China’s new spaceport is the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, located on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. Building the spaceport on the island offers two advantages over China’s current spaceports. As it is located on the coast, China can transport rocket stages to the site via ship and eliminate the size restrictions imposed by the need to pass through railway tunnels and bridges.
Baikonur Cosmodrome was Russia’s first spaceport, beginning operations in 1957. It is also the largest spaceport in the world in terms of area, and it is the world’s busiest spaceport in terms of number of orbital launches. It is located in what is now the independent country of Kazakhstan, which until 1991 was a Soviet republic.
Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) occupy neighboring sites in the state of Florida, and are responsible for the bulk of U.S. launch activity. KSC is the only U.S. spaceport that currently supports crewed orbital spaceflight and historically has been the launch site for almost every crewed U.S. spaceflight. With the end of the Space Shuttle program, KSC and CCAFS were left with an impressive assortment of NASA infrastructure that was now in search of a purpose.
Spaceports are the facilities where launch vehicles and their payloads are prepared and subsequently launched. Spaceports vary widely in scale. They range from the relatively austere Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, which typically conducts only one launch every year or two from its one pad, to a sprawling facility such as Baikonur, which covers thousands of square kilometers and conducts about one-third of all global launches per year, lifting off from more operational launch pads than are found in any other spaceport.
China is also in the process of building a new spaceport, the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center (WSLC), on the Chinese island of Hainan, in the South China Sea. It will host the new Long March 5 rocket series, as well as successor vehicles. Construction started on the center in late 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2013, allowing for a first launch in 2014.
Russia operates orbital flights from two main spaceports, Baikonur and Plesetsk, and is in the process of building a new spaceport. Baikonur is by far the most important Russian spaceport, even though it lies within the territory of another country. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia struck a deal with newly independent Kazakhstan to retain control over the site.
The United States is home to several spaceports operated by the military or NASA; others are run by public-private partnerships as commercial entities. The largest and most sophisticated U.S. spaceports are the adjacent facilities of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and the USAF’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. All crewed U.S. orbital spaceflights flights have taken off from KSC. Meanwhile, CCAFS serves as a launch base for missile tests and launches of military and civil government unmanned spacecraft.
Spaceports support the preparation and operation of launch vehicles, and in some cases, act as a gateway to space for the private citizens who dream of going there. Some spaceports are very large, such as the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which encompasses 6,717 square kilometers (2,593 square miles) of territory in Kazakhstan and features up to 15 pads for many different types of orbital launch vehicles.
After several years of low activity, Brazil pledged in late 2011 to more than double its space budget for the years 2012-2015 with the aim of revitalizing the facilities at its Alcântara spaceport located on the northern coast of the country. Following a launch pad explosion in 2003 that killed 21 people, relatively little progress has been made at Alcântara, and no orbital launch attempts have been made.
The Satish Dhawan Space Centre, located on the east coast of India, is expanding to provide greater flexibility and permit a higher launch rate while supporting the launch of India’s upcoming GSLV Mk. III heavy-lift vehicle. ISRO completed an upgrade to the center in 2005, adding a second launch pad capable of processing and launching any of India’s orbital vehicles. The latest expansion will add a third launch pad to the complex, enabling India to launch more often and with fewer scheduling restrictions.