In an effort to advance space exploration, dozens of rockets break out of our atmosphere to put man-made satellites into orbit or launch space probes each year. These launchers take off from around 20 sites located the world over, sometimes in rather unusual places.
In Europe, the United States, India or even Japan, choosing a site for a launch base is first and foremost based on scientific, technological and, of course, political factors. The site topography is of utmost importance. An easily accessible, flat terrain located in a sparsely populated area, like Cap Canaveral, ensures maximum safety. Being conveniently located near the sea enables materials to be shipped in easily. Significantly, the rocket can also begin its ascent in a maritime area, far from densely populated regions.
Moreover, certain launches take place in the middle of the ocean, from Sea Launch for example, a former oil rig in the Pacific. On the contrary, Russia (Baikonur or Svobodny) and China have set up their bases further inland. A gamble that proved fatal for the latter, when in 1996 a rocket launched from the XiChang site crashed into a village two km away, leaving 500 victims in its wake.
Proximity to the equator is also an important factor when considering the location of a launch base. Being near the equator allows the rocket to benefit from the Earth’s rotational speed. In this regard, the location of the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou is absolutely remarkable.