Super heavy-lift launch vehicle
- Saturn V, with an Apollo program payload of a command module, service module, and Lunar Module. The three had a total mass of 45 t (99,000 lb). When the third stage and Earth-orbit departure fuel was included, Saturn V actually placed 140 t (310,000 lb) into low Earth orbit. The final launch of Saturn V placed Skylab, a 77,111 kg (170,001 lb) payload, into LEO.
- The Space Shuttle orbited a combined 122,534 kg (270,142 lb) when launching the Chandra X-ray Observatory on STS-93. Chandra and its two-stage Inertial Upper Stage booster rocket weighed 22,753 kg (50,162 lb).
- The Energia system was designed to launch up to 105 t (231,000 lb) to low Earth orbit. Energia launched twice before the program was cancelled, but only one flight reached orbit. On the first flight, launching the Polyus weapons platform (approximately 80 t (180,000 lb)), the vehicle failed to enter orbit due to a software error on the kick-stage. The second flight successfully launched the Buran orbiter.
The Space Shuttle and Buran differed from traditional rockets in that both launched what was essentially a reusable stage that carried cargo internally.
Operational, but unproven as super heavy-lift
- Falcon Heavy is rated to launch 63.8 t (141,000 lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO) in a fully expendable configuration and an estimated 57 t (126,000 lb) in a partially reusable configuration, in which only two of its three boosters are recovered. Neither of these super-heavy lift configurations have been flown or are being planned to fly as of June 2019[update]. The first test flight occurred on 6 February 2018, in a configuration in which recovery of all three boosters was attempted, with a small payload of 1,250 kg (2,760 lb) sent to an orbit beyond Mars. Since the vehicle is operational but has not yet been demonstrated to launch payloads over 50 tonnes (110,000 lb) to orbit, it is as yet unproven as a super heavy-lift capable launch vehicle.
|Rocket||Configuration||Organization||Nationality||LEO payload||Maiden flight||First >50t payload||Operational||Reusable|
|Saturn V||Apollo||NASA||140 t (310,000 lb)A||1967||1967||Retired||No|
|N1||L3||Energia||95 t (209,000 lb)||1969 (failed)||N/A||Cancelled||No|
|Space Shuttle||NASA||122.5 t (270,142 lb)B||1981||1981||Retired||Partially|
|Energia||Buran||Energia||100 t (220,000 lb)C||1987||1987||Retired||Partially|
|Falcon Heavy||ExpendedD||SpaceX||63.8 t (141,000 lb)||Not YetD||Not Yet||UnprovenD||No|
|Recoverable side boostersE||57 t (126,000 lb)||Not YetD||Not Yet||UnprovenD||PartiallyE|
|SLS||Block 1||NASA||95 t (209,000 lb)||2021 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|Block 1B||105 t (231,000 lb)||2024 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|Block 2||130 t (290,000 lb)||TBA||N/A||Development||No|
|Starship||SpaceX||150 t (330,000 lb)F||2020 (planned)||N/A||Development||Fully|
|Long March 9||China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology||140 t (310,000 lb)||2028 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|Yenisei||Yenisei||JSC SRC Progress||103 t (227,000 lb)||2028 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|Don||130 t (290,000 lb)||2030 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|New Armstrong||Blue Origin||TBA||TBA||N/A||Proposed||Partially or Fully|
^A Includes mass of Apollo command and service modules, Apollo Lunar Module, Spacecraft/LM Adapter, Saturn V Instrument Unit, S-IVB stage, and propellant for translunar injection; payload mass to LEO is about 122.4 t (270,000 lb)
^B Includes mass of orbiter and payload during STS-93; deployable payload is 27.5 t (61,000 lb)
^C Required upper stage or payload to perform final orbital insertion
^D Falcon Heavy has not yet flown in a configuration that would allow lifting 50 tonnes to LEO; to date it has only flown in the configuration that permits the possibility of recovery of the centre core (actually doing so is irrelevant) which is a configuration capable of lifting a maximum of 45 tonnes to LEO
^E Side booster cores recoverable and centre core intentionally expended. First re-use of the side boosters was demonstrated in 2019 when the ones used on the Arabsat-6A launch were reused on the STP-2 launch.
^F Does not include dry mass of spaceship
The Space Launch System (SLS) is a US super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which is under development as of August 2019. It is the primary launch vehicle of NASA's deep space exploration plans, including the planned crewed lunar flights of the Artemis program and a possible follow-on human mission to Mars.
The SpaceX Starship is a fully reusable second stage and space vehicle being privately developed by SpaceX. It is being designed to be a long-duration cargo- and passenger-carrying spacecraft. While it is being used today as an independent rocket for testing, it will be used on orbital launches with an additional booster stage, the Super Heavy, where Starship would serve as the second stage on a two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle. The combination of spacecraft and booster is called Starship as well. Beginning in mid-2019, prototype versions are being flown with Starship as an independent rocket in its own right—without any launch vehicle booster stage at all—as part of an extensive suborbital flight testing program to get launch and landing working and iterate on a variety of design details, particularly with respect to atmospheric reentry of the vehicle.
