Similar to an airport for aircraft, spaceports launch, and for horizontal spaceports, receive spacecraft. With an increasing demand for low-cost access to space, and with governments and companies across the globe becoming increasingly reliant on small satellites, new and proposed spaceports are being developed around the globe.
Most of the early spaceports came from the desire to test rockets for military and scientific reasons. The world’s first spaceport is the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Built in Kazakhstan, it was from here that Sputnik 1 was launched into orbit in 1957 and Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961. Tim Peake was also launched into space from Baikonur in December 2015.
Modern spaceports now take a variety of roles due to increasing diversity in the missions that national and commercial space organisations want to fly. Spaceports may be designed for horizontal or vertical launch, for human or uncrewed missions, with the requirements of the launch vehicles varying with the size of the payloads. Rapid advances in consumer electronics have transformed satellite technology, driving down the costs of the payload with the ever-decreasing size of satellites that can now be built. Space tourism is also now becoming a realistic, commercial enterprise. These drivers are attracting public and (increasingly) private companies who are keen to capitalise on space-based opportunities. In the UK, we are hoping to build several spaceports that will eventually fulfil this role of orbital launch and provide opportunities for space tourism. As experts predict a future of increased activity and profitability in the commercial space launch sector, the UK will be able to capture a large share of this global market.