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The ESA has its launchpad in French Guiana. It's not only close to the equator but also has a lot of water to the east, meaning that boosters can fall down without hurting people (probably).

But in the Mediterranean Sea, there's quite a lot of water to the east, too. Why didn't the ESA set up their launchpad somewhere around Alicante in Spain such that they don't hit Formentera, Sardegna, or Sicily? The first thing they could hit would be mainland Italy. There's quite some distance to mainland Italy.

The US seem just fine with having their launchpad on their mainland where all their scientists are anyways and where they can supply materials easily, even though it's pretty far away from the equator. They don't ship their stuff down to like Jarvis Island which almost sits on the equator and has a lot of water to the east (and to the west, too, if someone wants to send a satellite up the other way, again, for a change).

Question: What is the (size and shape of the) area you need to be uninhabited for a typical launch?

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    $\begingroup$ This is a tricky question! It depends on how much a government values the safety of people living along the ground track, which evolves over time, as does those people's internet access and ability to post disasters on Facebook. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 25 '17 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Possible places for a launch compex in UK and continental Europe or at least some info in the answer there. $\endgroup$ – jkavalik Mar 25 '17 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ That is NOT the same question. This question is completely agnostic in terms of location, the other question is specifically about Europe so this is not a duplicate question. Just because it mentions Europe in the beginning does not mean the question is only about Europe, that's called background or research, and a question can get closed if it is absent. The OP should not be penalized for including an example. I don't think this "close first and ask questions later" attitude is healthy or productive. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 25 '17 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ @jkavalik (not saying you voted to close necessarily) ...or should I call it "close first and then actually read it only as a last resort if someone moves to re-open it"? See how passionate I am - I even used the word "actually" even though I'm trying very hard not to. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 25 '17 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ The Soviets, & now the Russians do not have any water to the east of their main launch site, Baikonur in Kazakhstan, which is in land locked central Asia. So technically, no water is required near a rocket launch site. As to why not have a site in Europe, the closer a launching site is to the equator, the better for flight & orbit profiles & less energy needed for launch. $\endgroup$ – Fred Mar 25 '17 at 7:44
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This depends on the rocket you're launching. The first stage usually lands a few hundred km away from the launch point. Here is an example of the exclusion zones for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. The red zone is the first stage landing zone, and stretches from 300 to 600 km outward from Cape Canaveral.

F9 landing zone

The Saturn V second stages ended up halfway across the Atlantic (around 34º W). The Shuttle external tanks ended up in the Pacific.

The last stage (second stage for the Falcon 9, third stage for Saturn V, fourth for Arianespace Vega) goes to orbit with the payload, and generally burns up on reentry.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do the later stages typically burn up or do they fall down, too? $\endgroup$ – UTF-8 Mar 25 '17 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ That image seems to imply a successful launch - and in the case of SpaceX, a booster that doesn't fly back. I'd think safety considerations would be more concerned with accidents. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 25 '17 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ That image shows 3 zones, between them they cover just about all failure scenarios. That's why the red zone extends so far past the ASDS - if one of the burns fails, the stage will splash down further away. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Mar 26 '17 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ @UTF-8: I've added that to my answer. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Mar 26 '17 at 8:57

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