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Many satellites (such as the recent Iridium launch) need to be in either slight retrograde or polar orbit. Since Kennedy Space Center is located on the east coast of Florida, rockets that need to go west or north/south have to be launched from Vandenberg in California.

Also, during the early days of the Shuttle, it had a monopoly on all US launches (until the Challenger accident, when the EELV program started).

As no Shuttles were ever launched from the West coast, were there simply no polar orbiting satellites launched between 1981-1986?

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You can look up the list of space launches in those years in wikipedia 1981 in spaceflight,1982 in spaceflight,1983 in spaceflight,1984 in spaceflight,1985 in spaceflight and 1986 in spaceflight.

What you will discover is that while Space Shuttles indeed covered the majority of the american space launches in those years, they never had absolute monopoly. Some satellites (obviously high inclination ones but some geosynchronous too) were still launched using Atlas and Titan rockets. For example Block I GPS used Atlas.

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They were launched from Vandenberg on expendable boosters.

Example: KH9-17 launched on May 11, 1982 into a 96.4 degree orbit. The booster was a Titan IIID.

Source

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