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 a 77,111 kg (170,001 lb) payload into LEO.
- The Space Shuttle orbited a combined[a] 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).
- Energia launched two payloads, before the program was cancelled: the Polyus weapons platform at approximately 80 t (180,000 lb) and Buran orbiter, only one of which reached orbit. The system was designed to launch up to 105 t (231,000 lb) to low Earth orbit. Polyus failed to enter orbit due to a software error on the kick-stage.
The Space Shuttle and Buran differed from traditional rockets in that both launched what was essentially a reusable, manned stage that carried cargo internally.
Operational, but unproven
- 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.[b] Neither of these configurations has been flown as of March 2019. 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. All three configurations are operational in the sense of being 'available to procure' after all necessary test flights completed, but the super-heavy-lift classification remains unproven until such a heavy payload has been launched.
|Rocket||Configuration||LEO payload||First flight||First >50t payload||Operational||Reusable|
|Saturn V||Apollo||140 t (310,000 lb)A||1967||1967||Retired||No|
|Space Shuttle||122.5 t (270,142 lb)B||1981||1981||Retired||Partially|
|Energia||Buran||100 t (220,000 lb)C||1987||1987||Retired||Partially|
|Falcon Heavy||ExpendedD||63.8 t (141,000 lb)||N/AD||N/A||UnprovenD||No|
|Recoverable side boostersE||57 t (126,000 lb)||N/AD||N/A||UnprovenD||PartiallyE|
|SLS||Block 1||95 t (209,000 lb)||2020 (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)||2029 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|BFR||100+ t (220,000+ lb)F||2020 (planned)||N/A||Development||Fully|
|Long March 9||140 t (310,000 lb)||2028 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|Yenisei||Yenisei||103 t (227,000 lb)||2028 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
|Don||130 t (290,000 lb)||2030 (planned)||N/A||Development||No|
^A Includes mass of Apollo Command/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.
^E Side booster cores recoverable and centre core expended
^F Does not include dry mass of spaceship
The Space Launch System (SLS) is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle currently under development in the U.S. by NASA. The Block 1 configuration is currently targeted for launch in June 2020, with other configurations of increasingly higher lift capacities from 2023 to 2029. Block 1 will be capable of launching a minimum of 70 t (150,000 lb) to low-Earth orbit, and approximately 26 t (57,000 lb) to a trans-lunar injection point.
In August 2016, Russia's RSC Energia announced plans to develop a super heavy-lift launch vehicle using existing components instead of pushing the less-powerful Angara A5V project. 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 project is called Yenisei and the first flight is scheduled for 2028, with Moon landings starting in 2030.
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.
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 SLS 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. While the design was validated 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 (equal to the Sea Dragon) or 300 t (660,000 lb) in a reusable configuration. In 2017, it was succeeded by BFR.
- 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 itself contributed to reaching low Earth orbit therefore the validity of its inclusion as payload mass is debatable.
- 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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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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