Move Aside Saturn V: The Real Era of Mega Rockets is Upon Us
Four Gargantuan Rockets That Will Fly In the Near Future
Sometimes size does matter. The decades of the 2020’s promises to be an exciting era for rocketry and space exploration as a slew of new rocket systems come online. While most of the systems are smaller and promise vastly cheaper access to space, gigantic rockets are also back in vogue. For this article we are going to take a quick look at some of the biggest rockets coming down the pipeline. Even the mighty Saturn V will look small in comparison to some of these giants.
Courtesy of Blue Origin
# 1) New Glenn (Blue Origin)
New Glenn is probably the least capable, and perhaps you might call it the “baby” of the bunch, but it is certainly an awesome piece of engineering…and its first flight is only about a year away. At 7 meters in diameter and 96 meters tall, this beast will be powered by 7 Blue Origin-developed BE-4 engines, each providing about 550,000 pounds of thrust. This is all packed into a first stage that is designed to land back on Earth (much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9) and can be reused up to 25 times. Don’t worry about its size though, New Glenn is rumored to be getting a bigger brother called New Armstrong, but no details are available.
ChangZheng 9 (Far Right)
# 2) ChangZheng 9-China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
It is no secret that China has been methodically advancing its space exploration and aerospace capabilities. While the primary focus right now is building a space station in low Earth orbit, China is starting to look beyond to crewed lunar exploration. The ChangZheng-9 will be the centerpiece of an effort to take Chinese astronauts to the Moon. This monstrous rocket will be 9.5 meters in diameter and about 100 meters tall. It will be capable of tossing about 50 tons to the Moon, well more than the Saturn V and even more than the SLS (see below). I strongly suspect, however, that China will modify the design to include some level of reusability by the time it flies in 2030.
Starship Rocket (Center)
# 3) Starship-SpaceX
I have written extensively about Starship as it is arguably the most ambitious of the group. Starship intends to be the most capable rocket on this list, while also being fully reusable (and therefore the cheapest). Starship will be 9 meters in diameter and about 120 meters tall. It will be powered by an astonishing 31 Raptor engines, each producing 450 to 550 thousand pounds of thrust. Rocket development is ongoing and it could fly as early as next year, but will likely take several years to reach its ultimate design goals. If all goes well, once reuse and refueling is perfected, Starship could throw as much as 100 tons to the Moon
#4) The Space Launch System
Probably the most controversial of the rockets listed here, the SLS has been under development for many years already, and is horribly behind schedule and over budget. This rocket is indeed massive though, in its initial version, it will be able to throw around 27 tons to the Moon, but could reach 40 tons with an improved upper stage. The main drawback is the system’s cost…at over $1 Billion per flight, this rocket seems destined for the chopping block if New Glenn or Starship prove their capabilities. Expect a first flight in 2022. Despite its cost, we should be glad to see this monster fly.
The next decade is going to be an exciting one indeed. I hope that we can all share in the excitement as we follow the development of these massive machines and applaud the triumph of science and technology. If all goes well, these massive machines will unlock entire new industries, creating a new era of jobs and economic growth.
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