Launch vehicle

Launch vehicle

Overview

In spaceflight
Spaceflight
Spaceflight is the act of travelling into or through outer space. Spaceflight can occur with spacecraft which may, or may not, have humans on board. Examples of human spaceflight include the Russian Soyuz program, the U.S. Space shuttle program, as well as the ongoing International Space Station...

, a launch vehicle or carrier rocket is a rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

 used to carry a payload from the Earth's surface into outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

. A launch system includes the launch vehicle, the launch pad
Launch pad
A launch pad is the area and facilities where rockets or spacecraft lift off. A spaceport can contain one or many launch pads. A typical launch pad consists of the service and umbilical structures. The service structure provides an access platform to inspect the launch vehicle prior to launch....

 and other infrastructure.
Usually the payload is an artificial satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 placed into orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

, but some spaceflights are sub-orbital
Sub-orbital spaceflight
A sub-orbital space flight is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it does not complete one orbital revolution....

 while others enable spacecraft
Spacecraft
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

 to escape
Escape velocity
In physics, escape velocity is the speed at which the kinetic energy plus the gravitational potential energy of an object is zero gravitational potential energy is negative since gravity is an attractive force and the potential is defined to be zero at infinity...

 Earth orbit entirely. A launch vehicle which carries its payload on a suborbital trajectory is often called a sounding rocket
Sounding rocket
A sounding rocket, sometimes called a research rocket, is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The origin of the term comes from nautical vocabulary, where to sound is to throw a weighted line from a ship into...

.

Expendable launch vehicles are designed for one-time use.
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In spaceflight
Spaceflight
Spaceflight is the act of travelling into or through outer space. Spaceflight can occur with spacecraft which may, or may not, have humans on board. Examples of human spaceflight include the Russian Soyuz program, the U.S. Space shuttle program, as well as the ongoing International Space Station...

, a launch vehicle or carrier rocket is a rocket
Rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

 used to carry a payload from the Earth's surface into outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

. A launch system includes the launch vehicle, the launch pad
Launch pad
A launch pad is the area and facilities where rockets or spacecraft lift off. A spaceport can contain one or many launch pads. A typical launch pad consists of the service and umbilical structures. The service structure provides an access platform to inspect the launch vehicle prior to launch....

 and other infrastructure.
Usually the payload is an artificial satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 placed into orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

, but some spaceflights are sub-orbital
Sub-orbital spaceflight
A sub-orbital space flight is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it does not complete one orbital revolution....

 while others enable spacecraft
Spacecraft
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

 to escape
Escape velocity
In physics, escape velocity is the speed at which the kinetic energy plus the gravitational potential energy of an object is zero gravitational potential energy is negative since gravity is an attractive force and the potential is defined to be zero at infinity...

 Earth orbit entirely. A launch vehicle which carries its payload on a suborbital trajectory is often called a sounding rocket
Sounding rocket
A sounding rocket, sometimes called a research rocket, is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The origin of the term comes from nautical vocabulary, where to sound is to throw a weighted line from a ship into...

.

Types of launch vehicles


Expendable launch vehicles are designed for one-time use. They usually separate from their payload, and may break up during atmospheric reentry
Atmospheric reentry
Atmospheric entry is the movement of human-made or natural objects as they enter the atmosphere of a celestial body from outer space—in the case of Earth from an altitude above the Kármán Line,...

. Reusable launch vehicles, on the other hand, are designed to be recovered intact and used again for subsequent launches. For orbital spaceflight
Orbital spaceflight
An orbital spaceflight is a spaceflight in which a spacecraft is placed on a trajectory where it could remain in space for at least one orbit. To do this around the Earth, it must be on a free trajectory which has an altitude at perigee above...

s, the Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons...

 was the only launch vehicle with components which have been used for multiple flights. Non-rocket spacelaunch
Non-rocket spacelaunch
Non-rocket space launch is a launch into space where some or all needed speed and altitude is provided by non-rocket means, rather than simply using conventional chemical rockets from the ground. A number of alternatives to rockets have been proposed...

 alternatives are at the planning stage.

Launch vehicles are often characterized by the amount of mass they can lift into orbit. For example, a Proton rocket
Proton rocket
Proton is an expendable launch system used for both commercial and Russian government space launches. The first Proton rocket was launched in 1965 and the launch system is still in use as of 2011, which makes it one of the most successful heavy boosters in the history of spaceflight...

 has a launch capacity of 22000 kilograms (48,501.7 lb) into low Earth orbit
Low Earth orbit
A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

 (LEO). Launch vehicles are also characterized by the number of stages
Multistage rocket
A multistage rocket is a rocket that usestwo or more stages, each of which contains its own engines and propellant. A tandem or serial stage is mounted on top of another stage; a parallel stage is attached alongside another stage. The result is effectively two or more rockets stacked on top of or...

 they employ. Rockets with as many as five stages have been successfully launched, and there have been designs for several single-stage-to-orbit
Single-stage-to-orbit
A single-stage-to-orbit vehicle reaches orbit from the surface of a body without jettisoning hardware, expending only propellants and fluids. The term usually, but not exclusively, refers to reusable vehicles....

 vehicles. Additionally, launch vehicles are very often supplied with boosters, which supply high thrust early on in the flight, and normally in parallel with other engines on the vehicle. Boosters allow the remaining engines to be smaller, which reduces the burnout mass of later stages, and thus allows for larger payloads.

