The launch vehicle that dominates
the commercial satellite launch market internationally is ESA's Ariane, a
stellar example of a successful international collaborative project much
like another European success story, the Airbus passenger aircraft. Ariane
has developed five major families of launch vehicles: Ariane 1, 2, 3, 4,
and 5. The earliest, Ariane 1, made its first flight in December 1979.
Most current launches use the Ariane 5, which made its first commercial
launch in December 1999.
China has also developed a wide
array of launch vehicles, some of which it offers on a commercial basis
via the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), a Chinese foreign
trading company that was established in October 1980. Since 1970, China
has developed 16 different launch vehicle models that have been launched
nearly 80 times. Chinese attempts to commercially sell its launch vehicles
have been thwarted by a well-publicized launch failure in February 1996
that killed civilians on the ground. There have also been concerns about
Chinese appropriation of Western technology, which led to a U.S. embargo
on commercial satellite launches using Chinese rockets.
Like the United States and
Russia, China's early launch vehicles were all derived from military
ballistic missiles. The first Chinese launch vehicle was the Chang Zheng 1
(CZ-1 or “Long March 1”), an improved version of the Dong Feng 3 military
rocket. This launch vehicle put the first Chinese satellite into orbit in
1970. China was the fifth nation (after the Soviet Union, the United
States, France, and Japan) to accomplish this feat.
Chinese launch vehicles for
human spaceflight projects. From left: Tsien Spaceplane Launcher, 1978;
Project 921 Launch Vehicle, 1992; CZ-2F, 1999; CZ-2E(A), 2000. Only the
last two were put into full-scale development.
The two-stage CZ-2 design was
based on the Dong Feng 5 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). There
have been at least six major versions of the CZ-2, whose first launch was
in November 1974. Most of these are available for commercial launches. The
most powerful is the CZ-2E with a capability to put as much as 9.2 tons
into Earth orbit. Perhaps the most famous CZ-2 rocket is the CZ-2F, a
three-stage vehicle intended to launch the first Chinese astronauts into
space on board the Shen Zhou spaceship. It was first launched in November
1999. Since 1974, there have been 35 CZ-2-related launches of which only
three have failed.
The CZ-3 is an improved CZ-2 with
the addition of a third stage. The CZ-3, first launched in January 1984,
was capable of putting about 1.4 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).
In April 1990, the CZ-3 launched the Hong Kong-owned AsiaSat-1
communications satellite into space, inaugurating commercial operations
using Chinese rockets. Later versions have included the CZ-3A, the CZ-3B,
and the CZ-3C. The CZ-3A, introduced in February 1994, included a new
third stage using high-performance liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The
most powerful of the CZ-3 family is the CZ-3B, which adds a fourth stage
and has a capability to put about 5 tons into GTO. China has carried out
24 CZ-3-related launches since 1984. Four of these were failures.
The three-stage CZ-4A, a new
generation of launch vehicles, was first launched in September 1988. Since
then, the Chinese have introduced a second variant, the CZ-4B, first flown
in May 1999. The CZ-4B can put about 1.5 tons to GTO. These launchers use
toxic storable propellants and were developed to orbit domestic scientific
and weather satellites. There have been six launches of CZ-4-related
rockets, all of them successful.
Japan has two agencies that
develop launch vehicles, the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Sciences
(ISAS) and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA). It was one of
the ISAS launch vehicles, the solid propellant Lambda L-4S, that launched
the first Japanese satellite into orbit in 1970. Later ISAS launchers have
included the M-4S (introduced in 1970), M-3C (in 1974), M-3H (in 1977),
M-3S (in 1980), and M-3SII (in 1985) rockets that have launched a wide
range of scientific satellites into space. All of these use solid
propellants. More recently, ISAS has developed the M-5 (or M-V) launch
vehicle that has a capability to place about two tons into
low-Earth-orbit. The M-5, which was launched for the first time in
February 1997, is used for deep space missions in addition to scientific
missions to Earth orbit.
The L-4S, the first Japanese
orbital launch vehicle.
NASDA's early launch vehicles
such as the N-I and N-II were derived from the American Delta rocket.
Later launch vehicles such as the H-I and H-II were indigenously developed
for launching large applications satellites into orbit. Both use
high-performance cryogenic propellants. The first H-II was launched in
February 1994, after a two-year delay resulting from technical problems in
the first-stage engine. NASDA is currently testing the new H-IIA rocket
that will be the next generation of operational Japanese launch vehicle.
The basic H-IIA is capable of launching about two tons into geostationary
orbit, while up-rated versions are expected to have a four-ton capability.
The first H-IIA was launched in August 2001.
NASDA and ISAS also jointly
developed the solid-propellant J-1 satellite launch vehicle using
available technology from each other's launch vehicles (the solid booster
of the H-II combined with the upper stage of the M-3SII). The J-1 was
launched for the first time in February 1996.
India used its small
solid-propellant four-stage Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) rocket to
launch its first satellite, the 90-pound (40 kilogram) Rohini-1B into
orbit in 1980. The technology for the SLV-3 was derived in part from the
American light Scout launch vehicles of the 1960s. After four SLV-3
launches, India produced an improved SLV-3 known as the Advanced SLV (or
ASLV) that was launched four times between 1987 and 1994. Two of these
orbital attempts failed. India then developed the five-stage Polar SLV (or
PSLV) to launch remote sensing satellites into sun-synchronous orbit. The
PSLV comprised a four-stage core surrounded by six strap-on boosters
derived from the ASLV. The rocked used a mix of liquid- and
solid-propellant rocket stages. Although the first PSLV launch in
September 1993 failed, the subsequent five orbital launches have been
India's major program in the
1990s has been the development of the three-stage (plus strap-ons)
Geostationary SLV (or GSLV), which would be capable of placing about 2.5
tons into GTO. Liquid propellants power all the stages besides the first
stage core. Russia is providing the key third stage that uses
high-performance cryogenic propellants. India is also developing an
indigenous cryogenic stage to replace the Russian one for operation by
2005. The first launch of the GSLV in April 2001 was a success, but
initial launches may not attain the promised capability of 2.5 tons to GTO.
Israel's Shavit (or “Comet”)
launch vehicle lifted its Offeq satellite into orbit in 1988. The Shavit
is a small three-stage solid-propellant rocket derived from the Jericho 2
ballistic missile developed by Israeli Aircraft Industries.
Brazil has been attempting to
develop a satellite launch vehicle, the VLS, for some time. The VLS is a
four-stage rocket using solid propellants. Much of the technology for the
VLS was derived from early Brazilian Sonda-class sounding rockets. Two
orbital attempts of the VLS in 1997 and 1999 failed, but Brazil continues
preparing for further launches.