Vandenberg and Plesetsk and Satish Dhawan (India) have obviously been used for polar orbits. Palmachim (Israel) launches westward due to political and safety reasons. But what are the constraints on what orbit which spaceport can launch to? Has or could it be done to launch to polar orbit from Cape Canaveral, Baikonur and Palmachim? This considering current safety policies and regulations.


Any time a craft launches from a launch site at any azimuth other than due east there is a performance penalty. But the constraints you mention are largely due to safety or political constraints. Here are the limits for the major continental US launch sites. (These writeups from here are shuttle-centric but the information is still largely relevant)

Kennedy Space Center launches have an allowable path no less than 35 degrees northeast and no greater than 120 degrees southeast. These are azimuth degree readings based on due east from KSC as 90 degrees.

A 35-degree azimuth launch places the spacecraft in an orbital inclination of 57 degrees. This means the spacecraft in its orbital trajectories around the Earth will never exceed an Earth latitude higher or lower than 57 degrees north or south of the equator.

A launch path from KSC at an azimuth of 120 degrees will place the spacecraft in an orbital inclination of 39 degrees (it will be above or below 39 degrees north or south of the equator).

These two azimuths - 35 and 120 degrees - represent the launch limits from the KSC. Any azimuth angles further north or south would launch a spacecraft over a habitable land mass, adversely affect safety provisions for abort or vehicle separation conditions, or present the undesirable possibility that the SRB or external tank could land on foreign land or sea space.


Launches from Vandenberg have an allowable launch path suitable for polar insertions south, southwest and southeast. The launch limits at Vandenberg are 201 and 158 degrees. At a 201-degree launch azimuth, the spacecraft would be orbiting at a 104-degree inclination. Zero degrees would be due north of the launch site, and the orbital trajectory would be within 14 degrees east or west of the north-south pole meridian. At a launch azimuth of 158 degrees, the spacecraft would be orbiting at a 70-degree inclination, and the trajectory would be within 20 degrees east or west of the polar meridian. Like KSC, Vandenberg has allowable launch azimuths that do not pass over habitable areas or involve safety, abort, separation and political considerations.

Here are the Wallops limits

Wallops offers a wide array of launch vehicle trajectory options. The coastline of Wallops Island is oriented such that a launch azimuth of 135 degrees is perpendicular to the shoreline. In general, launch azimuths between 90 and 160 degrees can be accommodated depending on impact ranges. For most orbital vehicles, this translates into orbital inclinations between 38 degrees and approximately 60 degrees. Trajectory options outside of these launch azimuths, including polar and sun-synchronous orbits, can be achieved by inflight-azimuth maneuvers. For example, wider northerly options are possible by maneuver around Assateague Island after passing 5 nm downrange. The North Carolina Outer Banks are generally the restricting landmass for southern launch azimuths. Specific trajectory options and the operational impact area are determined in consultation with our Flight Safety Group.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.