NASA's iconic launch platforms

NASA has a long and storied history of orbiting and beyond spacecraft. From the early days of the Mercury program to the present Artemis program aimed at returning humans to the Moon by 2024, the agency has created a diverse range of launch platforms and vehicles to support its numerous missions.

The Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) in Florida is one of NASA's most recognisable launch sites. Since the early 1960s, the KSC on the east coast of the United States has been NASA's primary launch location for human spaceflight missions. There are several launch pads and facilities within the center, including the historic Launch Complex 39A, which was utilized for Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.

The KSC also houses NASA's Commercial Crew Programme, which aims to create a new generation of spacecraft capable of transporting people to and from the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft was successfully launched as part of the program, and NASA is now planning to launch Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft from the KSC later this year.

In addition to the KSC, NASA operates launch facilities around the United States. The Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is one of these locations, and it is utilised for smaller unmanned missions such as scientific research and technology development. Wallops has several launch pads and facilities, notably the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), which is run in collaboration with the state of Virginia.

The Vandenberg Space Force Base in California is another key launch point for NASA. Vandenberg Air Force Base, located on the west coast of the United States, is largely utilized for the launch of polar-orbiting satellites, which are critical for Earth observation and environmental monitoring. The station is also used for top-secret military missions that necessitate specialized launch capability.

NASA has also begun to investigate novel launch platforms and vehicles in recent years, including the utilization of commercial space businesses like as SpaceX and Blue Origin. These businesses are building new rockets and spacecraft capable of transporting both crew and cargo to the International Space Station and beyond. NASA is also building on the Space Launch System (SLS), a new heavy-lift rocket that will be utilized for deep-space exploration missions such as Artemis.

The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of transporting humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars. The rocket is now being constructed and prepared for its maiden test flight, known as Artemis I, at NASA's Stennis Space Centre in Mississippi. This mission, projected for 2021, will be an uncrewed flight test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft.

NASA is also working on the Lunar Gateway, a tiny space station that will circle the Moon and serve as a launch pad for human expeditions to the lunar surface. The Lunar Gateway will be built with SLS modules and serviced by a new generation of spacecraft created by NASA and its commercial partners.

Finally, NASA runs a diverse set of launch platforms and vehicles across the United States, each with its own set of capabilities and applications. NASA's launch infrastructure, from the historic Kennedy Space Centre to the cutting-edge Space Launch System, is a key component of the agency's continued endeavours to explore the cosmos and push the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. With new technologies and partnerships on the horizon, the future of space exploration appears brighter than ever, and NASA will continue to play a leading role in this exciting and rapidly expanding industry.