African spaceports cut rocket fuel costs

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Space is big business once again, Mars rovers and putative moon landings aside, there is an enormous need for geostationary satellites. With increasing traffic there is also a need for new sites for spaceports that might offer reduced energy costs and simpler launching of new satellites. Writing in the International Journal of Aerospace System Science and Engineering, a team from the Obasanjo Space Center in Abuja, Nigeria, suggest that African spaceports offer a scientifically and economically viable option.


Rocket propellant is the main constituent of launch weight largely irrespective of payload. Indeed fuel accounts for 90 percent of the launch cost. As such, any measures that might be put in place to reduce fuel requirements can offer substantial savings. A launch site close to The Equator would offer several benefits in terms of reducing fuel costs. Obviously, a stationary object on the equator is moving at almost 1700 kilometers per hour relative to a “fixed” reference in space because of the rotation of the earth. If you launch from north or south of the equator, this boost is lower. Halfway to the pole and the speed boost is only 1200 km/h. Launch from the poles and the boost is negligible, it’s also very cold, which is problematic for many other reasons.

Sesugh Nongo, Ngunan Ikpaya, and Ikpaya Ikpaya of the National Space Research and Development Agency explain that the global space launch services market is projected to reach more than 30 billion dollars by 2025 with a 15% compounding annual growth rate. The demand comes from governments, scientists, as well as commercial concerns looking to launch small satellites and “constellations.” Africa has several spaceports that could be revived to meet this growing launch demand.

The team points out how spaceports, specialized ground-based facilities built to launch and receive launch vehicles, were largely the preserve of the major industrialized nations until the early 2000s . At that time many developing nations such as Nigeria, India, and South Africa saw the cosmic potential of launching satellites for security and economic development. With the advent of miniaturization in electronics and engineering, the cost of building the devices to be launched fell considerably, there does, however, remain a need to reduce launch costs. An equatorial spaceport could be part of the solution.


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More information:
Sesugh Nongo et al. Prospects of siting a spaceport in Africa, International Journal of Aerospace System Science and Engineering (2021). DOI: 10.1504/IJASSE.2021.114151

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African spaceports cut rocket fuel costs (2021, April 27)
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