Clockwise from top-left: Delta IV Heavy, Long March 5, Ariane 5, Proton-M
Class overview
NameHeavy-lift launch vehicle
OperatorsVarious space organizations
Preceded byMedium-lift launch vehicle
Succeeded bySuper heavy-lift launch vehicle
Built1966–
On order
Active
Retired
General characteristics
PropulsionVarious liquid-fueled engines and solid motors
Capacity
  • 20–50 metric tons (NASA)
  • 20–100 metric tons (Russia)

A heavy-lift launch vehicle is an orbital launch vehicle capable of generating a large amount of lift to reach its intended orbit. Heavy-lift launch vehicles generally are capable of lifting payloads between 20,000 to 50,000 kg (44,000 to 110,000 lb) (by NASA classification) or between 20,000 to 100,000 kilograms (44,000 to 220,000 lb) (by Russian classification)[1] into low Earth orbit (LEO).[2] As of 2023, operational heavy-lift launch vehicles include the Long March 5, the Proton-M and the Delta IV Heavy.[3]

In addition, the Angara A5, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust, and the Falcon Heavy are designed to provide heavy-lift capabilities in at least some configurations but have not yet been proven to carry a 20-tonne payload into LEO. Several other heavy-lift rockets are in development. An HLV is between medium-lift launch vehicles and super heavy-lift launch vehicles.

Rated launch vehicles

Rocket In service Manufacturer Max. LEO payload Launches >20 t Heaviest launch
...to LEO or MEO ...to GTO or GSO ...to HEO and beyond

Operational[edit]

Currently operational rockets that have demonstrated their heavy-lift capability to low Earth orbit:

United States Delta IV Heavy since 2004 ULA 28,790 kg
(63,470 lb)[4]
1 public
(up to 4 classified)
~21,000 kg[5][a]
Orion EFT-1
5 December 2014
Classified[b] ~685 kg
to heliocentric
Parker Solar Probe
China Long March 5/5B
(CZ-5/5B)
since 2016 CALT 25,000 kg
(55,000 lb)[6]
4 23,200 kg[7]
Wentian Lab Module
24 July 2022
8,000 kg[8]
Shijian 20
27 December 2019
8,200 kg
to Moon
Chang'e 5
23 November 2020
Russia Proton-M since 2001 Khrunichev 23,000 kg
(51,000 lb)[9]
1 23,200 kg[10]
Nauka
21 July 2021
6,740 kg[11]
ViaSat-1
19 October 2011
3,755 kg
to Mars[12]
ExoMars TGO
9 June 2016

Unproven[edit]

Rockets that have not flown a 20-tonne payload to LEO, but are rated over this threshold:

Russia Angara-A5 since 2014 Khrunichev,

Polyot

24,500 kg
(54,000 lb)[13][c]
0 2,400 kg[14]
Mass simulator
14 December 2020
United States Falcon 9 Full Thrust
(expendable configuration)[d]
since 2015 SpaceX 22,800 kg
(50,300 lb)[15]
0 18,400 kg[16]
(partially reusable configuration)
6,761 kg[17]
Intelsat 35e
5 July 2017
570 kg
to Sun-Earth L1[18]
DSCOVR
11 February 2015
United States Falcon Heavy
(with all boosters reusable)[e]
since 2018 SpaceX 38,000–45,000 kg
(84,000–99,000 lb)
[19]
0 3,700 kg[f]
STP-2
25 June 2019
6,465 kg[20][g]
Arabsat-6A
11 April 2019
1,300 kg
beyond Mars orbit[21]
Tesla Roadster
6 February 2018
United States Vulcan Centaur since 2024 United Launch Alliance 25,000 kg (56,000 lb)[22] 0 1,283 kg
to Moon
Peregrine Mission One[23]
8 January 2024
(Maiden flight)

Retired[edit]

Formerly operational rockets with a payload capacity of between 20 and 50 tonnes:

United States Saturn IB 1966 to 1975 Chrysler (S-IB), Douglas (S-IVB) 21,000 kg
(46,000 lb)[24]
2 20,847 kg
Skylab 4
16 November 1973
Soviet Union/Russia Proton-K 1967 to 2012 Khrunichev 19,760 kg
(43,560 lb)[25]
4[26] 22,776 kg
Zvezda
26 July 2000
4,723 kg
Intelsat 903
30 March 2002
6,220 kg
to Mars
Phobos 1
7 July 1988
United States Space Shuttle 1981 to 2011 United Space Alliance 24,400 kg
(53,800 lb)
(excluding orbiter weight)[27]
11 22,753 kg
Chandra X-Ray Observatory
28 July 1999
United States Titan IV 1989 to 2005 Lockheed Martin 21,680 kg (47,800 lb)[28] up to 7 (classified) Classified[b]
(KH-11 launches had 19,600 kg[29])
Classified[b] 5,712 kg
to Saturn
Cassini–Huygens
15 October 1997
European Union Ariane 5
(ECA and ES)
2002 to 2023 Airbus for ESA 21,000 kg
(46,000 lb)[30]
4 20,293 kg[31]
Georges Lemaître ATV
29 July 2014
11,210 kg[32]
SES-17 and Syracuse 4A
23 October 2021
6,161.4 kg
to Sun-Earth L2[33]
James Webb Space Telescope
25 December 2021

