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In "spaceflight, a launch vehicle or carrier rocket is a "rocket used to carry a payload from Earth's surface into "outer space. A launch system includes the launch vehicle, the "launch pad, and other infrastructure. Although a carrier rocket's payload is often an artificial "satellite placed into "orbit, some spaceflights, such as "sounding rockets, are "sub-orbital, while others enable "spacecraft to "escape Earth orbit entirely.
"Expendable launch vehicles are designed for one-time use. They usually separate from their payload and disintegrate during "atmospheric reentry. In contrast, "reusable launch vehicles are designed to be recovered intact and launched again. The "Space Shuttle was a part of a launch vehicle with components used for multiple "orbital spaceflights. "SpaceX has developed a "reusable rocket launching system to successfully bring back a part—the first stage—of their "Falcon 9 and launch it again (first successful recovery in 2015 and first successful relaunch in March 2017) and "Falcon Heavy (first test launch: 6 February 2018) launch vehicles. A fully reusable "VTVL design is planned for all parts of the "ITS launch vehicle. The low-altitude flight test program of an "experimental technology-demonstrator launch vehicle began in 2012, with more extensive high-altitude over-water flight testing planned to begin in mid-2013, and continue on each subsequent Falcon 9 flight. "Non-rocket spacelaunch alternatives are progressing. In June 2017, "Stratolaunch Systems began ground testing the carrier aircraft component of its "air launch to orbit system. The "Stratolaunch is the world's largest aircraft, weighing 500,000 pounds and composed of twin fuselages with an overall wingspan of 385 feet. The Spanish company "Zero 2 Infinity ( 0II∞ ) is developing another launch system concept, the "Blooster, a balloon-borne launcher based on "rockoon technology.
Launch vehicles are often classified by the amount of mass they can carry into a particular orbit. For example, a "Proton rocket can lift 22,000 kilograms (49,000 lb) into "low Earth orbit (LEO). Launch vehicles are also characterized by their number of "stages. Rockets with as many as five stages have been successfully launched, and there have been designs for several "single-stage-to-orbit vehicles. Additionally, launch vehicles are very often supplied with boosters supplying high early thrust, normally burning with other engines. Boosters allow the remaining engines to be smaller, reducing the burnout mass of later stages to allow larger payloads.
Other frequently reported characteristics of launch vehicles are the launching nation or space agency and the company or consortium manufacturing and launching the vehicle. For example, the "European Space Agency is responsible for the "Ariane V, and the "United Launch Alliance manufactures and launches the "Delta IV and "Atlas V rockets. Many launch vehicles are considered part of a historical line of vehicles of the same or similar name; e.g., the Atlas V is the latest "Atlas rocket.
There are many ways to classify the sizes of launch vehicles. The US civilian space agency, NASA, uses a classification scheme["citation needed] that was articulated by the "Augustine Commission created to review plans for replacing the "Space Shuttle:
Similarly the leading European launch service provider, "Arianespace, also uses the "heavy-lift" designation for its >20,000 kg (44,000 lb)-to-"LEO "Ariane 5 launch vehicle and "medium-lift" for its array of launch vehicles that lift 2,000 to 20,000 kg (4,400 to 44,100 lb) to LEO, including the "Starsem/Arianespace "Soyuz ST and pre-1999 versions of the Ariane 5. It refers to its 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) to LEO "Vega launch vehicle as "light lift".
Suborbital launch vehicles are not capable of taking their payloads to the minimum horizontal speed necessary to achieve low Earth orbit with a "perigee less than the Earth's mean radius, which speed is about 7,800 m/s (26,000 ft/s). "Sounding rockets have long been used for brief, inexpensive unmanned space and microgravity experiments. The first US human spaceflight program, "Project Mercury, used a single-stage "derivative of the Redstone rocket family to launch its first two astronauts, "Alan Shephard and "Gus Grissom on suborbital flights, before sending astronauts into orbit on later flights. Current human-rated suborbital launch vehicles include "SpaceShipOne and the upcoming "SpaceShipTwo, among others (see "space tourism).
The "delta-v needed for orbital launch from the Earth's surface is greater than the minimum orbital speed; at least 9,300 m/s (31,000 ft/s), because of aerodynamic drag, (determined by "ballistic coefficient), as well as "gravity losses, and "potential energy required if higher altitude is desired.["citation needed]
Minimizing air drag requires a reasonably high "ballistic coefficient, a ratio of length to diameter greater than ten. This generally results in a launch vehicle that is at least 20 m (66 ft) long. Leaving the atmosphere as early on in the flight as possible provides a velocity loss due to air drag of around 300 m/s (980 ft/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, because 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.["citation needed]
For a spacecraft to reach the Moon, "Earth escape velocity of 11,200 m/s (37,000 ft/s) is not required, but a velocity close to this places the craft into an Earth orbit with a very high "apogee which, if launched at the correct time, takes it to a point where the Moon's gravity will capture it.
