Comparing the Size of The World’s Rockets, Past and Present

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The Size of The World’s Rockets, Past and Present

The SpaceX Starship might be the next rocket to take humans to the moon, but it won’t be the first, and likely not the last.

Starting in the mid-20th century, humanity has explored space faster than ever before. We’ve launched satellites, telescopes, space stations, and spacecrafts, all strapped to rocket-propelled launch vehicles that helped them breach our atmosphere.

This infographic from designer Tyler Skarbek stacks up the many different rockets of the world side-by-side, showing which country designed them, what years they were used, and what they (could) accomplish.

How Do The World’s Rockets Stack Up?

Before they were used for space travel, rockets were produced and developed to be used as ballistic missiles.

The first rocket to officially reach space—defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as crossing the Kármán line at 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Earth’s mean sea level—was the German-produced V-2 rocket in 1944.

But after World War II, V-2 production fell into the hands of the U.S., the Soviet Union (USSR), and the UK.

Over the next few decades and the unfolding of the Cold War, what started as a nuclear arms race of superior ballistic missiles turned into the Space Race. Both the U.S. and the USSR tried to be the first to achieve and master spaceflight, driving production of many new and different rockets.

Origin Country Rocket Years Active Payload (Range) Success/Failure
Germany V-2 1942–1952 (Suborbital) 2852/950
U.S. Vanguard 1957–1959 9 kg (LEO) 3/8
USSR Sputnik 1957–1964 1,322 kg (LEO) 6/1
U.S. Juno 1 1958–1958 11 kg (LEO) 3/3
U.S. Juno II 1958–1961 41 kg (LEO) 4/6
USSR Vostok 1958–1991 4,725 kg (LEO) 106/3
U.S. Redstone 1960–1961 1,800 kg (Suborbital) 5/1
U.S. Atlas LV-3B 1960–1963 1,360 kg (LEO) 7/2
U.S. Atlas-Agena 1960–1978 1,000 kg (LEO) 93/16
U.S. Scout 1961–1994 150 kg (LEO) 121/27
USSR Voskhod 1963–1976 5,900 kg (LEO) 281/14
U.S. Titan II 1964–1966 3,100 kg (LEO) 12/0
Europe (ELDO) Europa 1964–1971 360 kg (GTO) 4/7
France Diamant 1965–1975 160 kg (LEO) 9/3
U.S. Atlas E/F 1965–2001 820 kg (LEO) 56/9
USSR Soyuz 1965–Present 7,100 kg (LEO) 1263/44
USSR Proton 1965–Present 23,700 kg (LEO) 375/48
U.S. Saturn 1B 1966–1975 21,000 kg (LEO) 9/0
U.S. Saturn V 1967–1973 48,600 kg (TLI) 13/0
USSR Kosmos-3M 1967–2010 1,500 kg (LEO) 424/20
UK Black Arrow 1969–1971 135 kg (LEO) 2/2
U.S. Titan 23B 1969–1971 3,300 kg (LEO) 32/1
USSR N1 1969–1972 23,500 kg (TLI) 0/4
Japan N-1 1975–1982 1,200 kg (LEO) 6/1
Europe (ESA) Ariane 1 1976–1986 1,400 kg (LEO) 9/2
USSR Tsyklon-3 1977–2009 4,100 kg (LEO) 114/8
U.S. STS 1981–2011 24,400 kg (LEO) 133/2
USSR Zenit 1985–Present 13,740 kg (LEO) 71/13
Japan H-I 1986–1992 3,200 kg (LEO) 9/0
USSR Energia 1987–1988 88,000 kg (LEO) 2/0
Israel Shavit 1988–2016 800 kg (LEO) 8/2
U.S. Titan IV 1989–2005 17,000 kg (LEO) 35/4
U.S. Delta II 1989–2018 6,100 kg (LEO) 155/2
Europe (ESA) Ariane 4 1990–2003 7,600 kg (LEO) 113/3
U.S. Pegasus 1990–Present 443 kg (LEO) 39/5
Russia Rokot 1990–Present 1,950 kg (LEO) 31/3
U.S. Atlas II 1991–2004 6,580 kg (LEO) 63/0
China Long March 2D 1992–Present 3,500 kg (LEO) 44/1
India PSLV 1993–Present 3,800 kg (LEO) 47/3
Japan H-IIA 1994–2018 15,000 kg (LEO) 40/1
Europe (ESA) Ariane 5 1996–Present 10,865 kg (GTO) 104/5
Brazil VLS-1 1997–2003 380 kg (LEO) 0/2
USSR Dnepr-1 1999–2015 4,500 kg (LEO) 21/1
U.S. Atlas III 2000–2005 8,640 kg (LEO) 6/0
Japan M-V 2000–2006 1,800 kg (LEO) 6/1
U.S. Minotaur 1 2000–2013 580 kg (LEO) 11/0
India GSLV MK1 2001–2016 5,000 kg (LEO) 6/5
U.S. Atlas V 400 2002–Present 15,260 kg (LEO) 54/1
U.S. Delta IV Medium 2003–Present 9,420 kg (LEO) 20/0
U.S. Delta IV Heavy 2004–Present 28,790 kg (LEO) 12/1
U.S. Falcon 1 2006–2009 180 kg (LEO) 2/3
China Long March 4C 2006–Present 4,200 kg (LEO) 26/2
U.S. Atlas V 500 2006–Present 18,850 kg (LEO) 27/0
Iran Safir 2008–Present 65 kg (LEO) 4/1
U.S. Minotaur IV 2010–Present 1,735 kg (LEO) 6/0
Europe (ESA) Vega 2012–Present 1,450 kg (SSO) 14/1
U.S. Minotaur V 2013–Present 532 kg (GTO) 1/0
Japan Epsilon 2013–Present 1,500 kg (LEO) 4/0
U.S. Antares 2013–Present 8,000 kg (LEO) 11/1
U.S. Falcon 9 FT 2013–Present 22,800 kg (LEO) 96/0
India GSLV MK3 2014–Present 4,000 kg (GTO) 4/0
Russia Angara 5 2014–Present 13,450 kg (LEO) 3/0
U.S. New Shepard 2015–Present (Suborbital) 14/0
New Zealand Electron 2017–Present 225 kg (SSO) 17/2
U.S. Falcon 9 Heavy 2018–Present 54,400 kg (LEO) 3/0
U.S. Starship 2021–Present 100,000 kg (LEO) 0/0
U.S. SLS 2021–Present 36,740 kg (TLI) 0/0

