Launch vehicle comparison

This document is the start of a comparison of current and historic launch vehicles.

For more details on specific launch systems, see the links interspersed below. Also, see the Encylopedia Astronautica, which is my source for much of the data on historic launch systems.

Last updated on 2007-01-20.

NameManufacturerFamilyFirst LaunchLast LaunchMax Payload to LEO[1]
Max Payload to GTO
Diameter (meters)
Man Rated
Ariane 1ArianespaceAriane 112/24/19792/22/19861,8503.8No
Ariane 2ArianespaceAriane 2/35/31/19864/2/19893.8No
Ariane 3ArianespaceAriane 2/38/4/19846/12/19892,5803.8No
Ariane 4 AR 40ArianespaceAriane 41/22/199012/3/19992,1754No
Ariane 4 AR 42PArianespaceAriane 410/20/19905/4/20026,6002,8904No
Ariane 4 AR 42LArianespaceAriane 45/12/19931/23/20027,9003,5904No
Ariane 4 AR 44PArianespaceAriane 44/4/19919/25/20027,6003,4654No
Ariane 4 AR 44LPArianespaceAriane 46/15/198811/27/20019,1004,2904No
Ariane 4 AR 44LArianespaceAriane 46/5/19892/15/200310,2004,7904No
Ariane 5ArianespaceAriane 56/4/1996currentNo
Ariane 5 VersatileArianespaceAriane 5current7300/8000[2]4/?[2]No
Ariane 5 ESC-AArianespaceAriane 52002?current10,000/10,500[2]4/?[2]No
Ariane 5 ESC-BArianespaceAriane 5planned
Mercury/Atlas DGeneral Dynamics (now
Atlas EGeneral Dynamics (now
Atlas FGeneral Dynamics (now
Atlas/AgenaGeneral Dynamics (now
Atlas IAtlas
Atlas IILockheed MartinAtlas II3/1998?
Atlas II ALockheed MartinAtlas II12/4/2002?
Atlas II ASLockheed MartinAtlas II12/15/19938/31/20043,833 kg (8,450 lb)3.05No
Atlas IIILockheed MartinAtlas III5/24/20002/3/2005
Atlas V 401/402Lockheed MartinAtlas V8/21/2002current12,500 (27,558)4,950 (10,913)4No
Atlas V 431Lockheed MartinAtlas V3/11/05current7,640 (16,843)4No
Atlas V 501/502Lockheed MartinAtlas VTBDcurrent10,300 (22,707)3,970 (8,752)5No
Atlas V 521Lockheed MartinAtlas V7/17/2003current5No
Atlas V 551/552Lockheed MartinAtlas VTBDcurrent20,520 (45,238)8,670 (19,114)5No
Atlas V Heavy
Lockheed MartinAtlas VTBD(est 50,000)5No
AuroraRSC Energia
Buran/EnergiaRSC Energia11/15/198811/15/1988
CaLV NASA plan 201? proposed 100,000 (projected)
CZ-2C CALT (China) Long March 11/1975 current 2,500 (5,500) 3.35 No
CZ-2D CALT (China) Long March 8/1992 current 3,500 (7,700) 3.35 No
CZ-2E CALT (China) Long March 7/1990 current 9,200 (20,200) 3,370 (7,420) No
CZ-2F ("Shenjian") CALT (China) Long March 11/1999 current 8,400 (18,500) 3,500 (7,700) Yes
CZ-3 CALT (China) Long March 1/1984 current 4,800 (10,500) 1,400 (3,000) 3.35 No
CZ-4 CALT (China) Long March 9/1988 9/1990 4,680 (10,310) 1,000 (2,400) 3.35 No
Delta 2
Delta 2 Heavy Boeing7/7/03
Delta 3 Boeing
Delta IV Medium BoeingDelta IV3/10/2003current8,120(17,900)4,210(9,285)4No
Delta IV Medium+ (4,2) BoeingDelta IV10/20/2002current10,430(23,000)5,845(12,890)5No
Delta IV Medium+ (5, 2) BoeingDelta IVTBDcurrent7980(17,500)4,640(10,230)5No
Delta IV Medium+ (5, 4) BoeingDelta IVTBDcurrent11,475(25,300)6,565(14,475)5No
Delta IV Heavy BoeingDelta IV12/21/2004current23,040(50,800)13,130(28,950)5No
Dnepr (R-36M2) RSC EnergiaR-36
Falcon 1 SpaceX Falcon 3/2006 current 570 1.5 no
Falcon 5 SpaceX Falcon 2008?9? current 4,100 1,050 3.6 no
Falcon 9 SpaceX Falcon sched. 2007 current 9,300 3,400 3.6 no
Falcon 9 SpaceX Falcon sched. 2009 current 8,000 (17,600) 3,100 5.2 no
Falcon 9 S5 SpaceX Falcon sched. 2009 current 16,500 6,400 5.2 no
Falcon 9 S9 SpaceX Falcon sched. 2009 current 24,750 9,650 5.2 no
H2 2024 JSA (Japan) H 8/29/2001 current 11,730 5,000 4 No
H2 212 JSA (Japan) H TBD current 17,280 7,500 4 No
Kosmos 3M Ukraine R-14 5/1967 current 1,500 (3,300) 2.4 No
Kvant RSC Energia
Long March
(see CZ-2C, D, etc.)
Molniya RSC Energia R7
Proton 8K32 RSC Energia Proton 7/15/1965 7/6/1966 8,400 4.3 No
Proton 8K82K 11S824 RSC Energia Proton 3/10/1967 10/16/1975
Proton 8K82K RSC Energia Proton 12/16/1968 current 19,760 4.2 No
Proton K/Block DM RSC Energia Proton 19,760 (46,999) 4,930 (10,868) No
Proton KM/Breeze M RSC Energia Proton 6/5/1999 current 21,000 5,500 (12,125) 4.35 No
Saturn IB NASA/MSFC Saturn 2/26/1966 7/15/1975 19,000 6.61 Yes
Saturn V NASA/MSFC[3] Saturn 11/9/1967 4/14/1973 118,000 (260,145) 10/6.61[4] Yes
(see Zenit)
Shuttle Rockwell
(now Boeing)
STS 4/12/1981 current (~47,000) 4[5] Yes
Shuttle Cargo CarrierSTSproposed72,575 (160,000)No
SputnikNII-88 (Korolev)
(now RSC Energia)
SoyuzRSC EnergiaSoyuz/R7
Soyuz-IkarRSC EnergiaSoyuz/R74100
Soyuz-FregatRSC EnergiaSoyuz/R720005000
Soyuz/STRSC EnergiaSoyuz/R7current
Soyuz/ST-IkarRSC EnergiaSoyuz/R7current
Soyuz/ST-FregatRSC EnergiaSoyuz/R7current
Titan 2[6] Martin (now
Titan 23/16/196210/14/20034,200 (1909)3Yes
Titan 2
w/Strap On Booster[7]
Martin (now
Titan 2----7,800 (3545.5)3
Titan 3 Martin Marietta
(now Lockheed-Martin)
Titan 3
Titan 4 Titan 46/14/19898/12/199817,7006,3504.3No
Titan 4 B Titan IV 2/23/1997 sched. 6/30/2005 21,680 5,760 No
Titan IV B/Centaur Titan IV current (47,800)[8] (12,700) 5.57 No
Tsyklon Ukraine NSA R-36
Vostok RSC Energia R7
RSC Energia Energia 4/1985 current 4.15 No


