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Thu Jul 04 12:54:39 UTC 2019

Space Launch Vehicles


For mere humans, space, or outer space is a complex thing to understand. It is a zone that is situated about 100 kilometers above the earth?s surface, with no air to breathe or to scatter light. Here, the lack of oxygen molecules makes the blue color of the sky black. Furthermore, it is a vacuum, where sound cannot travel. In its empty areas, one can find gas, dust and other bits of matter, while stars, galaxies and planets are found in areas that are more crowded.

In order to fly in outer space, you would need a vehicle or machine, known as a Space Aircraft, or Spacecraft. It is a type of artificial satellite which is used for many different purposes like communication, meteorology, earth observation, navigation, planetary exploration as well as transportation of cargo and humans.

Launch Vehicles and Their Types:

Another such vehicle is a carrier rocket, or a launch vehicle, which is a rocket-propelled vehicle used to carry freight from the surface of the earth to the space. All launch vehicles are designed for a single use, and are thus also known as expendable launch vehicles.

Launch vehicles are usually categorized on the basis of a variety of factors, such as freight mass, which could include satellites, robotic spacecraft, landers, rovers and other similar things.

On the basis of their capabilities, launch vehicles are of the following types:

1.  Small Lift Launch Vehicle:

This is a type of rocket orbital launch vehicle which can lift a weight of up to 2,000 kilograms of freight or payload into Earth's low orbit. One of the first small-lift launch vehicles was the Sputnik rocket, which put an unmanned orbital carrier rocket into the orbit. It was also the rocket that was used to carry out the first satellite launch of the world. One of the most famous SLV is the Vega. It is an expendable launch system which is designed to launch small payloads and cargo for earth observation and other scientific missions to polar as well as low earth orbits.

2.  Medium Lift Launch Vehicle:

This is a rocket orbital launch vehicle which can lift a payload of 2,000 to 20,000 kilograms into low earth orbit. Soyuz-2 is the best example of an MLV, and is a three-stage carrier rocket to carry payloads into the earth?s low orbit.

3.  Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle:

Also known as HLV, this launch vehicle is capable of carrying a freight of 20,000 to 50,000 kilograms. These vehicles are designed to offer heavy lifting capabilities in many configuration systems. One of the major operational heavy lift launch vehicles is the Ariane 5, which is an expendable rocket launch system that is used to deliver cargo and freight into the geostationary transfer orbits or the low orbit of the earth.

4.  Super Heavy Lift Vehicle:

This is a type of launch vehicle that can lift more than 50 tons of freight and payload into the earth?s low orbit.

History of Space Launch:

The earliest space launches can be traced back to the use of ballistic missiles for military during the 1950s and early 1960s. The basic ideas behind the missiles were developed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard and Hermann Oberth, who were all pioneers of space exploration. y Video

Those were times when humans were increasingly becoming curious about space. These pioneers, along with geniuses from across the world, developed rockets that were powerful enough to overcome the gravitational forces and reach orbital velocities, thereby making the dreams of space exploration a reality.

Nazi Germany was the first to see the potential of using long-distance rockets as weapons. Towards the end of the second World War, London was attacked by V-2 missiles which had a range of 200 miles and arched 60 miles high over the English Channel with a speed of over 3,500 miles an hour. After the war was over, the Soviet Union joined hands with the United States to create their own missile programs.

The Soviet Union then launched its first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into space on October 4th 1957. On April 12th 1961, Russian Lt. Yuri Gagarin became the first ever human who orbited the earth in Vostok. He reached an altitude of almost 327 kilometres in his flight which lasted for roughly 108 minutes.

Explorer 1 was the first U.S. satellite that went into orbit on January 31st 1958. Alan Shepard became the first American who flew into space in 1961, with John Glenn?s becoming the first American who orbited the earth in his flight on February 20th 1962.

Later, to reach the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely back to earth set by the American President John F. Kennedy, on July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person in the world to step on the moon.

