Launchapalooza: 26 New Boosters Debuting Worldwide

Vega-C lifts off on its maiden flight on July 13, 2022. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the first seven months of the year, five new satellite launch vehicles from Europe, China, Russia and South Korea flew successfully for the first time. As impressive as that is, it was a mere opening act to a busy period that could see at least 20 additional launchers debut around the world.

The new launch vehicles range from massive beasts (Starship/Super Heavy, Space Launch System) designed to send astronauts to the moon and Mars to small satellite launchers capable of orbiting payloads weighing 100 kg (220 lb) or less. Rockets designed to replace boosters that have been the mainstays of the launch industries in the Europe, Japan and the United States will see their maiden flights over the next year.

Most of the new launch vehicles are designed to serve the booming small satellite market. Development has been pursued by both private companies, government space agencies and private-public partnerships. Whether there are enough payloads to support all these new boosters remains an open question.

New launchers are being developed in Australia, China, Europe, Japan, Russia, Taiwan and the United States. Launches will be conducted from at least 17 locations around the world. Seven spaceports in Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States will host their first orbital launch attempts.

Let’s take a closer look at who is launching what from where and when.

Flights of New Launch Vehicles, 2022

The maiden launch of South Korea’s Nuri booster. (Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute)

New Launch Vehicles Debut

The table below shows new launch vehicles that flew successfully during the first seven months of the year. Europe’s Vega C, Russia’s Angara-1.2, and China’s Long March 6A and KZ-1A had successful maiden flights. South Korea’s Nuri rocket placed a payload into orbit for the first time after failing during its initial launch last year.

DateLaunch VehicleLaunch ProviderLaunch SiteNotes
March 29, 2022Long March 6ACASC (China)TaiyuanUpgraded Long March 6 with two first stage engines and four solid-rocket boosters
April 29, 2022Angara-1.2Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (RVSN RF)PlesestkFirst orbital flight; suborbital test conducted in 2014
June 21, 2022Nuri (KSLV-II)KARI (South Korea)NaroFirst successful flight, maiden launch failed in 2021
July 13, 2022Vega CArianespace (Europe)Europe’s Spaceport (French Guiana)Upgraded version of Vega booster with 50% more payload capacity; built by Avio
July 27, 2022ZK-1A (Lijian-1)CAS Space (China)Jiuquan (China)Successful maiden flight; commercial spinoff of Chinese Academy of Sciences
Source: Wikipedia

The upgraded Long March 6 booster features a first stage equipped with two YF-100 engines instead of one engine and four solid-rocket boosters to improve performance. The upgraded booster can place 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) into a 700 km (435 mile) high sun synchronous orbit (SSO). Long March 6 is limited to launching 1,080 kg (2,381 lb) to SSO.

Russia’s Angara-1.2 launcher made its maiden flight on April 29. Although the launch appears to have gone as planned, the MKA EMKA No. 3 (Kosmos-2555) satellite made no attempt to raise its orbit and reentered the atmosphere less than three weeks later on May 17. Experts are not sure whether the satellite failed on orbit, or if it was a mass simulator to test the new booster.

Angara-1.2 is the smallest booster in the Angara rocket family, consisting of a single first stage and an upper stage. It is designed to place 3,800 kg (8,378 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO). A larger version, Angara-A5, is a heavy-lift vehicle with four liquid boosters attached to the first stage.

South Korea marked the summer solstice by successfully flying the nation’s first fully domestically produced satellite launcher. The Nuri rocket placed seven payloads into orbit from the Naro Space Center on South Korea’s southern coast.

Test model of the Nuri (KSLV-II) booster. (Credit: Ministry of Science and ICT)

The three-stage Nuri booster is designed to launch 2,600 kg (5,732 lb) into a 300 km (186 mile) high orbit or 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) into a 600-800 km (373-497 mile) high orbit.

Vega C’s maiden flight on July 13 carried the passive LARES 2 satellite, which is equipped with laser mirrors to allow scientists to study Earth’s gravitational field and conduct general relativity measurements. Six CubeSats with various scientific purposes were launched as secondary payloads.

The upgraded version of the Vega booster can deliver 2.3 metric tons into polar orbit compared with 1.5 metric tons by its smaller predecessor. Vega C’s P120C solid fuel motor will be used as strap-on boosters for Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket.