In development[edit]

Rockets that are actively being developed:

India HLV TBD Indian Space Research Organisation 20,000 kg (44,000 lb)
India SHLV TBD Indian Space Research Organisation 41,300 kg (91,100 lb)[34]
European Union Ariane 6 (A64) NET 2024 ArianeGroup for ESA 21,650 kg (47,730 lb)[35]: 46 
United States New Glenn NET 2024 Blue Origin 45,000 kg (99,000 lb)[36]
China Gravity-2 NET 2025 Orienspace 25,600 kg (56,400 lb)[37]
United States Terran R NET 2026[38] Relativity Space 33,500 kg (73,900 lb)
Russia Angara-A5V ~2027 Khrunichev, Polyot 38,000 kg (83,876 lb)
Japan H3 Heavy 2030 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for JAXA 28,300 kg (62,400 lb)[39]

Cancelled concepts[edit]

United States Ares I NASA
(canceled in 2010)[40]
25,400 kg (56,000 lb)
United States Saturn C-3 NASA
(cancelled in 1963)
Engines developed for Saturn V
45,000 kg (99,000 lb) [h]
United States Vulcan / ACES United Launch Alliance
(abandoned in 2020)[41]
37,400 kg (82,500 lb)[4][42][i]
  1. ^ The officially reported mass of 21,000 kg includes the Launch Abort System (LAS) which did not reach orbit, but excludes the residual mass of the upper stage, which did reach orbit, likely offsetting the mass of the LAS.
  2. ^ a b c Actual payloads flown are classified under the NRO launch program.
  3. ^ from Vostochny cosmodrome
  4. ^ Fairing recovery may be possible in all configurations; if the first stage is recovered, the payload capacity only fits the medium-lift launch vehicle criteria.
  5. ^ When the center core is expended, Falcon Heavy is classified as a super heavy-lift launch vehicle with a theoretical payload to LEO over 50,000 kg
  6. ^ The 600 kg DSX was boosted to Medium Earth Orbit
  7. ^ to 90,000-km supersynchronous GTO
  8. ^ Planned 23,000 kg to Geostationary Transfer Orbit and 18,000 kg to Trans Lunar Injection
  9. ^ Calculated as 30% more than Delta IV Heavy, per sources

See also

References

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  2. ^ NASA Space Technology Roadmaps – Launch Propulsion Systems, p.11 Archived 24 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine: "Small: 0-2t payloads, Medium: 2-20t payloads, Heavy: 20-50t payloads, Super Heavy: >50t payloads"
  3. ^ May, Sandra (27 August 2014). "What Is a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle?". NASA. Archived from the original on 11 September 2020. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Delta IV Launch Services User's Guide, June 2013" (PDF). United Launch Alliance. June 2013. pp. 2–10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2017.
  5. ^ "NASA Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 PRESS KIT" (PDF). NASA. December 2014. p. 12. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
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  7. ^ "长五B火箭打赢空间站建造关键之战" (in Simplified Chinese). 新华网. 25 July 2022. Retrieved 26 July 2022.
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  11. ^ Krebs, Gunter. "ViaSat 1". Gunter's Space Page. Archived from the original on 4 June 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  12. ^ "ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)". European Space Agency. 12 July 2012. Archived from the original on 27 April 2020. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  13. ^ "Spaceflight101, Angara-a5". Archived from the original on 9 August 2018. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  14. ^ "The cargo was delivered to orbit: the launch of the "Angara" was carried out in the normal mode. (In Russian)". Vesti.ru. 14 December 2020. Archived from the original on 14 December 2020. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
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  18. ^ "DSCOVR: Deep Space Climate Observatory" (PDF). NOAA. January 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
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  23. ^ McCrea, Aaron (8 January 2024). "Vulcan successfully launches Peregrine lunar lander on inaugural flight". NASASpaceFlight. Retrieved 8 January 2024.
  24. ^ Entering the Race to the Moon, Saturn IB Established Its Place in Space.
  25. ^ "ГКНПЦ имени М.В.Хруничева | Служебный модуль «Звезда»". www.khrunichev.ru. Archived from the original on 27 May 2011. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  26. ^ "Proton Data Sheet". www.spacelaunchreport.com. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 6 January 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  27. ^ "Shuttle". www.astronautix.com. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  28. ^ astronautix.com, Titan IV Archived 18 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine
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  41. ^ Foust, Jeff (11 September 2020). "ULA studying long-term upgrades to Vulcan". Retrieved 4 March 2021. Peller described ACES as a concept that ULA is no longer actively pursuing. "We did a lot of studies, we invested in a lot of technology development to assess the feasibility of some of the innovative features of ACES", he said. "That has served us well, because a lot of that original ACES work has its fingerprints in our new version of Centaur, the Centaur 5 we're fielding with Vulcan. Those studies five, eight years ago certainly served us well, and it put us on a good path forward here for the evolution of our upper stages. We will continue to evolve our upper stage to meet the needs of the market going forward".
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Further reading