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?


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
    Jul 17 '16 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkBoghdani: Honestly? Not a clue. This becomes definitely a political matter, not scientific. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jul 17 '16 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
    Jun 14 '18 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean: fixed... $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jun 15 '18 at 14:46

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
    Jul 17 '16 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
    Jun 15 '18 at 15:20

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

Launching from the northeastern tip of Tenerife instead of from Gran Canaria could potentially add a few dozen kilometers onto that, but, for the longer track, would have the disadvantages of

  1. requiring extremely tight tolerances early on to keep debris from falling on Lanzarote or Fuerteventura,
  2. shifting the early portion of the track north over a more densely-populated area of Morocco,
  3. passing very close to the city of Medina, potentially causing problems with the Saudi government (assuming it still exists by then ["it" referring to the Saudi government, not the city of Medina]),
  4. clipping far southern India and passing straight over central Sri Lanka,
  5. potentially clipping the western end of Java and/or the southern end of Sumatra,

and thus would likely be regarded as inferior to Gran Canaria overall. (Tenerife would be far less problematic for the shorter track, and would still lengthen it by a small amount, but this would almost certainly not be enough of an advantage over Gran Canaria to justify having two spaceports [one on Gran Canaria, the second on Tenerife] rather than just one, on Gran Canaria.)


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