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.
After several years of delays and false starts, Russia began construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East in January 2011. During the year, workers completed geological surveys of the site and approved overall site plans. Workers’ housing and other preliminary facilities were completed and improvements have been made in the road and rail network connecting them with the site.
The Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, is the only spaceport in the United States that currently supports orbital human spaceflight, and it has been dramatically affected by the end of the Space Shuttle Program. As the home of the shuttle, KSC has seen its workforce decrease significantly as the program ended. More than ## workers at KSC lost their jobs over the past two years.
Spaceport infrastructure in the United States is in transition as NASA makes changes at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to accommodate new launch systems in the post-shuttle era. Construction continued on new and upgraded facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia, and Spaceport America in New Mexico. China and Russia also continued development of new spaceports during 2011.
Launch sites, commonly called spaceports, host the launches of orbital and suborbital vehicles and, in some cases, the return of spacecraft from space. Spaceports take many forms, from sprawling, dedicated complexes such as Baikonur in Kazakhstan, to specialized ships floating in the Pacific Ocean, such as Sea Launch’s Odyssey.
Spaceports operate around the world, offering different capabilities and operational scale. In its most basic form, a spaceport is a facility dedicated to launching an orbital or suborbital craft. This can be as basic and streamlined as a concrete pad, a launch rail, a fuel depot, and a simple control room. Alternatively, it can be a huge facility that extends over of hundreds of square kilometers and incorporates tracking stations, payload processing and integration facilities, long runways, and additional facilities for visitors and media.
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.”