The main highlight of the 1970s was Skylab, which was America?s first space station, along with the Apollo Soyuz Test Project, which was the first internationally crewed space mission in the world and had American and Russian crews.

Later on, in the 1980s, satellite communications were expanded to air television programs and enabled people to pick up satellite signals on their dish antennas.

Over the years, space launch systems have been designed keeping in mind the need to maintain a cost reduction yet improve the safety measures, increase dependability as well as reliability. The different nations of the world have their own launching systems which has increased the competition of the same in commercial launch markets.

Current Scenario of The Space Market:

Ever since the early 2010s, privately developed launch vehicle systems have entered the space market, which has challenged the companies economically as well as politically. Along with a reduction in the per-unit prices, there has been an added number of capabilities in the vehicles.

The space market is one of the world?s most lucrative markets, which is expected to grow even further with time. The demand for satellites and launch vehicle systems will incur huge investments from the top tier countries of the world. Like China, United States, Russia as well as the European Union. These investments will be helpful in the development of next generation satellite systems and the procurement of these systems by countries like India, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

New Technologies for The Space Market:

New technologies for space are being developed every single day. The most common space technologies developed regularly are for services like weather forecast, remote sensing, GPS systems, satellite television, and other long-distance communication systems. 

The latest technology that could change the world is the Deep Space Atomic Clock, which is an instrument the size of a toaster oven travelling in a commercial satellite that was released into the earth?s low orbits. This clock will test for new ways for a spacecraft to navigate into the deep space. It could also give rise to the possibility of a GPS-like navigation at Mars and the Moon.

Other technological advancements include the Tandem Beacon Experiment, the Green Propellant Infusion Mission as well as Space Environment Testbeds. 

Competition Between Space Companies:

Many companies from the private sector are now entering the space market and gaining recognition quite faster than expected. Additionally, they are also contributing to economic growth as well. Several of these companies are aiming for human spaceflight. Some of the best of these are SpaceX, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, Arianespace and Blue Origin. Their main goal is to reduce the cost of access to space, by re-using space launchers and spacecrafts, and thus making space accessible to those who are not trained astronauts.

SpaceX is undoubtedly one of the best companies in the market known for providing low cost, high performance and reusable rockets. Founded by Elon Musk in 2002, the company currently has launches worth $10 billion today.

One of the major competitors of SpaceX is Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, which develops reusable, next-generation rocket boosters and engines. It has been very public about its rocket systems designed for smaller space tourism, known as New Shepard. In September 2016, Blue Origin also announced its plans for the huge New Glenn rocket system, which not only reusable, but also orbit-capable.

With plans to release the first New Glenn rocket in 202o, the company has been developing the same in a 750,000 square foot hangar somewhere in Florida. Although the price is not certain as of yet, the booster is said to take off and land just like the one from SpaceX, and thus get reused, which will save the company a lot of money.

Additionally, one of the other bigger rivals of SpaceX is ArianeGroup, commonly known by its launch-focused vehicle, Arianespace.

The company is currently working on a follow-up version of its successful Ariane 5 rocket and is set to launch in 2020. If successful, the Ariane 6 could have the potential to carry almost twice as much freight and payload as the SpaceX?s Falcon 9, into more than 22,000 miles above the earth?s orbit. The makers of the rocket also aim to make the prices lower than what SpaceX currently offers.

Moreover, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which is the main contractor of the Chinese Space Program, is also aiming towards a fast-paced spaceflight program. Although they cannot currently match the pricing of SpaceX, this could very well change in the near future. 

The country is said to be developing a reusable, hypersonic space plane and plan to launch it in 2025. They might also launch a fully reusable and a capable model which is nuclear powered sometime soon after that.

The competition between the different space companies is not different from the usual business models that we see. Completion lowers prices and increases the amount of the risk that companies might be willing to take to increase their profitability.


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