Rockets of Today

— the boom, 2017–present —

This is the period where big-budget governmental rockets fade into the background, and for-profit corporations dominate new developments in spaceflight. The “new space” era has now fully arrived — something that was not really true yet when I put up the first version of this web page about commercial rockets. In fact, at that time not one of the rockets in this section had reached orbit yet. But now, several small startups have developed small rockets that work: the Electron is doing very well, and the Firefly Alpha and ABL RS1 might be competing soon with a larger payload capacity, while some other ventures have started to drop away. (Astra looked like an addition to this group, until they withdrew their initial rocket after multiple failures. And Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne was a real competitor for a couple of years before going bust. Finally, Relativity decided retroactively that their Terran was only a “pathfinder” and would not compete.)

In China, the Tianlong from Space Pioneer is the first to join the orbit club as a private venture comparable to Rocket Lab, with their rivals LandSpace joining them not long after. (Of course, they face competition from the plethora of semi-private launchers using military solid rocket motors.) This section has been expanding substantially for the last year, and should continue to do so for a couple more, turning a shortage of small launch services into a glut... which will make it increasingly tough for any of these ventures to make money. There’s even a new private solid rocket from Japan entering the competition: the Kairos.

Big commercial rockets are also starting to show up here, most notably SpaceX’s incredible Starship, which if it works as hoped, will be not only the most powerful rocket of all time, but the most revolutionary as well, capable of opening up the whole solar system. Others are coming soon, such as ULA’s Vulcan.

And as these companies, and the many others trying to match them, bring all their new rockets to market, existing rockets are busier than ever. The total number of launches per year is now surpassing the records set during the cold war. China in particular has greatly increased its launch activity in the last decade, though America is doing just as much to raise the total. And China has also shown that its own private ventures can develop a modern launch vehicle: Landspace was the first to graduate from working with repurposed missiles to building an all-new liquid fueled rocket, though Space Pioneer beat them to orbit.

Governments are getting in on the action too. India's solid-fuel SSLV is helping them lower launch costs, just like Europe’s Vega and China’s Long March 11 did earlier. And NASA finally got their bloated SLS off the ground to start the Artemis program.

— Rockets included with current filters: · Electron · Alpha · SSLV · SLS · LandSpace · RS1 · Terran · Tianlong · Starship · Vulcan · Kairos · Neptune —