Reading "Britain selects U.S., French, British teams to study spaceport feasibility" — I can imagine places in Europe for retrograde or polar launches, but are there places where standard LEO/ISS/GTO launch is possible? For example at Florida KSC there is only a limited range of inclinations to launch to when taking safety considerations into account (no going west, no overfly of the Bahamas etc.)

Looking at the map I am not sure if any prograde orbital launch is possible from Europe, but maybe I overestimate the needs for a safe zone? Are Norway (high inclination), Denmark, Netherlands or Germany far enough away for launches from the east coast of the UK? Spain/Italy and Africa? What about a possibility to launching over the Black Sea? Or are there any inland zones where launching an orbital rocket would be safe enough?


3 Answers 3


The Baltic Sea is far too crowded to make it the range area. At any point of time you can see at least several ships within view distance.

For the same reason, while it might seem like the isle of Ibiza would provide 2700km of downrange over the sea, the Mediterrean Sea traffic is so high, it's unlikely to be allowed, plus the range of inclinations is pretty narrow.

Map with the path: Ibiza - south of Corsica - south of Siccily - path ending near Cairo

Assuming ESA stays on good terms with Russia - which isn't too far-fetched, the terms currently aren't bad - Lapland (north-easern Finland), and northern Norway. The population "downrange" is scarce. The serious disadvantage is massive loss of delta-V due to polar latitudes, harsh climate and limited inclinations available.

Another alternative with 1000km of safe downrange is near Romanian-Bulgarian border. I believe in case Russia was opposed to it, deals with Azerbaijan and Georgia (whose relations with Russia are outright hostile) could be arranged.

enter image description here

But in the end, why? ESA's spaceport in French Guiana is at a better location than any other!

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ What about a launch site in one of Canary Islands for orbital launches over Saharian deserts and countinue through deserts of Arabia and Oman? The question is for continental Europe, but would it be ok to launch from these islands? $\endgroup$
    – Mark777
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkBoghdani: Honestly? Not a clue. This becomes definitely a political matter, not scientific. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ Why does your third track start in the country of Guyana, rather than in French Guiana? $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean: fixed... $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ OP asked for continental but if we're allowing overseas territories, Ascension Island is <8 Degrees south, gives you 2000km + downrange in every direction, has some facilities already, (Wideawake Airfield was a diversionary runway for the space shuttle) and you couldn't pick somewhere with a better name! $\endgroup$
    – JeffUK
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 14:30

If we stretch the definition of "continental Europe" a bit to include the Canary Islands, a spaceport on Gran Canaria would have a bit over five thousand kilometers of useable range over the Sahara Desert, most of which is somewhat sparsely populated:

a rocket launch track starting from Gran Canaria island and extending across the Sahara Desert to terminate in central Sudan

If we can get permission for the track to cross over the Nile Valley, the amount of useable range increases dramatically, as we can now continue over the Arabian Desert, Indian Ocean, and northern Australia, for a total of over seventeen thousand kilometers:

a rocket launch track starting from Gran Canaria island and extending across the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea, the southwestern Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean, and northern Australia to terminate in north-central Australia

The main concern would seem to be the initial portion of the trajectory, over the northern Western Sahara (short track) or southern Morocco (long track), where avoiding overflying cities or large towns would require confining launches to a set of fairly-narrow launch corridors (especially for the more-northerly launch azimuths used for the long track), and likely also involve paying one or both of the national governments involved (depending on whether we're using just the short track, just the long track, or both) to buy out a few small inconveniently-situated settlements sitting under the launch corridors:

initial portion of a rocket launch track from Gran Canaria passing over the northern Western Sahara

initial portion of a rocket launch track from Gran Canaria passing over southern Morocco

The restrictions on allowable launch azimuths would require flights targeting certain inclinations to perform a dogleg maneuver after clearing the restricted-azimuth zone; however, as this is very early in the flight of any orbital rocket launched from Gran Canaria (and, thus, occurs while the vehicle's speed is still fairly low), and because it should be possible to lay out launch corridors for a fairly-wide range of inclinations (ensuring that most target inclinations will at least be close to an allowable launch corridor), the Δv losses from this should be low to minimal.

A secondary concern (for the short track only) would be southern Algeria, where short-track launch trajectories pass near or over moderately-sized population centers in the Ahaggar Mountains:

portion of a rocket launch track from Gran Canaria passing over southern Algeria

However, the area in question is far enough downrange that this can probably be managed by arranging to alert communities in the area in advance of a launch and agreeing to pay out compensation in the unlikely event that someone's house or livestock are damaged by a falling rocket (like Russia does).


Really a launch so far north you don't want to launch straight east. In fact, if you read the list of rockets they include in the linked article, all of them are sub-orbital except for the proposed Reaction Engine SSTO, which range safety concerns are somewhat less.

I suspect that a launch site would be in the northern portion of the UK, with a polar launch inclination being the desired location. I also suspect that they might try for something in the range of the ISS, although that might be more difficult due to range safety. But for sub-orbital, which is the key proposal, the only safety concern is to have a reasonably large area around it free of people, which again, the northern portion of the UK seems to be best.

There are other reasons why a straight eastward trajectory is a bad thing from so high as Europe. The minimum inclination that you can achieve from a launch point is related to the latitude. The UK being so far north limits things to mostly polar or at the very least a higher inclination orbit. A site to launch at the ISS would be possible, but not much below that inclination.

For continental Europe to orbital ranges, I would look around Germany/Denmark, launching in to the Baltic Sea.

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    $\begingroup$ I meant eastward as not polar or retrograde, should have written prograde instead. $\endgroup$
    – jkavalik
    Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ For a polar launch, why launch from the UK when the esrange launch site in northern sweden is already doing suborbital launches and is located much further north. $\endgroup$
    – lijat
    Commented Jun 15, 2018 at 15:20

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