Heavy-lift launch vehicle

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A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Heavy rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload launches Aug. 28, 2013, from Space Launch Complex-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Ariane 5 ES launch
Proton-M on the launch pad

A heavy-lift launch vehicle, or HLV or HLLV, is an orbital launch vehicle capable of lifting between 20,000 to 50,000 kg to low Earth orbit.[1] The current heavy-lift launch vehicles in service are the Ariane 5 in its ES and ECA variants, the Russian Proton-M and the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.[2]

Heavy lift launch vehicles[edit]

Currently operational heavy-lift launch vehicles include:

Unproven HLLVs[edit]

The following HLLVs have not yet flown with a payload that would classify them as an HLLV:

Former HLLVs[edit]

The following HLLVs were operational:

  • Saturn IB from Apollo 5 1968 (retired after 9 launches) 21,000 kg (46,000 lb) [8]
  • Titan IV 1989 to 2005 (retired after successful 35 launches) 21,680 kg (47,800 lb) [9]
  • Space Shuttle 1981 to 2011 (retired after 135 launches) 24,400 kg (53,800 lb) of cargo bay payload only. [10]

In development[edit]

Five HLLVs are currently being developed:

Earlier concepts[edit]

  • (NASA's Ares I was in the planning stages when canceled in 2010)[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ NASA Space Technology Roadmaps - Launch Propulsion Systems, p.11: "Small: 0-2t payloads, Medium: 2-20t payloads, Heavy: 20-50t payloads, Super Heavy: >50t payloads"
  2. ^ NASA, Aug. 27, 2014, What Is a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle?
  3. ^ "Ariane 5 Users Manual, Issue 4, P. 39 (ISS orbit)" (PDF). Arianespace. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  4. ^ "Proton Launch System Mission Planner's Guide, LKEB-9812-1990" (PDF). International Launch Services. pp. 2–2. Archived from the original on 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2007-11-12. LEO i = 51.6°, H = 200 km circular ... GTO (1800 m/s from GSO) i = 31.0°, Hp = 2100 km, Ha = 35,786 km 
  5. ^ Delta IV Launch Services User’s Guide, June 2013
  6. ^ Spaceflight101, Angara-a5
  7. ^ Capabilities & Services (2016)
  8. ^ Entering the Race to the Moon, Saturn IB Established Its Place in Space.
  9. ^ astronautix.com, Titan IV
  10. ^ astronautix.com, Space Shuttle
  11. ^ Space launch report, CZ-5-7 Data Sheet
  12. ^ Space Flight Now, ULA unveils its future with the Vulcan rocket family, April 13, 2015, by Justin Ray
  13. ^ "Ariane 6 design finalized, set for 2020 launch". Space Daily. 28 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  14. ^ "Constellation Is Dead, But Pieces Live On". Aviation Week, October 26, 2010.
Comparison of maximum payload to low Earth orbit (LEO) (Left to right). Space Shuttle payload includes 7 crew and cargo. Ares I payload includes 4 crew and inherent craft. Saturn V payload includes 3 crew, inherent craft and cargo. Ares V payload includes only cargo and inherent craft. The Saturn V was capable of lifting approximately 140 metric tons of payload to LEO. The Ares V was being designed to lift 188 metric tons to LEO.
Comparison of Saturn V, Shuttle, Ares I, Ares V, Ares IV, and SLS Block I

Further reading[edit]

  • Mallove, Eugene F. and Matloff, Gregory L. The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer's Guide to Interstellar Travel, Wiley. ISBN 0-471-61912-4.