As the Space Race wound down, the U.S. proved to be the biggest producer of different rockets. The eventual dissolution of the USSR in 1991 transferred production of Soviet rockets to Russia or Ukraine. Then later, both Europe (through the European Space Agency) and Japan ramped up rocket production as well.

More recently, new countries have since joined the race, including China, Iran, and India. Though the above infographic shows many different families of rockets, it doesn’t include all, including China’s Kuaizhou rocket and Iran’s Zuljanah and Qased rockets.

Rocket Range Explained and Continued Space Aspirations

Designing a rocket that can reach far into space while carrying a heavy payload—the objects or entities being carried by a vehicle—is extremely difficult and precise. It’s not called rocket science for nothing.

When rockets are designed, they are are created with one specific range in mind that takes into account the fuel needed to travel and velocity achievable. Alternatively, they have different payload ratings depending on what’s achievable and reliable based on the target range.

  • Suborbital: Reaches outer space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere and comes back down. It won’t be able to complete an orbital revolution or reach escape velocity.
  • LEO (Low Earth orbit): Reaches altitude of up to ~2,000 km (1242.74 miles) and orbits the Earth at an orbital period of 128 minutes or less (or 11.25 orbits per day).
  • SSO (Sun-synchronous orbit): Reaches around 600–800 km above Earth in altitude but orbits at an inclination of ~98°, or nearly from pole to pole, in order to keep consistent solar time.
  • GTO (Geosynchronous transfer orbit): Launches into a highly elliptical orbit which gets as close in altitude as LEO and as far away as 35,786 km (22,236 miles) above sea level.
  • TLI (Trans-lunar injection): Launches on a trajectory (or accelerates from Earth orbit) to reach the Moon, an average distance of 384,400 km (238,900 miles) from Earth.

But there are other ranges and orbits in the eyes of potential spacefarers. Mars for example, a lofty target in the eyes of SpaceX and billionaire founder Elon Musk, is between about 54 and 103 million km (34 and 64 million miles) from Earth at its closest approach.

With space exploration becoming more common, and lucrative enough to warrant billion-dollar lawsuits over contract awards, how far will future rockets go?

The post Comparing the Size of The World’s Rockets, Past and Present appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

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