As far as I know, there are no spaceports in the European Union.

Why is it so?


4 Answers 4


The area of the European Continent is too far away from the equator and there are very few places allowing an eastward orbital launch over an ocean. Used first stages should not crash on densely populated ground.

But French Guiana, where the Guiana Space Centre is located, is one of five French overseas departments and a part of the European Union. Overseas departments are integral parts of France and the European Union, they are represented in the the European Parliament and use the euro as their currency.

There have been a lot of historic rocket launch sites in European mainland used for suborbital launches, see this Wikipedia list.

A new spaceport is planned in Scotland for orbital launches, the Sutherland spaceport. Launches over the ocean are possible in north to northeast direction, but not in south to southeast. But when it is finished, it will be no European Union spaceport (if there is no escape from Brexit).

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Esrange is mainland Europe, Maser 14 is slated for launch in June, reaching 240 km $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Jan 18, 2019 at 13:54
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Note that for this reason, Israel is the only country that launches retrograde, to the West. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Jan 18, 2019 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ The worlds busiest spaceport is at 63°N. The northern part of the EU is perfectly suitable for launches into polar orbit. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Jan 18, 2019 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @gerrit: But what would be the point of building a spaceport only for polar orbits, when the existing Guiana one can do that? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 18, 2019 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "Used first stages should not crash on a densily populated ground," which answers the title question nicely. $\endgroup$
    – jpmc26
    Jan 18, 2019 at 19:45

There are currently suborbital spaceports.

Esrange in Sweden launches sounding rockets, including some up to 678 km. That's nearly 300 km higher than the International Space Station, so it is definitely possible to launch a payload into space from within the European part of the European Union. Esrange cannot yet launch into orbit, buth they plan to. Andøya Space Center also launches suborbital rockets, but it is in Norway and not in the EU (although it's pretty close to the EU politically and geographically).

The latitude is no fundamental objection, the most active spaceport in the world is at 63°N, so you can have spaceports at high latitudes. Low latitude is good for equatorial launches, high latitude is good for polar or retrograde launches. The reason there are no orbital launches from the European part of the EU is that (relatively) low-latitude sites in Europe are too busy and nobody has been willing yet to invest the necessary money at a high-latitude site, when European satellites can launch from French Guyana or Baikonur. The benefit of being within the EU and without crossing an ocean has so far not been considered worth the money.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ sending launch vehicles in the direction of Russia has the potential to be misinterpreted. With launches from America there's enough time to recognise they are orbital before a counterstrike $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Jan 18, 2019 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM True, a rogue balloon is bad enough!. Esrange already only launches straight north, there's too much population west (a 17k town 35 km away) or east (some 1500 people at a similar distance). IIRC they can only launch if there's less than 20 people in a 4000 km² zone or so (no launches in any direction during hunting season or certain reindeer seasons), so eastward orbital launches would not be an option anyway. If you have any other concerns I'm sure you can share them in any relevant consultation for Esranges plans :) $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Jan 18, 2019 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ The latitude is an objection: it's a pain to get something into low equatorial orbit from 63º N. The Russians use Plesetsk because they've got a great deal of use for highly-inclined and retrograde orbits. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jan 19, 2019 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark It's certainly an objection for equatorial orbits. It's actually an advantage for retrograde orbits, which includes most Earth observation satellites, because sun-synchronous orbits are retrograde. I've reformulated the sentence on the latitude being an objection or not. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Jan 19, 2019 at 2:19

Aha! But there is at least one spaceport in the European Union.

Namely Guiana Space Centre located in French Guiana – French overseas territory and hence part of the EU.

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    $\begingroup$ this information was already in @Uwe's answer $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Jan 18, 2019 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ I must say I did not meant the outer territories but due to this unprecise formulation this answer is formally correct, heh $\endgroup$
    – J. Doe
    Jan 19, 2019 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ Heh, indeed. I was pretty sure that you didn't mean EU, but rather "Europe west of Russia"(?). However, EU is not synonymous with that Europe, which my answer tries to highlight. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2019 at 8:10

Technically not part of the EU, per se, but part of the EEC, Norway has launched a lot of rockets. Andøya Space Centre (formerly Andøya Rocket Range) has launched 1 200 rockets since 1962.

Mainly sounding rockets (scientific rockets with instruments measuring stuff in sub-orbital flight) have been launched, but on September 27 2018 they launched Europe's first hybrid rocket in more than 50 years to cross the Karman line, the Nammo Nucleus.

  • $\begingroup$ @NathanTuggy True, but as we've both said, it's in the technicalities. They have launched to 107km, they are at least building an orbital delivery system. Planning started in 2013, and the hybrid launch in 2018 is a part of that progress. The Nammo Nucleus is integral to the North Star project. $\endgroup$
    – Canis
    Jan 20, 2019 at 22:50

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