Two weeks later, CAS Space launched China’s newest satellite booster, ZK-1A (Lijian-1). The solid-fuel launcher is capable of placing 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) into LEO or 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) into SSO. CAS Space is a commercial spinoff of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Skyrora XL lifts off the launch pad. (Credit: Skyrora)

A Range of Boosters

Twenty new rockets are looking to make maiden flights in the next year or so. Firefly Aerospace will launch its Alpha booster for the second time from Vandenberg Space Force Base after the rocket failed on its maiden flight last year.

Upcoming Flights of New Launch Vehicles

DateLaunch VehicleLaunch ProviderLaunch SiteNotes
Aug. 7, 2022Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV)Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)Satish Dhawan (India)
August / SeptemberSpace Launch SystemNASA (USA)Kennedy Space CenterLaunch Orion spacecraft on uncrewed Artemis I mission to the moon
SeptemberJielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3)China Rocket (China)Launch Platform, Yellow Sea (China)Subsidiary of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)
Q3Starship / Super HeavySpaceX (USA)Starbase (USA)Suborbital flight–water landing off coast of Hawaii
Q3RS1ABL Space Systems (USA)PSC — Alaska (USA)Commercial launch provider
Q3AlphaFirefly Aerospace (USA)Vandenberg (USA)Second launch after failure on maiden flight in 2021
Q3Terran 1Relativity Space (USA)Cape Canaveral (USA)3D printed rocket
Q3Zhuque-2LandSpace (China)Jiuquan (China)Commercial launch provider
Q3Hapith VTaiwan Innovative Space Inc. (TiSpace)Whalers Way (Australia)Commercial launch provider
DecemberVulcan CentaurUnited Launch Alliance (USA)Cape Canaveral (USA)Successor launch vehicle to Atlas V & Delta IV
DecemberZK-2CAS Space (China)TBA (China)Commercial spinoff of Chinese Academy of Sciences
DecemberVikram 1Skyroot Aerospace (India)TBA (India)Commercial launch provider
Q4PrimeOrbex (Scotland)Sutherland (Scotland)Experimental payload; first launch from Sutherland
Q4RFA OneRocket Factory Augsburg (Germany)Andoya (Norway)First orbital launch from Andoya
TBDSkyrora XLSkyrora (Scotland)SaxaVord (Scotland)Second launch from SaxaVord
TBDSpectrumIsar Aerospace (Germany)Andoya (Norway)Second orbital launch from Andoya
TBDBlue Whale 1Perigee Aerospace (South Korea)Whalers Way (Australia)Commercial launch provider
TBDAgnibaanAgnikul Cosmos (India)PSC — Alaska (USA)Commercial launch provider
TBDErisGilmour Space (Australia)Abbot Point (Australia)Commercial launch provider
TBDH3Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan)Tanegashima (Japan)H-IIA & HIIB replacement
2023Ariane 6Arianespace (Europe)Europe’s Spaceport (French Guiana)Ariane 5 replacement
Source: Wikipedia

Five new American launch vehicles, a Chinese booster and an Indian rocket could make their maiden flights before summer ends on Sept. 22. The flights could include two of the most powerful launchers ever built.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) looks to extend the streak of successful booster debuts to five with the launch of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) on Sunday, Aug. 7. The launch is scheduled for 09:18 IST (03:48 UTC/11:48 p.m. on Saturday). Coverage will begin at 08:30 IST (03:00 UTC/11 p.m. EDT on Saturday).

SSLV is designed to launch 500 kg (1,102 lb) to LEO and 300 kg (661 lb) to SSO. It will be the smallest booster in the stable of Indian rockets that includes the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk. II and the GSLV Mk. III.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher as it rolls out to Launch Complex 39B for the first time, Thursday, March 17, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

NASA has set Aug. 29, Sept. 2 and Sept. 5 as possible launch dates for its Artemis I mission. The Space Launch System (SLS) will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a weeks-long flight test around the moon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is a crucial test before astronauts fly aboard on the Artemis II mission two years from now.

It will be the first launch of a crew vehicle to the moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. SLS is capable of placing 95 metric tons (104.7 US tons) into LEO.

