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The basic question is:

When is a location good enough to build a space centre on it?

Some info to the function of the space-centre:

  • The space centre has a lot of traffic, also humans. I imagine it would be good to be near major cities, but not too close (Safety)
  • Space-crafts launch mainly into a almost non-inclined, non-eccentric orbit
  • Current tech still mainly uses rockets, but some intelligent guy mentioned it would make sense to plan ahead, so we need:
    • A Runway for space-planes
    • Room for a space-catapult (even though it is a theoretical concept right now)
  • Storage Area
  • Maintenance Areas
  • Tourism Areas (Hotels ect.)
  • Hangars
  • Whatever else the clever guy (you?) comes up with that would make sense

The space-centre should be used economical, as the Tourism Areas suggest.


I already though of the following:

  • should be near equator (EDIT: so it doesn't need that much fuel to get 0° inclination)
  • should be in a calm zone (regarding weather)
  • should face eastwards, as it is easier to start in this direction

What other criterias are important?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget room for a space-elevator $\endgroup$
    – mouviciel
    Dec 17, 2014 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ While space-elevators are also an option, they are clearly restricted to a position directly on the equator (wouldn't want to move the base station because the top-station is moving). Todays space-centres are clearly not all on the equator, but also not on the poles. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Dec 17, 2014 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with a location exactly on the equator? After all, all major seaports are on the shore. $\endgroup$
    – mouviciel
    Dec 17, 2014 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ @mouviciel While this is correct, space on the equator is limited. There might be a country that wants it's own space-centre, but has no access to an equator-location. $\endgroup$
    – JFBM
    Dec 17, 2014 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ Following the maritime analogy, think of Switzerland or Nepal. Not all countries are created equal. Some will have a space elevator whereas others will only have rockets. $\endgroup$
    – mouviciel
    Dec 17, 2014 at 14:48

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Launch trajectory

Some aspects of the design will depend on what technology you're using. For current technology, i.e. rockets, pollutants from the rockets are a major issue that must be addressed. Generally, you want to launch away from populated areas. This is why most rockets launched in a west-east direction launch from Florida, with Cape Canaveral being a major launch site. Spaceport America launches over a desert that nobody lives in. (The White Sands missile range). Even with advanced technologies, you're still going to generate a lot of noise when launching, so this will remain a concern.

Non-equatorial launches won't launch into a non-inclined orbit unless you spend more fuel to get there. However, if you should decide you want a polar orbit, lots of places away from the equator are perfectly good for launches. The US, for example, has a launch facility on Kodiak Island in Alaska for polar orbits.

Tourist areas

With regards to tourism areas and hangars, they probably won't be much of a concern. If the launches are mostly industrial, then tourism doesn't matter. Likewise, if you're developing a transportation hub for a planet, tourism won't matter much because people will be coming and going, not hanging out. Tourism will probably only be a major issue if people are coming to visit the planet, and it doesn't have well established high speed surface transportation systems. If that's not the case, most tourists would probably prefer to step off their space ship and onto a high speed train to take them somewhere where rockets won't be thundering over their heads every half hour.

Surface transportation

With regards to the point about high speed transportation, there's one other point you probably want to hit for a general commercial spaceport: it should be easy to get goods and people there. Since it's serving a large area, such as a country, this doesn't mean 'close to a city', since that's only ideal for the city in question. It would probably be better to have the spaceport in an open area that can easily be reached by ships/planes/trains. Dedicated infrastructure for the purpose of facilitating such planetary transportation would be hugely beneficial for a space station.

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You're going to want:

  1. Reasonably equatorial location. By launching your rocket eastward (in the direction of the Earth's spin) at the equator, you get about a 5% boost to your speed for free. The further north or south you are, the less of this boost you can get.

  2. A large clear area (thousands of square kilometers) to the east of the launch site. Because of the eastward launch, a crash is far more likely to happen east of the launch site than in any other direction. Additionally, if you're using a multi-stage launch system, discarded stages will land to the east.

  3. A large clear area (5-10 km radius) around the launch site. If all the fuel in a Saturn V rocket were to explode at once, the energy release would be comparable to a small (15-KT) nuclear weapon. An actual accident will likely produce a more gradual energy release, but you're still going to be able to break windows a long distance away.

  4. Predictable weather. It doesn't need to be consistently good, just consistent. A launch doesn't take very long, so if you can count on a morning calm four days out of five, it doesn't really matter that you get afternoon thunderstorms every day.

Other considerations will depend on what sort of launch technology you're using, what sort of cargoes you're launching, how often you launch, and if the launch vehicle is going to land back at the launch site.

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A major need that probably far outweighs items like tourist areas is that the building, fueling, and servicing of the space craft themselves requires a certain technology level of the host region. Borneo might be great for launches, but if the mechanics all live in the US that adds a lot of cost to the system.

This service industry might also require space to work, so a tiny island is a suboptimal choice for that reason. The launch and landing areas might need wide spaces for safety.

The passenger traffic in and out is important, but could be done by a fast train system or large airport without requiring it to be that near current major sites.

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In addition to the previous answers, I would also add two criteria that would make a place desirable: Transport & Fresh Water.

Transport

Transportation of materials and machinery is expensive and difficult.

For example, the solid rocket boosters of the former Shuttle program were limited in size, because the location of where they were made required the trains bringing them to go through a tunnel.

In addition to the criteria already discussed, I would add that a location with good rail, highway, and seaport connections would be desirable. Naturally, you should also have an airstrip and helipad (some special gadgets are brought in by air), but that can go pretty much no matter where you place your center.

Fresh Water

While you can truck this in, or produce it from de-salination, it would just help with costs if you had access to lots and lots of fresh water, as a lot of it is used - sorry, I don't know the exact quantity, but lots.

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