SpaceX, the private space company, has changed the way rockets and spacecraft are perceived by the general public. Space travel is no longer the preserve of scientists and astronauts. A trip to the outer universe seems possible thanks to the company Elon Musk, which offers to travel on its ships to Mars in the future.
With technology advancing by leaps and bounds, humans might well conquer space and establish colonies the way the movies did, with rockets serving as launch vehicles. Here is an overview of the most powerful rockets in the world.
Most powerful rockets in history and in development
SpaceX touts its Falcon Heavy as the most powerful rocket in use today. This 20-stage, three-thruster super rocket packs some impressive stats, but how does it stack up against the big, heavy rockets of the past and those in development for the future? Discover our ranking.
10. Delta IV Heavy
Country of origin: United States Service: January 2004 to present Height: 72 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 22.5 tons
Delta IV Heavy is the most powerful ship in the Delta family of rockets from the private American company United Launch Alliance. Prior to the Falcon Heavy’s first launch, it was the most powerful rocket in service.
United Launch Alliance launches Delta IVs from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The United States government is the primary customer. The launcher is 72 meters tall and larger than the Falcon Heavy. The US military uses this launcher to put security satellites into orbit.
9. Space Shuttle
Country of origin: United States Service: April 1981 to July 2011 Height: 17.25 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 27.2 tons
With its airplane-shaped orbiter, huge orange external fuel tank and two boosters, the Space Shuttle has become synonymous with American space exploration. It is a reusable spacecraft system that NASA has developed to send people and payloads into orbit. The two solid rocket boosters provide the thrust necessary to put the vehicle into orbit.
The shuttles Atlantis , Challenger , Columbia , Discovery and Endeavor went to space 135 times between 1981 and 2011.
Country of Origin: United States Service: In development Height: 57.2 meters Maximum Payload in Low Earth Orbit: 27.2 tons
Vulcan is developed by a private company: United Launch Alliance (ULA) , also a major competitor of SpaceX . It will have a height of 57.2 meters. The launch vehicle is expected to have a thrust velocity of 1723 tons and will be capable of carrying a payload of 27.2 tons into Earth orbit. It is expected to make its first test flight in 2020. United Launch Alliance has always referred to Vulcan as “the next generation launch system”.
ULA announced that it had entered into a partnership with Blue Origin to develop liquid oxygen and liquid methane BE-4 engines in the first stage of its Vulcan rocket .
7. New Glenn
Country of origin: United States Service: In development Height: 82 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 45 tons
Another heavy lift vehicle in development on the US commercial space scene is Blue Origin ‘s New Glenn Orbital Launch Vehicle.
Like Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, New Glenn is designed to be reusable. This powerful rocket is developed by the Blue Origins space company of Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon). It will use 9 BE-4 engines to give it a take-off thrust of 1746 tons. It will have a height of 82 meters and a payload capacity of 45 tons in low orbit. The company hopes to launch it by 2021.
Country of origin: United States Date: In development Height: 122 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 100 tons
Previously known as the BFR or “Big Falcon Rocket”, this space vehicle is crucial to SpaceX’s plans to build a crewed base on Mars . Starship is currently still under development. The launcher will be 122 meters tall and have a payload capacity of over 100 tonnes. The spacecraft performed its first high-altitude test flight on December 8, 2020.
5. Space Launch Systems (SLS)
Country of Origin: United States Service: In development Height: 98-111 meters Max Payload in Low Earth Orbit: 70 tons (Block 1), 130 tons (Block 2)
The SLS is currently under development by NASA and will carry astronauts to the Moon and Mars as part of its Orion project. It is planned to stand at a height of up to 111 meters with a maximum payload of 70 tons (Block 1) + 130 tons. The SLS will have a take-off thrust of up to 5216 tons.
NASA plans to send humans to Mars using this rocket launcher by the early 2030s.
4. Long March 9
Country of origin: China Service: in development Height: 93 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 140 tons
China has been flying Long March rockets since 1970. The super-heavy Long March 9 rocket is still in the development phase and is not expected to enter the market until 2028. When it does, it could be a candidate for the most powerful rocket in the world.
The Long Marc 9 will be powered by a new generation liquid oxygen and kerosene engine, with a power of 500 tons of thrust.
Country of origin: Soviet Union Service: May 1987 to November 1988 Height: 59 meters Maximum payload in low orbit: 105 tons
Energia was a rocket developed by the Soviet Union to launch crewed spacecraft. The rocket was only launched twice. The first launch was a test launch with the uncrewed Polyus spacecraft as the payload. The rocket launched successfully, but a software error prevented Polyus from reaching orbit. The second Energia launch successfully brought the unmanned Buran spacecraft into orbit. The Buran program was launched in 1976 in response to the US space shuttle program.
Energia was discontinued after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, in 2016 Russia announced plans to relaunch the rocket using existing Energia components . The story therefore remains to be written.
Country of origin: United States Service: November 1967 to May 1973 Height: 111 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 140 tons
Retired in 1973, Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever launched in history. Saturn V was successfully launched 13 times from Kennedy Space Center and was the rocket of choice for Apollo lunar missions, including Apollo 11 in 1969. The rocket also carried the first Skylab space station into orbit in 1973.
Saturn V is the mythical rocket that sent astronauts to the moon. Saturn V carried Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 spacecraft. Saturn V also carried Apollo 13, but the spacecraft had some problems and the mission had to be aborted.
Saturn V was in service from 1967 to 1973. It was 363 feet tall and its takeoff thrust was 3447 tons. It had a payload capacity of 140 tons in low Earth orbit.
1. Falcon Heavy
Country of origin: United States Date: February 2018 to present Height: 70 meters Maximum payload in low Earth orbit: 63.8 tons
Although Saturn V is the most powerful in history, SpaceX ‘s Falcon Heavy is the most powerful launch vehicle in service today and synonymous with the future of space expansion. It made its first flight on February 6, 2018, with a Tesla Roadster as its payload , which was launched into space. Two of her two boosters successfully landed on land and were recovered.
The launcher is 70 meters high and manages a take-off thrust of 2267 tons thanks to its impressive 27 Merlin 1D engines. Its maximum payload is 63.8 tons. SpaceX developed the Merlin for use on Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. Merlin engines use RP-1 and liquid oxygen as rocket propellants in a gas-generator power cycle.