An orbital launch vehicle is a multi-stage rocket that is used to transport people or payloads into earth orbit or an escape path and is thus a system for operating space travel . The payload is almost always located under a payload fairing that protects it from external influences before and during take- off.
Using launch vehicles such as the American Atlas , Titan , Saturn , Falcon , as well as the Soviet Vostok , Voschod , Soyuz and the Chinese Long March 2E , people were and are being transported into space . The American space transportation system , consisting of a space shuttle , tank and boosters , was also a launch vehicle.
The most famous European launcher is the Ariane in the current Ariane 5 ECA . It is one of the few missile types that have a double launch device and are designed for the launch of two large payloads.
The most powerful launch vehicles ever built were the American Saturn V and the Soviet Energija . The most powerful launch vehicle currently in use is the Falcon Heavy , developed and built by SpaceX , which made its maiden flight from Kennedy Space Center on February 6, 2018 . The most powerful Russian launch vehicle in use is the Proton-M . The most powerful European launcher is the Ariane 5 ECA , and the most powerful Chinese launcher is the Langer Marsch 5 .
Overview of today's launch vehicles
This table contains all currently available orbital launch vehicles as well as rockets that will with sufficient certainty complete their first flights in the near future or for which launches have already been booked.
Status: January 2021
- Rocket not yet flown with booked payloads
- So far only false starts
- So far only suborbital test flights; Payloads have already been booked.
- Not yet flown rocket with no published payloads
- With the additional level " interplanetary photon " currently being developed, GTO or GEO missions are just as possible as interplanetary flights; a first start is planned for mid-2021 with the lunar orbiter Capstone .
- Rocket not yet flown, payloads so far only booked for LEO flights, also takes part in tenders for GTO missions.
Launch vehicle providers
- Antrix, marketer of the Indian launch vehicles PSLV , GSLV and SSLV
- Arianespace , marketer of the Ariane 5 launcher , the Soyuz at Kourou and Vega launches
- Boeing Launch Services , marketer of Delta IV to commercial customers
- China Great Wall Industry Corporation , marketer for Chinese carriers
- Eurockot (participation by Germany and Russia ), marketer of the Rockot launcher
- International Launch Services , marketer of the Proton launcher and in the future also Angara
- ISC Kosmotras , marketer of the Dnepr launcher
- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries , marketer of the H-2A and -B launch vehicles
- Northrop Grumman Space Systems , marketer of the Minotaur launch vehicles (not available for commercial launches), Pegasus , Minotaur-C and Antares
- Rocket Lab , developing, operating and marketing the Electron launcher
- Sea Launch , marketer of the Zenit launcher
- SpaceX , development, operation and marketing of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy
- Starsem (participation of France and Russia ), marketer of the Soyuz launcher for launches from Baikonur and Plesetsk
- United Launch Alliance , marketing and launch of the Atlas V , Delta IV and in the future also Vulcan
- Virgin Galactic , development, operation and marketing of the LauncherOne
Most launch vehicles built today can only be launched once. Therefore, they are referred to as disposable rocket or disposable rocket . The rocket stages are detached after burnout, fall back to Earth, and are destroyed when re-entering the atmosphere. Upper grades often remain in orbit as space debris for long periods of time .
An exception was the space shuttle , where the solid fuel boosters and of course the orbiter were used several times. Only the external tank was lost. The boosters of the Soviet Energija rocket were also designed to land on parachutes, but the program was discontinued before this could be tested.
SpaceX is pursuing a different approach with the launchers Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy . Here the stage separation takes place before the first stage is burned out. It then lands, controlled by grid fins , on a floating platform in the ocean ( autonomous spaceport drone ship ) or flies under its own power to the landing zone and lands softly there . This was achieved for the first time on Falcon 9 Flight 20 in December 2015. Reusability was demonstrated in March 2017 when a first stage that had already been flown was used for the first time.
Various manufacturers are now developing systems similar to SpaceX. The New Glenn and the Chinese Langer Marsch 8R and Hyperbola-2 rockets are said to have a reusable, vertically landing first stage. The ArianeGroup is also working on such a project under the name Themis . In the case of the Vulcan and Prime , however, only the engine unit of the first stage should be dropped and used again.
