehicles.
Operational Satellites: Purpose, User, Orbit, Operator, Launch Spaceport, Launch Vehicle
The statistics below provide insights into operational satellites currently in orbit around earth based upon the June 2022 version of the UCS Satellite Database. The Satellite Database is an open source resource compiled by experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that is a detailed catalog of the more than 5,465 operational satellites currently in orbit around Earth.
Of the 5,465 operational satellites in orbit as of June 2022:
86% are in LEO
74% are used for commercial purposes
66% are used for communications
63% of the owner/operators are in the United States
50% were launched from Cape Canaveral in the United States
50% were launched using the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
UK Launch Market Estimated Size
The total addressable market for UK spaceports in 2026 is forecast to be between 50 and 150 launches. The forecast assumes micro-launchers are the only launch vehicles used by UK spaceports.
Launch Market Dynamics
The article identified below highlights how the Falcon 9 Transporter missions are vacuuming up the market being targeted by micro and small lift launch vehicles.
Challenges that New Spaceports Face
New spaceports face a range of challenges, both technical and logistical. Some of the key challenges include:
Building a spaceport requires significant investment in infrastructure, including runways, launch pads, control centers, and communications equipment. This infrastructure needs to be able to handle the specific requirements of space launch and recovery operations.
Spaceports need to be built in areas that are free from environmental hazards, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildlife habitats. They also need to be designed and operated in an environmentally responsible manner, to minimize their impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
Spaceports are subject to a range of regulations at the local, state, and federal levels. These regulations cover everything from safety and security to environmental protection and airspace management.
Launching rockets into space is a complex and technically challenging endeavor. Spaceports need to have the necessary technical expertise and capabilities to handle these challenges.
Building a spaceport is a significant investment, and it may take many years before the spaceport can generate revenue. New spaceports need to carefully consider their business model and ensure that they have a sustainable plan for generating income over the long term.
There are already established spaceports around the world, and new spaceports will need to compete with these existing facilities for launch contracts and customers. This can be a significant challenge, particularly if the new spaceport is located in a less desirable location or lacks key infrastructure or technical capabilities.
Launch Vehicle Capacity Requirements
Historical data shows that the majority of small satellites are being launched into orbit using medium to super heavy lift vehicles. Successful spaceports will need to accommodate launch vehicles that are matched the customer demand.
Market Demand Uncertainty
The market forecasts are just that, forecasts. If demand is less then the forecasts, or demand growth is delayed, it can have a significant impact on spaceport cash flow and economic viability.
Complex and Challenging Undertaking
Building a new spaceport is a complex and challenging undertaking, requiring significant resources and expertise. However, with careful planning and investment, new spaceports can help to drive the growth of the commercial space industry and expand our capabilities in space.