By Chris Hwang
Since the launch of the Bumper V-2 on July 24th, 1950, the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida has been the launch site for NASA‘s cardinal missions including Project Mercury, the Apollo missions, and the Space Shuttle program. But why there?
The International Space Station (ISS), orbits around the Earth at an altitude of 400km, and at a speed of 28,000km/h. This means that in order to reach the Earth’s orbit and the ISS, not only does a rocket have to match its altitude, but also its orbital speed. By launching a rocket from a location close to the equator, such as Cape Canaveral, Florida, a rocket is able to gain an extra boost of speed. How? Well, an object at the equator moves faster than anywhere else on the Earth.
Faster at the Equator
To understand why, imagine two runners on a circular track. If both runners were to finish a lap in 60 seconds, given that one runner is on the inside lane and the other on the outside, the runner on the outside lane must run much faster in order to finish at the same time. This is no different for a sphere. You see, the angular speed of the Earth stays constant anywhere on the planet, rotating 360 degrees in 24 hours. However, what doesn’t stay constant is the circumference of the Earth; it is largest at the equator and smallest at the poles. Therefore, the speed at which the Earth rotates gets faster as you move closer to the equator.
An object on the equator of the Earth moves at around 1,670km/h. When a rocket is launched from Florida, the rocket is already moving at 1,470km/h. To take advantage of this however, a rocket must launch to the East, the same way our planet rotates. And to the East of Cape Canaveral is the Atlantic Ocean, which is another advantage of the launch site. If something were to go wrong, the debris would splash down into the ocean keeping humans and ground structures out of harms way. As a result, a rocket can burn less fuel, increasing efficiency, while reducing the risks of a launch.
With NASA’s Artemis program set to take off to the Moon in 2024 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, it is most certainly a very exciting time for space exploration.