Other frequently-reported characteristics of launch vehicles are the nation or space agency responsible for the launch, and the company or consortium that manufactures and launches the vehicle. For example, the European Space Agency
European Space Agency
The European Space Agency , established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 18 member states...

 is responsible for the Ariane V, and the United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA was formed in December 2006 by combining the teams at these companies which provide spacecraft launch services to the government of the United States. U.S...

 manufactures and launches the Delta IV
Delta IV rocket
Delta IV is an active expendable launch system in the Delta rocket family. Delta IV uses rockets designed by Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems division and built in the United Launch Alliance facility in Decatur, Alabama. Final assembly is completed at the launch site by ULA...

. Many launch vehicles are considered part of an historical line of vehicles which share the same or similar names such as the Atlas V
Atlas V
Atlas V is an active expendable launch system in the Atlas rocket family. Atlas V was formerly operated by Lockheed Martin, and is now operated by the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance...

 being the latest member of the Atlas
Atlas (rocket family)
Atlas is a family of U.S. space launch vehicles. The original Atlas missile was designed in the late 1950s and produced by the Convair Division of General Dynamics, to be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile...

 rocket family.

By launch platform

  • Land: Spaceport
    Spaceport
    A spaceport or cosmodrome is a site for launching spacecraft, by analogy with seaport for ships or airport for aircraft. The word spaceport, and even more so cosmodrome, has traditionally been used for sites capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around Earth or on interplanetary trajectories...

     and fixed missile silo
    Launch facility (ICBM)
    A launch facility , also known as a missile silo, is an underground vertical cylindrical container for the storage and launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles . They typically have the missile some distance under the surface, protected by a large "blast door" on top...

     (Strela) for converted ICBM
    Intercontinental ballistic missile
    An intercontinental ballistic missile is a ballistic missile with a long range typically designed for nuclear weapons delivery...

    s
  • Sea: fixed platform (San Marco
    San Marco platform
    The Luigi Broglio Space Centre is an Italian-owned spaceport near Malindi, Kenya, named after its founder and Italian space pioneer Luigi Broglio. Developed in the 1960s through a partnership between the University of Rome La Sapienza's Aerospace Research Centre and NASA, the BSC served as a...

    ), mobile platform (Sea Launch
    Sea Launch
    Sea Launch is a spacecraft launch service that uses a mobile sea platform for equatorial launches of commercial payloads on specialized Zenit 3SL rockets...

    ), submarine
    Submarine-based launch vehicles
    List of submarine-based launch vehicles. These are developed from Submarine-launched ballistic missiles.*Volna *Shtil' -See also:*Launch vehicle types by launch platform*Comparison of small lift launch systems*Air launch to orbit...

     (Shtil'
    Shtil'
    Space launch vehicle Shtil Space launch vehicle Shtil Space launch vehicle Shtil (Russian: (Штиль - calm (weather)), is a converted SLBM used for launching artificial satellites into orbit. It is based on the R-29RM designed by State Rocket Center Makeyev and related to the Volna Launch Vehicle....

    , Volna
    Volna
    Space launch vehicle Volna , is a converted SLBM used for launching artificial satellites into orbit. It is based on the R-29R designed by State Rocket Center Makayev and related to the Shtil' Launch Vehicle . The Volna is a 3 stage launch vehicle that uses liquid propellant...

    ) for converted SLBM
    Submarine-launched ballistic missile
    A submarine-launched ballistic missile is a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead that can be launched from submarines. Modern variants usually deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles each of which carries a warhead and allows a single launched missile to...

    s
  • Air
    Air launch to orbit
    Air launch to orbit is the method of launching rocket launch vehicles at altitude from a horizontal-takeoff turbojet aircraft, either subsonic or supersonic...

    : aircraft (Pegasus, AirLaunch LLC
    AirLaunch LLC
    AirLaunch LLC was an aerospace design and development company headquartered in Kirkland, Washington. They hope to provide launch services for launching payloads into orbits around the Earth. This is to be realized through a method called air launch where a rocket is carried within an aircraft and...

