Credit: NASA – Delta II launch vehicle

Launch vehicle definition

A launch vehicle is a carrier rocket that is used to carry objects from Earth either to another surface point (Sub-orbital transportation), or into space (Earth orbit or beyond).

They are the only machines that can provide the massive thrust needed to overcome the inner pull of Earth’s gravity and able to launch a spacecraft into space.

Early rockets

Early rockets were made 1000 years ago in China that were powered by gunpowder, but lacked the ability to travel more than one km.

During the second world war, Germany developed several kinds of rockets as long distance weapons such as the Revenge Weapon 2 (V2). In 1944, V2 was sent on a test flight and was the first man made object to reach a height of above 180 km.

Following the second world war, more V2’s were developed in the US, in 1948 the US bumper series reached almost 400 km and the USSR flew the R-7 Semyorka in 1957.

How rockets work?

When the rocket engine burns propellant, hot gas is released, pushing force or thrust the vehicle upwards (in the opposite direction).

The propellant comes in 2 parts:

  • The fuel, which is a chemical that burns and produces the hot gas. Solid fuel is a rubbery substance, once lit usually keeps burning until it runs out (with little control). Liquid fuel flow can be controlled by tap-like valves.
  • An oxidizer, a chemical that burns the fuel and contains large amount of oxygen such liquid oxygen, nitrogen, tetroxide and hydrogen peroxide.

Launch vehicle subsystems

A launch system includes the launch vehicle, launch pad, vehicle assembly and fuelling systems, range safety, and other related infrastructure.0 km per hour!

Launch vehicle sites

Several countries own launch vehicles and launch platforms such as Russia, USA, Japan, China, European countries through the European Space Agency, India and both North and South Korea.

How fast are Launch vehicles?

Did you know, in order to reach Earth orbit, a launch vehicle must accelerate to a minimum velocity of 28,000 km per hour, roughly equivalent to 25 times the speed of sound! And to reach to a destination such as the Moon or Mars, it must be accelerated to a velocity of approximately 40,000 km per hour!