[1] Low Earth Orbit

This chart makes the assumption that manufacturer's Low Earth Orbit numbers are directly comparable, which they may not be. Orbital inclinations and altitudes may vary. See [8] below.

[2] Ariane Multi-Satellite Delivery Systems

The Speltra and Sylda delivery systems allow Ariane 5 to deliver two satellites to GTO with a weight penalty of between 500 and 1000kg, depending on which upper stage is used.

Payload diameter is limited to 4m when Speltra or Sylda is used.

[3] Saturn V manufacturer

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center served as the integrator. The first stage was built by Boeing, the second by North American, and the third by Douglas Aircraft.

[4] Saturn V diameter

The diameter of the SIVB third state was 6.61 Meters. The diameter of the SII second stage was 10 Meters. In some proposed but never launched configurations, payloads of up to 10 Meters were considered (in particular, certain late 60s space station proposals planned on using 10 Meter segments launched using the first two stages of the Saturn V.)

[5] Shuttle Payload

Shuttle payload diameter is limited to 4m by size of cargo bay.

[6] Titan 2

The Titan 2 was originally an ICBM. Titan 2s were man-rated for use in Gemini. Titan 2 ICBMs that were decommissioned in the 80s are being refurbished as space launch systems by Lockheed-Martin, for launchs into polar low earth orbit from Vandenburg.

[7] Titan 2 w/strap on boosters

It is unclear if this proposed configuration was ever used.

[8] Polar vs. Conventional Low Earth Orbit

There are significant differences in the payload that may be placed into low earth orbit from, say, the Cape, and into polar orbit from Vandenburg. According to Lockheed-Martin, a Titan IV/B-Centaur can place 47,800 lbs into low earth orbit from the Cape but only 38,800 lbs into a low polar orbit from Vandenburg.