    ), balloon (ARCASPACE
    ARCASPACE
    Asociația Română pentru Cosmonautică și Aeronautică or Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association is a non-governmental organization that promotes aerospace projects as well as other space-related activities...

    ), proposal for permanent Buoyant space port

By size

  • A Sounding rocket
    Sounding rocket
    A sounding rocket, sometimes called a research rocket, is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The origin of the term comes from nautical vocabulary, where to sound is to throw a weighted line from a ship into...

     cannot reach orbit and is only capable of sub-orbital spaceflight
    Sub-orbital spaceflight
    A sub-orbital space flight is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it does not complete one orbital revolution....

  • A Small lift launch vehicle is capable of lofting up to 2,000kg (4,400lbs) of payload into low earth orbit
    Low Earth orbit
    A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

     (LEO)
  • A Medium lift launch vehicle is capable of lofting between 2,000 to 20,000kg (4,400 to 22,000lbs) of payload into LEO
  • A Heavy lift launch vehicle
    Comparison of heavy lift launch systems
    This page exposes the full list of orbital launch systems. For the short simple list of launchers families, see Comparison of orbital launchers families....

     is capable of lofting between 20,000 to 50,000kg (44,000 to 110,200lbs) of payload into LEO
  • A Super-heavy lift vehicle is capable of lofting more than 50,000kg (110,200lbs+) of payload into LEO

Vehicle assembly


Various methods are used to move an assembled launch vehicle onto its launch pad, each method with its own specialized equipment. These assembly activities take place as part of the overall launch campaign
Launch campaign
In the context of spaceflight, a launch campaign is the set of activities which prepare a launch vehicle for lift-off.Activities during the launch campaign include launch vehicle assembly, integration of the payload, fueling of the vehicle, and preparing the launch pad, the launch range and...

 for the vehicle. In some launch systems, like the Delta II
Delta II
Delta II was an American space launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas. Delta II is part of the Delta rocket family and was in service from 1989 until November 1, 2011...

, the vehicle is assembled vertically on the pad, using a crane to hoist each stage into place. The Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons...

 orbiter, including its external tank, and solid rocket boosters
Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster
The Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters were the pair of large solid rockets used by the United States' NASA Space Shuttle during the first two minutes of powered flight. Together they provided about 83% of liftoff thrust for the Space Shuttle. They were located on either side of the rusty or...

, are assembled vertically in NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

's Vehicle Assembly Building
Vehicle Assembly Building
The Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center was used to assemble and house American manned launch vehicles from 1968-2011. It is the fourth largest building in the world by volume...

, and then a special crawler-transporter
Crawler-Transporter
The crawler-transporters are a pair of tracked vehicles used to transport spacecraft from NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building along the Crawlerway to Launch Complex 39. They were originally used to transport the Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets during the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo–Soyuz programs....

 moves the entire stack to the launch pad while it is in an upright position. In contrast, the Soyuz rocket is assembled horizontally in a processing hangar, transported horizontally, and then brought upright once at the pad.

Derivation and related terms


In the English language, the phrase carrier rocket was used earlier, and still is occasionally, in Britain. A translation of that phrase is used in German, Russian, and Chinese. In the 1950s, the US Air Force disliked the term carrier due to the competitive nature of their relationship with the US Navy and their high profile operation of aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s. As an alternative, Project Vanguard
Project Vanguard
Project Vanguard was a program managed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory , which intended to launch the first artificial satellite into Earth orbit using a Vanguard rocket as the launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida....

 provided a contraction of the phrase "Satellite Launching Vehicle" abbreviated to "SLV". This provided a term in the list of what the rockets were allocated for: flight test, or actually launching a satellite. The contraction would also apply to rockets which send probes to other worlds or the interplanetary medium.

Orbital launch vehicles




Sounding rocket
Sounding rocket
A sounding rocket, sometimes called a research rocket, is an instrument-carrying rocket designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during its sub-orbital flight. The origin of the term comes from nautical vocabulary, where to sound is to throw a weighted line from a ship into...

s are normally used for brief, inexpensive space and microgravity experiments. Current human-rated suborbital launch vehicles include SpaceShipOne and the upcoming SpaceShipTwo, among others (see space tourism
Space tourism
Space Tourism is space travel for recreational, leisure or business purposes. A number of startup companies have sprung up in recent years, hoping to create a space tourism industry...

).
The delta-v
Delta-v
In astrodynamics a Δv or delta-v is a scalar which takes units of speed. It is a measure of the amount of "effort" that is needed to change from one trajectory to another by making an orbital maneuver....

 needed for orbital launch using a rocket vehicle launching from the Earth's surface is at least 9300m/s. This delta-v is determined by a combination of air-drag, which is determined by ballistic coefficient
Ballistic coefficient
In ballistics, the ballistic coefficient of a body is a measure of its ability to overcome air resistance in flight. It is inversely proportional to the negative acceleration—a high number indicates a low negative acceleration. BC is a function of mass, diameter, and drag coefficient...

 as well as gravity losses
Gravity drag
In astrodynamics and rocketry, gravity drag is a measure of the loss in the net performance of a rocket while it is thrusting in a gravitational field...

