3-2-1… How and where to see a rocket take-off.

InSight Mission take-off

Credit: NASA/ Ben Smegelsky

3-2-1 BLAST OFF!!!

Thanks to the modern technology, we can watch most of the rocket launches on our computers in real time. At our space dome we have a number of video clips featuring the rocket take-off. But it is not the real thing, is it? So.. where can we see a real rocket launch?

Let’s look at the world’s busiest spaceports!



Baikonur cosmodrome is the main Russian spaceport that oversees all the crewed launches to the International Space Station. Originally a Soviet Union rocket launch site, Baikonur is now a territory of Kazakhstan. It is on lease to Russia until 2050.

In order to move the launch site to their own land, Russia has began a construction of a new spaceport, Vostochny cosmodrome, that should be finished by the end of 2018.

How to visit Baikonur?

Watching Soyuz crewed launch or ISS resupply mission launch is a lengthy and costly experience. Baikonur organizes 5 days/ 4 nights tours at a whooping cost of 3950 Euro (2700 Euro for budget accommodation) for the manned take-off experience and 3650 Euro (2450 Euro for budget accommodation) for the unmanned launches.

The experience includes museums visits, spaceport tour, watching all the launch preparations and, of course, take-off!

The next launch of the supply mission Progress MS-10 will be on October 31 (that’s the Halloween to remember!)

The next launch of crewed mission Soyuz MS-11 is scheduled for December 20th. Though given the failed launch of the Crew 57 on October 11th, we might expect some changes.


Kennedy Space Center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Base (Florida)

State of Florida’s North Atlantic coast is sometimes called “Florida Space Coast” thanks to two US major launch facilities situated side by side, Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Cape Canaveral.

Both launch sites have seen the take-offs of many historic manned and robotic space missions, including Alan Shepard’s first spaceflight in 1961 from Cape Canaveral and Apollo 11 take-off in 1969 from Kennedy Space Center.

How to visit Kennedy SC and Cape Canaveral AFB?

You can watch the launches from both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral from Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex. Take-offs from both facilities can be seen from the main visitors complex (you will need a daily admission ticket to visit). Additionally, the complex has several viewing areas you can buy tickets for. 

The upcoming launch from KSC is scheduled for Oct 17 just after midnight, therefore no public viewing will be available.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket will take-off from Kennedy Space Center some time this October. But the exact date is yet to be confirmed.


Vandenberg Air Force Base (California)

Vandenberg Air Force Base is a military base that oversees satellite launches. Additionally, SpaceX leases the Space Launch Complex 4 for Falcon 9 take-offs.The famous InSight mission to Mars was launched from Vandenberg Base this Spring too!

How to visit Vandenberg AFB?

The “The Space and Missile Heritage Center” at Vandenberg has regular public tours for those interested in rocket engines and launch complexes. Vandenberg is a military station therefore there are no public launch viewings. Luckily, you can safely (and free of charge) observe most of the launches from the nearby beaches!

When planning a viewing, don’t forget to check which launch pad is going to be used (as the pads are spread out quite a bit) and what beaches are going to be open (the Base can evacuate the adjacent beaches for safety reasons).

You will find the list of upcoming Vandenberg Air Force Base launches here.


NASA Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia)

Wallops Flight Facility, founded in 1945, is a NASA launch site that oversees launches of smaller science rockets and high-altitude balloons. Part of the WFF is occupied by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the two-pad commercial facility owned by Virginia Space.

How to see rocket take-off at Wallops?

You can see the Wallops launches from the Visitors center situated 4 miles away from the launch pad.

Coming up next is the launch of Antares rocket from MARS. The rocket will carry Cygnus NG-10 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station on November 15, 2018.


The Guiana Space Centre (Kourou, French Guiana)

Guiana Space Centre is known as “Europe’s spaceport”. Originally built in 1964 for the needs of French Space Program, it became a joint project with ESA after the European Space Agency was established in 1975.   

How to visit Guiana Space Cenre?

Free tours to the spaceport run twice a day on weekdays. Spaces are limited so don’t forget to  book the visit in advance!

If you wish to watch the rocket launch (Ariane, Vega or Soyuz), contact the public relations department directly. Please note that children under the age of 8 cannot visit the spaceport.

Less than a week from now, on October 20,  BepiColombo mission to planet Mercury is scheduled to launch from Kourou. We cannot wait!