Expendable Launch System
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Expendable Launch System
A Delta IV Heavy rocket (left) and a Proton-M rocket (right)

An expendable launch system (or expendable launch vehicle/ELV) is a launch vehicle that can be launched only once, after which its components are either destroyed during reentry or discarded in space. ELVs typically consist of several rocket stages that are discarded sequentially as their fuel is exhausted and the vehicle gains altitude and speed. As of October 2019, most satellites and human spacecraft are currently launched on ELVs. ELVs are simpler in design than reusable launch systems and therefore may have a lower production cost. Furthermore, an ELV can use its entire fuel supply to accelerate its payload, offering greater payloads. ELVs are proven technology in widespread use for many decades.[1]

ELVs are usable only once, and therefore have a significantly higher per-launch cost than modern (SpaceX or post-STS) reusable vehicles.

Current operators


Arianespace SA is a French company founded in 1980 as the world's first commercial launch service provider.[2] It undertakes the operation and marketing of the Ariane programme.[3] The company offers a number of different launch vehicles: the heavy-lift Ariane 5 for dual launches to geostationary transfer orbit, the Soyuz-2 as a medium-lift alternative, and the solid-fueled Vega for lighter payloads.[4]

As of May 2021, Arianespace had launched more than 850 satellites[5] in 287 launches over 41 years. The first commercial flight managed by the new entity was Spacenet F1 launched on 23 May 1984. Arianespace uses the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana as its main launch site. Through shareholding in Starsem, it can also offer commercial Soyuz launches from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. It has its headquarters in Évry-Courcouronnes, Essonne, France.[6][7]


  • Air-Launched SLV able to place a 50 kilogram plus payload to 500 km SSO[8]
  • Kaituozhe-2
  • Kaituozhe-1 (), KT-1A (), KT-2 (), KT-2A () New class of all-solid orbital launch vehicles
  • Kaituozhe-1B () with addition of two solid boosters[9]
  • CZ-1D based on a CZ-1 but with a new N2O4/UDMH second stage
  • CZ-2E(A) Intended for launch of Chinese space station modules. Payload capacity up to 14 tons in LEO and 9000 (kN) liftoff thrust developed by 12 rocket engines, with enlarged fairing of 5.20 m in diameter and length of 12.39 m to accommodate large spacecraft[10]
  • CZ-2F/G Modified CZ-2F without escape tower, specially used for launching robotic missions such as Shenzhou cargo and space laboratory module with payload capacity up to 11.2 tons in LEO[11]
  • CZ-3B(A) More powerful Long March rockets using larger-size liquid propellant strap-on motors, with payload capacity up to 13 tons in LEO
  • CZ-3C Launch vehicle combining CZ-3B core with two boosters from CZ-2E
  • CZ-5 Second generation ELV with more efficient and nontoxic propellants (25 tonnes in LEO)
  • CZ-6 or Small Launch Vehicle, with short launch preparation period, low cost and high reliability, to meet the launch need of small satellites up to 500 kg to 700 km SSO, first flight for 2010; with Fan Ruixiang () as Chief designer of the project[12][13][14]
  • CZ-7 used for Phase 4 of Lunar Exploration Program (-4 ), that is permanent base (?) expected for 2024; Second generation Heavy ELV for lunar and deep space trajectory injection (70 tonnes in LEO), capable of supporting a Soviet L1/L3-like lunar landing mission[15]
  • CZ-9 super heavy launch vehicle.
  • CZ-11 small, quick response launch vehicle.
  • Project 869 reusable shuttle system with Tianjiao-1 or Chang Cheng-1 (Great Wall-1) orbiters. Project of 1980s-1990s.
  • Project 921-3 Reusable launch vehicle current project of the reusable shuttle system.
  • Tengyun another current project of two wing-staged reusable shuttle system.


Comparison of Indian carrier rockets. Left to right: SLV, ASLV, PSLV, GSLV, GSLV Mark III
During the 1960s and 1970s, India initiated its own launch vehicles owing to geopolitical and economic considerations. In the 1960s-1970s, the country developed a sounding rocket, and by the 1980s, research had yielded the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 and the more advanced Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV), complete with operational supporting infrastructure.[16] ISRO further applied its energies to the advancement of launch vehicle technology resulting in the realisation of the successful PSLV and GSLV vehicles.



Japan launched its first satellite, Ohsumi, in 1970, using ISAS' L-4S rocket. Prior to the merger, ISAS used small solid-fueled launch vehicles, while NASDA developed larger liquid-fueled launchers. In the beginning, NASDA used licensed American models. The first model of liquid-fuelled launch vehicle indigenously developed in Japan was the H-II, introduced in 1994. However, at the end of the 1990s, with two H-II launch failures, Japanese rocket technology began to face criticism.[17]

Japan's first space mission under JAXA, an H-IIA rocket launch on 29 November 2003, ended in failure due to stress problems. After a 15-month hiatus, JAXA performed a successful launch of an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center, placing a satellite into orbit on 26 February 2005.

