Rockets of Today

— the revival, 2008–2016 —

After a period of inactivity in which well-established spaceflight systems went mostly unchallenged, things started to wake up. In the United States, NASA responded to the coming need to replace the Space Shuttle with a new approach: ask companies to design their own launchers and spacecraft, and let them compete. This stimulated a burst of innovation, some of it very successful, with the shining example being new company SpaceX and their revolutionary Falcon 9, which reached orbit just one year before the final Shuttle flight. Orbital ATK also answered the call with their Antares.

Russia and China also had aging fleets, and saw that price competition could now become an economic factor. Russia started to develop a modernized replacement rocket called the Angara to cover a wide range of lift capacities, while eyeing reusability for a followup effort. They were struggling to maintain their legacy as a space superpower despite an economy less and less able to support such extravagances. China, where both money and ambition had become very plentiful, revamped their Long March line with a series of advanced designs, and made big plans for how to use them. But first, they started bringing solid rockets online for small payloads, and these were the key for China to start building up its own private commercial space industry, by repurposing rocket stages designed for military use. After the government deployed the Kuaizhou, Kaituozhe, and Long March 11, aerospace companies both established and new added several more military-derived launchers. The Smart Dragon, Hyperbola, Ceres, and Lijian all reached orbit, and others are working to join them.

Japan also modernized their small-launch capability with the cost-conscious Epsilon, and the ESA did likewise with the Vega. As satellites get smaller, solid fuel is enjoying a brief time of fluorishing. India, on the other hand, went big with the LVM 3 (formerly called the GSLV Mark III) — a vehicle that they hope will prove capable of crewed flight.

But before any of those (other than the long-abandoned Falcon 1) got off the ground, an earlier round of innovation emerged from an unlikely place: the North Koreans and Iranians teamed up to create orbital rockets with the Safir and Unha, with the Qased, Simorgh, and Chollima following after. The South Koreans answered with the Naro and the Nuri, proving that national space programs are now within reach for countries without superpower-level economies.

— Rockets included with current filters: · Falcon · Safir, Unha, and successors · Vega · KSLV/Naro/Nuri · Antares · Epsilon · Chinese solids · Angara (Amur) · LVM · Long March (new) —