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American Spaceports
by Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Aug 12, 2014

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Most people are not aware that the world is awash with spaceports. However, the popular ones are well-known. For example, the Cape Canaveral Area of Florida is the home of the most famous launch facilities. Both NASA and the US Air Force have launch pads and complex support infrastructures at the NASA's Kennedy Space Center and at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Sunshine State's east coast.

This is also the home of Launch Pad 39A, from which NASA launched Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing. It is also the pad from which Atlantis left Earth to fly the last space shuttle mission. This site is now open to the public for tours.

The U.S. also hosts launch sites at Vandenberg Air force Base in California, Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. In addition, there are several other sites that are developed or in the process of being established for use in suborbital and orbital launches.

There is also the mid-Pacific Ocean launch site used by Sea Launch. Although this is not on U.S. territory, it is governed under U.S. launch regulations due to the fact that it is based in Long Beach, California.

The latest addition to the list of potential U.S. spaceports is Brownsville, Texas. Just last week, the State of Texas and SpaceX announced that the rocket company plans to build a spaceport in South Texas. In a recent news release Gov. Rick Perry said, "Texas has been on the forefront of our nation's space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight."

To sweeten the opportunity for SpaceX, Texas is offering $2.3 million from its Enterprise Fund, and the state is offering $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. to support the development of necessary spaceport infrastructure.

SpaceX has indicated that this new launch site will be able to support up to 12 space launches a year, including two Falcon Heavy vehicles. Operations may commence as early as 2015. With access to easterly launches, this site will work well for low inclination and geostationary satellites.

Texas is not generally thought of as a space launch state, but once upon a time it was very seriously thought of as a primary Space Shuttle launch complex location. In fact, the 1970s the location under consideration was only about 230 miles from Brownsville, at Matagorda. At that time Matagorda was a sleepy little beach town on the Gulf Coast, roughly 100 miles southwest of Houston.

NASA had considered a number of sites around the contiguous 48 states. A primary factor in the selection process was safety, thus, prohibiting the shuttle from launching over populated areas.

This limitation effectively ruled out any location not near a large body of water. This left only west coast, east coast and gulf coast locations. Further considerations with regard to population centers along most of the coastal areas resulted in a short list of only five locations: Cape Canaveral (coastal Florida), Vandenberg Air Force Base (coastal California), the Chesapeake region in Virginia, coastal North Carolina or South Carolina and Matagorda, Texas.

Finally, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were ruled out because areas near potential launch sites were too populated. It would have been too expensive to buy enough land to create a safe launch complex for the shuttle in one of these states. That left Matagorda, Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral.

Matagorda actually offered a few advantages over Vandenberg and the Cape. The Canaveral area could be used for easterly launches, but not polar launches. Vandenberg could be used for polar launches, but not for launches towards the east.

Matagorda could be used for either type of launch. However, a NASA cost analysis concluded that it would still be more cost-effective to enhance both Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral for space shuttle launches than to build an entirely new launch site in rural Texas. As it turned out, the Vandenberg facilities for shuttle were never completed and the Kennedy Space Center became the only shuttle launch site.


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