On 10 September 2009, the first H-IIB rocket was successfully launched, delivering the HTV-1 freighter to resupply the International Space Station.[18]

To be able to launch smaller mission on JAXA developed a new solid-fueled rocket, the Epsilon as a replacement to the retired M-V. The maiden flight successfully happened in 2013. So far, the rocket has flown four times without any launch failures.

In January 2017, JAXA attempted and failed to put a miniature satellite into orbit atop one of its SS520 series rockets.[19] A second attempt on 2 February 2018 was successful, putting a four kilogram CubeSat into Earth orbit. The rocket, known as the SS-520-5, is the world's smallest orbital launcher.[20]

In January 2021, JAXA shipped an H3 rocket to Tanegashima Space Center to begin launch trials, in an effort to phase out and replace the H-IIA series.[21]


Roscosmos uses a family of several launch rockets, the most famous of them being the R-7, commonly known as the Soyuz rocket that is capable of launching about 7.5 tons into low Earth orbit (LEO). The Proton rocket (or UR-500K) has a lift capacity of over 20 tons to LEO. Smaller rockets include Rokot and other Stations.

Currently rocket development encompasses both a new rocket system, Angara, as well as enhancements of the Soyuz rocket, Soyuz-2 and Soyuz-2-3. Two modifications of the Soyuz, the Soyuz-2.1a and Soyuz-2.1b have already been successfully tested, enhancing the launch capacity to 8.5 tons to LEO.


Vehicle Manufacturer Payload mass (Kg) Maiden flight Total launches Notes
Angara 1.2 Khrunichev 3.500 2.400 to SSO 9 July 2014 1
Angara A5 Khrunichev 24.000 7.500 with KVTK

5.400 with Briz-M

23 December 2014 2
Proton-M Khrunichev 23.000 6.920 3.250 to GSO 7 April 2001 111 To be replaced by the new Angara
Soyuz-2.1a Progress Rocket Space Centre 7.020 from Baikonur

7.800 from Kourou

2.810 from Kourou 4.230 to SSO from Kourou 8 November 2004 52 Capable of human spaceflight.

Launched from Kourou is called Soyuz ST-A:

greater load due to lower latitude

Soyuz-2.1b Progress Rocket Space Centre 8.200 from Baikonur

9.000 from Kourou

2.400 from Baikonur

3.250 from Kourou

4.900 to SSO from Kourou

2.720 to TLI from Kourou

27 December 2006 61 Capable of human spaceflight.

Launched from Kourou is called Soyuz ST-B

Soyuz-2.1v Progress Rocket Space Centre 2.800 28 December 2013 7

Under development

Vehicle Manufacturer Payload mass (Kg) Planned maiden flight Notes
Amur KB Khimavtomatika 10.500 reusable

12.500 expendable

2026 First reusable methalox russian rocket
Irtysh/Soyuz-5 Progress Rocket Space Centre 18.000 crewed

15.500 uncrewed

5000 2023 Base of the SHLLV Yenisei
Yenisei RSC Energia

Progress Rocket Space Centre

103.000 26000 27000 to TLI 2028 First super-heavy launch vehicle being developed by the Russian space industry

since the fall of the USSR

Don RSC Energia

Progress Rocket Space Centre

140.000 29500 33000 to TLI 2032-2035 Based on the Yenisei launch vehicle, the Don launch vehicle (RN STK-2)

is being developed by adding another stage

United States

Several governmental agencies of the United States purchase ELV launches. NASA is a major customer with the Commercial Resupply Services and Commercial Crew Development programs, also launching scientific spacecraft. A state-owned ELV, the Space Launch System was, as of 2019, intended to be flying in 2020 or 2021.[22]

The United States Air Force is also an ELV customer. Both the Delta IV and Atlas V from the 1994 Evolved ELV (EELV) program remain in active service, operated by the United Launch Alliance.[23] The National Security Space Launch (NSSL) competition is currently ongoing to select EELV successors to provide assured access to space.[]

Iranian Space Agency


Iran has developed an expendable satellite launch vehicle named Safir SLV. Measuring 22 m in height with a core diameter of 1.25 m, with two liquid propellant stages, a single thrust chambered first stage and a two-thrust chambered, step-throttled second stage, the SLV has a lift off mass exceeding 26 tons. The first stage consists of a lengthened up-rated Shahab-3C. According to the technical documentation presented in the annual meeting of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, it is a two-stage rocket with all liquid propellant engines. The first stage is capable of carrying the payload to the maximum altitude of 68 kilometers.[24]

The Safir-1B is the second generation of Safir SLV and can carry a satellite weighing 60 kg into an elliptical orbit of 300 to 450 km. The thrust of the Safir-1B rocket engine has been increased from 32 to 37 tons.


