The Space Shuttle, also known as the Space Transportation System (STS), consists of an active fleet of three orbiters: Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. The Shuttles are the United States’ primary method of transferring crew, supplies, and new modules to the ISS.
Although no suborbital human-rated vehicles flew in 2009, there was considerable progress by several companies actively developing such vehicles. Among the most visible of these was the formal unveiling in December 2009 of SpaceShipTwo, a suborbital vehicle built by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. The event culminated a year of continued development of SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. In May 2009, Virgin Galactic announced the beginning of tests of the rocket motor that will power SpaceShipTwo on its suborbital flights. The hybrid rocket motor uses a solid fuel and liquid nitrous oxide oxidizer developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation, the company that developed the rocket motor for SpaceShipOne.
Founded in 1955 by the Soviet Union, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the world’s oldest and largest spaceport. It supports several generations of Russian spacecraft: Soyuz, Molniya, Proton, Tsyklon, Dnepr, and the Zenit. Baikonur’s storied history dates back to the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, the event that set in motion the Cold War “space race.”
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) lies on the Atlantic shore of Florida, almost directly east of Orlando, and adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The spaceport supports a mix of government civil, military, and commercial launches. Primary users of CCAFS include the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, NASA, and private launch service providers.
Spaceports operate around the world, offering different capabilities and scales of operation. Some spaceports consist of little more than a basic control center, transportation infrastructure, and launch platform. Others are more elaborate, with facilities for payload processing and integration as well as state-of-the-art mission operation centers.