, altitude gain
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 and the horizontal speed
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

 necessary to give a suitable perigee
Perigee
Perigee is the point at which an object makes its closest approach to the Earth.. Often the term is used in a broader sense to define the point in an orbit where the orbiting body is closest to the body it orbits. The opposite is the apogee, the farthest or highest point.The Greek prefix "peri"...

. The delta-v required for altitude gain varies, but is around 2 km/s for 200 kilometres (124.3 mi) altitude.

Minimising air-drag entails having a reasonably high ballistic coefficient
Ballistic coefficient
In ballistics, the ballistic coefficient of a body is a measure of its ability to overcome air resistance in flight. It is inversely proportional to the negative acceleration—a high number indicates a low negative acceleration. BC is a function of mass, diameter, and drag coefficient...

, which generally means having a launch vehicle that is at least 20 metres (65.6 ft) long, or a ratio of length to diameter greater than ten. Leaving the atmosphere as early on in the flight as possible provides an air drag of around 300 m/s. The horizontal speed necessary to achieve low earth orbit is around 7800 m/s.

The calculation of the total delta-v for launch is complicated, and in nearly all cases numerical integration is used; adding multiple delta-v values provides a pessimistic result, since the rocket can thrust while at an angle in order to reach orbit, thereby saving fuel as it can gain altitude and horizontal speed simultaneously.

Regulation


Under international law, the nationality of the owner of a launch vehicle determines which country is responsible for any damages resulting from that vehicle. Due to this, some countries require that rocket manufacturers and launchers adhere to specific regulations in order to indemnify and protect the safety of people and property that may be affected by a flight.

In the US, any rocket launch that is not classified as amateur
Amateur rocketry
Amateur rocketry, sometimes known as amateur experimental rocketry or experimental rocketry is a hobby in which participants experiment with fuels and make their own rocket motors, launching a wide variety of types and sizes of rockets...

, and also is not "for and by the government," must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Aviation Administration
The Federal Aviation Administration is the national aviation authority of the United States. An agency of the United States Department of Transportation, it has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S...

's Office of Commercial Space Transportation
Office of Commercial Space Transportation
The Office of Commercial Space Transportation is the branch of the United States Federal Aviation Administration that approves any commercial rocket launch operations—that is, any launches that are not classified as model, amateur, or "by and for the government."-Overview:Under...

 (FAA/AST), located in Washington, DC

See also



Specific to launch vehicles
  • List of launch vehicles
  • Comparison of small lift launch systems - capacity less than 2,000 kg to LEO
    Low Earth orbit
    A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

  • Comparison of medium lift launch systems - capacity 2,000 — 10,000 kg to LEO
    Low Earth orbit
    A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

  • Comparison of mid-heavy lift launch systems - capacity 10,000 — 20,000 kg to LEO
    Low Earth orbit
    A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

  • Comparison of heavy lift launch systems
    Comparison of heavy lift launch systems
    This page exposes the full list of orbital launch systems. For the short simple list of launchers families, see Comparison of orbital launchers families....

     - capacity 20,000 — 50,000 kg to LEO
    Low Earth orbit
    A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...

  • Comparison of super heavy lift launch systems - capacity more than 50,000 kg to LEO
    Low Earth orbit
    A low Earth orbit is generally defined as an orbit within the locus extending from the Earth’s surface up to an altitude of 2,000 km...


  • NATO reporting name
    NATO reporting name
    NATO reporting names are classified code names for military equipment of the Eastern Bloc...

    , Sheldon names
    Sheldon names
    Sheldon names were used to identify launch vehicles of the Soviet Union when their Soviet names were unknown. The system was published by Dr. Charles Sheldon of the United States Library of Congress in 1968...



General links

  • Rocket launch
    Rocket launch
    A rocket launch is the takeoff phase of the flight of a rocket. Launches for orbital spaceflights, or launches into interplanetary space, are usually from a fixed location on the ground, but may also be from a floating platform such as the San Marco platform, or the Sea Launch launch...

  • Space logistics
    Space logistics
    According to the AIAA Space Logistics Technical Committee, space logistics isHowever, this definition in its larger sense includes terrestrial logistics in support of space travel, including any additional "design and development, acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance,...

  • Space Exploration
    Space exploration
    Space exploration is the use of space technology to explore outer space. Physical exploration of space is conducted both by human spaceflights and by robotic spacecraft....



External links