The Future Space Ports of Earth

Rockets shooting for the stars

Bobak Ferdowski’s recent quote on wired.co.uk about democratising space presents many interesting questions. In the next 10–15 years we might be faced with the decision of buying a new car or going to space. Realistically it’ll be in the form of a sub-orbital flight but Ferdowski goes on to say he believes is ‘possible nowadays’ to even (potentially) visit a space hotel.

‘Maybe in ten to 15 years, it’s a decision between do I buy a new car, or do I go to space?’ — Bobak Ferdowski, wired.co.uk

Whilst there is clearly a few steps to take before you can book a room at an orbital dwellings on airbnb, this is possibly not that far away. Consider the original turn around time from Kennedy announcing, ‘hey guys, let’s go to the moon’, to landing on the moon 8 years later from next to nothing. Now consider how much private money there is in the worldwide commercial space industry and the speed it can move at in comparison to government projects (outside of the military).

Hotel chains are already looking into this financially exciting future, as mentioned by Seth Shostak in the Are To Space We Return episode of Big Picture Science where they admit the real reason to get behind hotels in space is sex. People will want a romantic get-away to orbit for sex with the ultimate view. Sex sells on Earth and the rules will be no different in space apparently as PornHub's crowdfunded ‘space sex tape’ will attest to. For just $3.4m they hope to create the first weightless sex experience for two out of this world adult actors.

So, we’ve now established the fact that Sunday afternoon space trips are coming soon. But how are you going to get there? A rocket or sub-orbital space plane, sure. But where will you need to travel to to check in to your speedy-boarding in preparation for your explosion-propelled projectile above the exosphere?

Inspired by the imminent shortening of the shortlist of possible UK Spaceports we’ve had a look at mapping as many possible spaceports around the world which current exist in some form (ie. current rocket launch sites), along with a few possible spots mooted to become a space port location of the future.

Earth’s Space Ports.

There we go. Fascinating stuff right?

Well yeah, maps are inherently great. But when you start considering the ‘democratisation of space’ it’s not going to be very diverse (ie. much fun) if only a couple of billion people have a ‘local’ spaceport.

This just shows how few countries currently have launch-ready facilities or will imminently have designated space ports.

And a breakdown of possible ports per country.

Perhaps most interestingly…

Here’s the number of space ports per country broken down by their proportion of world population.

This chart is clearly not accurate considering the realities of how complex the make up of orbiting populations would be but it sure is interesting. This shows us the split of nationalities of future space farers based on the proportion of ports in different world locations. For instance, USA makes up ~37% of the population due to the fact they have ~37% of the world’s current space ports. The huge number of variables include the fact that not everyone who lives in a country is necessarily legally considered a citizen, people can obviously travel internationally and that over time ports will be built in different locations. I told you it wasn’t accurate didn’t I?!

Of course this is far from the most scientific report on analysing the world’s space ports, but it’s an interesting glance at the state of current infrastructure. This is important when you consider how small a percentage of the world’s population would be within a realistic journey to their nearest space port. The current space ‘powers’, USA, China, India, Japan and Europe, may feature very heavily on the map now as a result of the last few decades of progress but as technology becomes cheaper and more reliable, private enterprise in new countries will help new transport hubs emerge.

Sure, it is likely that commercial space flight will be in a similar state to that of commercial flight where, for the first few decades, it will be prohibitively expensive for ‘normal’ people to fly and a whole generation may possibly be priced out of the experience but the fact it is happening around them will be exciting and more importantly inspiring for a new generation of space entrepreneurs and engineers. Looking at where the gaps are in current infrastructure suggests where the innovation in commercial spaceflight may come about as a result of the frustration of being priced out of the old guard’s grip. This will allow new populations to boldly go where few have gone before in their own little pocket rockets, even if it is just for a romantic night away.

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