Yenisei, a super heavy-lift launch vehicle using existing components instead of pushing the less-powerful Angara A5V project, has been proposed by Russia's RSC Energia in August 2016. This would allow Russia to launch missions towards establishing a permanent Moon base with simpler logistics, launching just one or two 80-to-160-tonne super-heavy rockets instead of four 40-tonne Angara A5Vs implying quick-sequence launches and multiple in-orbit rendezvous. In February 2018, the КРК СТК (space rocket complex of the super-heavy class) design was updated to lift at least 90 tonnes to LEO and 20 tonnes to lunar polar orbit, and to be launched from Vostochny Cosmodrome. The first flight is scheduled for 2028, with Moon landings starting in 2030.
ISRO is conducting preliminary research for the development of a super heavy-lift launch vehicle which is planned to have a lifting capacity of over 50-60 tonnes (presumably into LEO).
Numerous super-heavy lift vehicles have been proposed and received various levels of development prior to their cancellation.
As part of the Soviet Lunar Project four N1 rockets with a payload capacity of 95 t (209,000 lb), were launched but all failed shortly after lift-off (1969-1972). The program was suspended in May 1974 and formally cancelled in March 1976.
During project Aelita (1969-1972) the Soviets were developing a way to beat the Americans to Mars. They designed the UR-700m, a nuclear powered variant of the UR-700, to assemble the 1400 t (3,000,000 lb) MK-700 spacecraft in earth orbit in 2 launches. The rocket would have a payload capacity of 750 t (1,650,000 lb) and is the most capable rocket ever designed. It is often overlooked due too little information being know about the design. The only Universal Rocket to make it passed the design phase was the UR-500 while the N1 was selected to be the Soviets HLV for lunar and mars missions.
The U.S. Ares V for the Constellation program was intended to reuse many elements of the Space Shuttle program, both on the ground and flight hardware, to save costs. The Ares V was designed to carry 188 t (414,000 lb) and was cancelled in 2010, though much of the work has been carried forward into the Artemis program.
A 1962 design proposal, Sea Dragon, called for an enormous 150 m (490 ft) tall, sea-launched rocket capable of lifting 550 t (1,210,000 lb) to low Earth orbit. Although preliminary engineering of the design was done by TRW, the project never moved forward due to the closing of NASA's Future Projects Branch.
SpaceX's first publicly released design of its Mars transportation infrastructure was the ITS launch vehicle unveiled in 2016. The payload capability was to be 550 t (1,210,000 lb) in an expendable configuration or 300 t (660,000 lb) in a reusable configuration. In 2017, it was succeeded by Starship.
- Comparison of orbital launch systems
- Sounding rocket, suborbital launch vehicle
- Small-lift launch vehicle, capable of lifting up to 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) to low Earth orbit
- Medium-lift launch vehicle, capable of lifting 2,000 to 20,000 kg (4,400 to 44,000 lb) of payload into low Earth orbit
- Heavy-lift launch vehicle, capable of lifting 20,000 to 50,000 kg (44,000 to 110,000 lb) of payload into low Earth orbit
- The Space Shuttle orbiter is part of a stage of the launch vehicle (together with the Space Shuttle external tank), but is also itself a spacecraft capable of operating for extended periods with a crew in low Earth orbit. Whether the orbiter mass should be accounted as "payload", or the payload should be accounted as only the cargo and crew carried in the orbiter, may depend on the operational definition used, and hence is debatable. The validity of its inclusion on this page depends on this definition.
- A configuration in which all three cores are intended to be recoverable is classified as a heavy-lift launch vehicle since its maximum possible payload to LEO is under 50,000 kg.
- McConnaughey, Paul K.; et al. (November 2010). "Draft Launch Propulsion Systems Roadmap: Technology Area 01" (PDF). NASA. Section 1.3.
Small: 0–2 t payloads; Medium: 2–20 t payloads; Heavy: 20–50 t payloads; Super Heavy: > 50 t payloads
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...the U.S. human spaceflight program will require a heavy-lift launcher ... in the range of 25 to 40 mt ... this strongly favors a minimum heavy-lift capacity of roughly 50 mt....
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Starship is the spaceship/upper stage & Super Heavy is the rocket booster needed to escape Earth’s deep gravity well (not needed for other planets or moons)
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Energia and Roscosmos are “working on a super heavy-lift launch vehicle (SHLLV) that would use an engine that we already have, the RD-171,” Vladimir Solntsev told Izvestia newspaper. [...] The proposed new SHLLV would initially have a LEO lift of 80 tonnes with a potential to increase the figure to 120 tonnes or even 160 tonnes, according to Solntsev.
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