If a rocket launches from Florida, how far around the world does it travel before it reaches orbit? Is it in space before it completes crossing the Atlantic?

Does it vary for different powered rockets, or is it typically the same trajectory?

  • $\begingroup$ It typically depends on burnout time and the ascent guidance implemented within that time to reach a specific orbit. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2018 at 4:57

1 Answer 1


It varies with different rockets, but typically insertion to low Earth orbit is achieved around 1200-1500 miles (~2000-2500 km) downrange distance — something less than halfway across the Atlantic for an Eastward launch from Cape Canaveral.

The longer the ascent, the further downrange it will be before orbital insertion.

Here's one example for a 10-minute ascent (note that the horizontal axis is linear in downrange distance, not in time):

enter image description here

Note that the rocket will be in space long before this point; the 100km Kármán line is reached at less than 100km downrange distance in the trajectory shown.

  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate you clarifying between final orbit altitude and the Kármán line. I had wondered if they would be at risk of entering foreign airspace near the end. (which matters more when you have stages that you want to bring down and land) But this answer makes it clear that it is up and away well before that. Thank you. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2018 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ The space shuttle abort options included a transatlantic landing in Europe if it lost engines before reaching orbit, but too far along to return to the launch site. Other than that, entering foreign airspace from Canaveral is pretty unlikely. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2018 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ OTOH entering foreign airspace for many countries is a major concern. Baikonur angles the launches northwards to avoid China. Israel launches west (retrograde!) to avoid flying over middle east. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jan 23, 2018 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ More info on the transatlantic abort landing (TAL) mode: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2018 at 21:08

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