In 2010, a more powerful rocket named Simorgh (Phoenix) was built. Its mission is to carry heavier satellites into orbit.[25][26] The Simorgh rocket is 27 meters (89 ft) long, and has a mass of 77 tonnes (85 tons).[4] Its first stage is powered by four main engines, each generating up to 29,000 kilograms (64,000 lb) of thrust, plus a fifth which will be used for attitude control, which provides an additional 13,600 kilograms (30,000 lb). At liftoff, these engines will generate a total of 130,000 kilograms (290,000 lb) of thrust. Simorgh is capable of putting a 350-kilogram (770 lb) payload into a 500-kilometer (310 mi) low Earth orbit. In 2015, Israeli media reported the missile is capable of taking a crewed spacecraft or satellite into space.[27][28] The first flight of the Simorgh rocket occurred on 19 April 2016.[29]


On 2 February 2013, the head of the Iranian Space Agency, Hamid Fazeli mentioned that the new satellite launch vehicle, Qoqnoos will be used after the Simorgh SLV for heavier payloads.[30][31]

Israel Space Agency

Shavit Rocket
Shavit launcher

The Israel Space Agency is one of only seven countries that both build their own satellites and launch their own launchers. The Shavit is a space launch vehicle capable of sending payload into low earth orbit.[32] The Shavit launcher has been used to send every Ofeq satellite to date.

The development of the Shavit began in 1983 and its operational capabilities were proven on three successful launches of the Ofek satellites on September 19, 1988; April 3, 1990; and April 5, 1995. The Shavit launchers allows low-cost and high-reliability launch of micro/mini satellites to a Low Earth Orbit. The Shavit launcher is developed by Malam factory, one of four factories in the IAI Electronics Group. The factory is very experienced in development, assembling, testing and operating system for use in space.

The Shavit is a triple-stage launcher solid propellant booster based on the 2-stage Jericho-II ballistic missile. The first and second stage engines are manufactured by Ta'as, and use solid fuel.[33] The third stage engines are manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The next generation Shavit rockets, now called the Shavit-2 are being developed. The Shavit-2 is said to be made available for commercial launches in the near future.

See also



  1. ^ "Expendable Launch Vehicles". spacetethers.com. Retrieved .
  2. ^ Jaeger, Ralph-W.; Claudon, Jean-Louis (May 1986). Ariane -- The first commercial space transportation system. Proceedings of the 15th International Symposium on Space Technology and Science. 2. Tokyo, Japan: AGNE Publishing, Inc. (published 1986). Bibcode:1986spte.conf.1431J. A87-32276 13-12.
  3. ^ "Arianespace was founded in 1980 as the world's first launch services company". arianespace.com. Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 2008.
  4. ^ "Service & Solutions". arianespace.com. Archived from the original on 12 February 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  5. ^ "Arianespace Company profile". Arianespace. May 5, 2021. Retrieved 2021.
  6. ^ "Russians, French sign space contract.(UPI Science Report)." United Press International. 12 April 2005. Retrieved on 24 September 2009.
  7. ^ "Contact Us". Arianespace. Retrieved 2020.
  8. ^ "". . 2006-11-01. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008.
  9. ^ "". . 2008-07-17. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008.
  10. ^ "CZ-2EA". ?. 2008-02-04. Archived from the original on February 13, 2009. Retrieved 2008.
  11. ^ ":"" 2010". . June 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008.
  12. ^ "?". . 2008-03-14. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2008.
  13. ^ (2007). . Beijing, PRC?. p. 17. ISBN 978-7504648662. Archived from the original on 2008-09-11.
  14. ^ "?(3)". People Daily. 2007-07-11. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved 2007.
  15. ^ "Chinese Crewed Space Program: The Future". Go Taikonauts!. 2006-02-04. Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2007.
  16. ^ Gupta et al. 1697.
  17. ^ Shim, Elizabeth (25 November 2015). "Japan launches first commercial satellite".
  18. ^ "Japan's space freighter in orbit". Jonathan Amos. BBC. 10 August 2009. Retrieved 2009.
  19. ^ Kyodo (15 January 2017). "JAXA fails in bid to launch world's smallest satellite-carrying rocket". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2017.
  20. ^ "Souped-up sounding rocket lifts off from Japan with tiny satellite". Spaceflight Now. 2 February 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  21. ^ Jones, Andrew (26 January 2021). "JAXA ships new H3 rocket to Tanegashima Space Center for testing". Spacenews.com. Retrieved 2021.
  22. ^ Berger, Eric (17 July 2019). "NASA's large SLS rocket unlikely to fly before at least late 2021". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2019.
  23. ^ Boeing, Lockheed Martin to Form Launch Services Joint Venture | SpaceRef - Your Space Reference
  24. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ "Iran unveils three new home-made satellites". Payvand.com. 22 November 2006. Archived from the original on 6 February 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  26. ^ "Iran launches spacecraft carrying animals / Space program breakthroughs signal the dawn of a new era of national development: Ahmadinejad". Tehran Times. Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  27. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 December 2016. Retrieved 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 July 2015. Retrieved 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. ^ Eshel, Tamir. "Simorgh First Launch - an Iranian Success or Failure? | Defense Update". defense-update.com. Archived from the original on 27 November 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  30. ^ "Details and revealing of Nahid Satellite, Launch of Nahid with Safir B-1 (Persian)". mehrnews.com. 2 February 2013. Archived from the original on 5 February 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  31. ^ "Ahmadinejad to unveil Nahid Satellite soon (English)". mehrnews.com. 2 February 2013. Retrieved 2013.[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ "Space launch systems - Shavit". Deagel. Retrieved 2013.
  33. ^ "Shavit", Britannica

External links

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