Interplanetary flight requires exceeding escape velocity; the excess velocity either adds to the Earth's orbital velocity around the Sun to reach the outer planets or asteroids, or subtracts from it to reach Venus or Mercury, depending on the direction in which the terminal velocity is achieved.
Launch vehicles of sufficient size are capable of launching payloads smaller than their orbital capability, to the Moon or beyond. Translunar and interplanetary flights are commonly launched with the vehicle's final stage into a temporary parking orbit, to allow spacecraft checkout, and more precise control of the final injection maneuver, rather than being launched directly to terminal velocity.
After 1980, but before the 2010s, two orbital launch vehicles developed the capability to return to the launch site (RTLS). Both the US "Space Shuttle—with one of its "abort modes—and the Soviet "Buran had a designed-in capability to return a part of the launch vehicle to the launch site via the mechanism of "horizontal-landing of the "spaceplane portion of the launch vehicle. In both cases, the main vehicle thrust structure and the large propellant tank were "expendable, as had been the standard procedure for all orbital launch vehicles flown prior to that time. Both were subsequently demonstrated on actual orbital nominal flights, although both also had an abort mode during launch that could conceivably allow the crew to land the spaceplane following an off-nominal launch.
In the 2000s, both "SpaceX and "Blue Origin have "privately developed a set of technologies to support "vertical landing of the booster stage of a launch vehicle. After 2010, SpaceX undertook a "development program to acquire the ability to bring back and "vertically land a part of the "Falcon 9 "orbital launch vehicle: the "first stage. The first successful landing was done in December 2015, since then several additional rocket stages landed either at a "landing pad adjacent to the launch site or on a "landing platform at sea, some distance away from the launch site. The "Falcon Heavy is similarly designed to reuse the three cores comprising its first stage. On its "first flight in February 2018, the two outer cores successfully returned to the launch site landing pads while the center core targeted the landing platform at sea (but did not successfully land on it).
"Blue Origin developed similar technologies for bringing back and landing their "suborbital "New Shepard, and successfully demonstrated return in 2015, and successfully reused the same booster on a second suborbital flight in January 2016  . By October 2016, Blue had reflown, and landed successfully, that same launch vehicle a total of five times. It must however be noted that the launch trajectories of both vehicles are very different, with New Shepard going straight up and down, whereas Falcon 9 has to cancel substantial horizontal velocity and return from a significant distance downrange.
Both Blue Origin and SpaceX also have additional reusable launch vehicles under development. Blue is developing the first stage of the orbital "New Glenn LV to be reusable, with first flight planned for no earlier than 2020. SpaceX has a new super-heavy launch vehicle under development for missions to "interplanetary space. The "Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) is designed to support RTLS, vertical-landing and full reuse of both the booster stage and the integrated second-stage/large-spacecraft that are designed for use with the BFR. First launch is expected in the early 2020s.
Each individual stage of a rocket is generally assembled at its manufacturing site and shipped to the launch site; the term vehicle assembly refers to the mating of rocket stage(s) with the spacecraft payload into a single assembly known as a "space vehicle. Single-stage vehicles (such as sounding rockets), and "multistage vehicles on the smaller end of the size range, can usually be assembled vertically, directly on the launch pad by lifting each stage and the spacecraft sequentially in place by means of a crane.
This is generally not practical for larger space vehicles, which are assembled off the pad and moved into place on the launch site by various methods. NASA's "Apollo/"Saturn V manned Moon landing vehicle, and "Space Shuttle, were assembled vertically onto "mobile launcher platforms with attached launch umbillical towers, in the "Vehicle Assembly Building, and then a special "crawler-transporter moved the entire vehicle stack to the launch pad in an upright position. In contrast, vehicles such as the Russian "Soyuz rocket and the "SpaceX "Falcon 9 are assembled horizontally in a processing hangar, transported horizontally, and then brought upright at the pad.
Under international law, the nationality of the owner of a launch vehicle determines which country is responsible for any damages resulting from that vehicle.["citation needed]
In the US, any rocket launch that is not classified as "amateur, and also is not "for and by the government," must be approved by the "Federal Aviation Administration's "Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), located in Washington, DC.["citation needed]
Specific to launch vehicles
Both of the rocket’s stages would return to the launch site and touch down vertically, under rocket power, on landing gear after delivering a spacecraft to orbit.
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