With the new two-stage large rocket Starship and Super Heavy , SpaceX is aiming for complete reusability for the first time.
Starts by year
As of January 4, 2021
The relatively low success rate in 2020 can be explained by the relatively high number of first flights of new rocket models. The frequency of failures is many times greater than with tried-and-tested rocket types.
The launches were distributed among countries, launch vehicles and launch sites as follows:
Starts by country
As of January 2, 2020
|Russia and Ukraine , including Soyuz starts from the CSG and Zenit starts||26th||26th||30th||31||33||26th||33||36||29||19th||21st||20th||25th|
|Europe ( ESA )||6th||6th||7th||6th||5||8th||5||7th||9||9||9||8th||6th|
|International ( Sea Launch )||1||6th||3||0||2||3||2||1||0||0||0||0||0|
Rocket model launches
As of January 2, 2020
Starts by starting place
As of January 2, 2020
|Baikonur , Kazakhstan||20th||19th||24||24||24||21st||23||21st||18th||11||13th||9||13th|
|Cape Canaveral , USA||13th||7th||16||11||10||10||10||16||17th||18th||19th||20th||16|
|Center Spatial Guyanais , French Guiana||6th||6th||7th||6th||7th||10||7th||11||12th||11||11||11||9|
|Xichang , China||6th||4th||2||8th||9||9||3||2||9||7th||8th||17th||13th|
|Jiuquan , China||1||3||2||4th||6th||5||7th||8th||5||9||6th||16||9|
|Vandenberg Air Force Base , USA||4th||4th||6th||3||6th||2||5||4th||2||3||9||9||3|
|Taiyuan , China||3||4th||2||3||4th||5||6th||6th||5||4th||2||6th||10|
|Satish Dhawan Space Center , India||3||3||2||3||3||2||3||4th||5||7th||5||7th||6th|
|Tanegashima , Japan||2||1||3||2||3||2||2||4th||4th||3||6th||4th||1|
|Kagoshima , Japan||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||1||2||1|
|Jasny Cosmodrome , Russia||1||1||0||1||1||0||2||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Plesetsk , Russia||5||6th||8th||6th||7th||3||7th||9||7th||5||5||6th||8th|
|Palmachim , Israel||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||0|
|Naro Space Center , South Korea||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|MARS , USA||1||0||1||0||1||0||4th||3||0||1||1||2||2|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska (until 2015: Kodiak Launch Complex), USA||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Platform Odyssey, International Waters ( Sea Launch )||1||5||1||0||1||3||1||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Yellow Sea Platform ( Long March 11 )||1|
|Omelek , Marshall Islands||1||4th||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kapustin Jar , Russia||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Semnan , Iran||0||1||1||0||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||2|
|Sohae , North Korea||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Musudan-ri , North Korea||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Barking Sands , USA||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Vostochny Cosmodrome , Russia||1||1||2||1|
|Wenchang Cosmodrome , China||0||0||2||2||0||1|
|Mahia , New Zealand||1||3||6th|
All-time statistics according to the rocket model
- Ariane 4
- Ariane 5
- Atlas V
- Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy
- Long March 2
- Long March 3
- Long March 4
- Soyuz and other R-7 derivatives (Molnija, Woschod, Wostok)
The following orbital launch vehicles have been in active development for several years, and information on the structure and payload capacity as well as planning for the first flight are already available; however, they do not yet meet the criteria for inclusion in the overview of today's launch vehicles .
In addition, there are numerous projects for new launch vehicles that are still at an early stage or no longer show any progress.
Last updated: January 2021
|Max. Payload (t)||First start at the
|Angara A5V||GKNPZ Khrunichev||2-3||4th||37.5||12th||2027|
|Pallas-1 ♲||Galactic Energy||2||-||4.0||-||2022|
|Starship - Super Heavy||SpaceX||2||-||> 100||321||2021|
|Vulcan Centaur Heavy||ULA||2||6th||34.9||16.3||2023|
♲ Rocket with reusable first stage
Most powerful launch vehicles
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- Proof of the keyword disposable rocket in an ESA press release
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- British Launch Company Skyrora Completes Testing On Rocket Upper Stage - And Hopes To Reach Space This Year . Forbes, January 11, 2021.
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