Starship/Super Heavy on the launch pad at Boca Chica, Texas. (Credit: SpaceX)

In Texas, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is preparing for the maiden launch of its Starship/Super Heavy booster, which will be able to launch more than 100 metric tons (110.2 US tons) to LEO. The giant two-stage booster will lift off from SpaceX’s private Starbase located on the Gulf Coast just north of the Mexican border.

“A ‘successful’ orbital flight is probably between 1 and 12 months from now,” Musk tweeted on Tuesday.

Starship/Super Heavy’s maiden launch will not be an orbital flight. Starship will come down in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii. SpaceX is hoping to land the Super Heavy stage back on its launch pad.

While preparations for flights of these massive rockets continue in Florida and Texas, two U.S. startup companies are getting ready to launch two much smaller boosters from Alaska and California.

Second Firefly Alpha rocket on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

ABL Space Systems is at Pacific Launch Complex–Alaska on Kodiak Island preparing for the maiden flight of its RS1 booster. The liquid-fuel rocket is designed to place 1,350 kg (2,976 lb) into LEO for $12 million per flight.

Firefly Aerospace is preparing for its second flight of its Alpha booster at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Firefly can launch 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) to LEO or 630 kg (1,389 lb) to SSO. Alpha failed during its maiden launch in September 2021 when a propellant valve failed on one of its four first-stage Reaver engines.

China Rocket is scheduled to launch its Jielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3) booster from a platform in the Yellow Sea in September. The solid-fuel rocket is capable of launching 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) to SSO. China Rocket is a subsidiary of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

Artist’s view of Ariane 6 and Vega-C. (Credit: ESA – D. Ducros)

A Broad Range of Market Segments

The table below shows new launch vehicles by payload capacity to LEO and SSO. The boosters range from the aforementioned SLS and Starship/Super Heavy designed for crewed deep-space missions down to Perigee Aerospace’s Blue Whale 1, which can launch 65 kg (143 lb) to LEO or 50 kg (110 lb) to SSO.

New Launch Vehicles by Payload Capacity

Launch VehicleLaunch ProviderBooster TypePayload to LEOPayload to SSO
Blue Whale 1Perigee Aerospace (South Korea)Liquid65 kg (143 lb)50 kg (110 lb)
AgnibaanAgnikul Cosmos (India)Liquid100 kg (220 lb)
PrimeOrbex (Scotland)Liquid150 kg (331 lb)
ErisGilmour Space (Australia)Hybrid305 kg (672 lb)
Skyrora XLSkyrora (Scotland)Liquid315 kg (694 lb)
Hapith VTaiwan Innovative Space Inc. (TiSpace)Hybrid390 kg (860 lb)350 kg (772 lb)
Vikram 1Skyroot Aerospace (India)3 Solid, 1 liquid480 kg (1,058 lb)
Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV)Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)3 Solid, 1 liquid500 kg (1,102 lb)300 kg (661 lb)
AlphaFirefly Aerospace (USA)Liquid1,000 kg (2,205 lb)630 kg (1,389 lb)
SpectrumIsar Aerospace (Germany)Liquid1,000 kg (2,205 lb)700 kg (1,543 lb)
RS1ABL Space Systems (USA)Liquid1,350 kg (2,976 lb)
Terran 1Relativity Space (USA)Liquid1,479 kg (3,261 lb)898 kg (1,980 lb)
Jielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3)China Rocket (China)Solid1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
RFA OneRocket Factory Augsburg (Germany)Liquid1,600 kg (3,527 lb)650-1,350 kg (1,433-2,976 lb)
ZK-1A (Lijian-1)*CAS Space (China)Solid2,000 kg (4,409 lb)1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
Vega C*Arianespace (Europe)3 Solid, 1 liquid2,200 kg (4,850 lb)
Nuri (KSLV-II)+KARI (South Korea)Liquid1,500-2,600 kg (3,307-5,732 lb)
Angara-1.2*Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (RVSN RF)Liquid3,800 kg ( lb)
Zhuque-2LandSpace (China)Liquid4,000 kg (8,818 lb)2,000 kg (4,409)
ZK-2CAS Space (China)Solid3,550 kg (7,826 lb)
H3Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan)Liquid with solid-fuel boosters4,000 kg (8,819 lb)
Long March 6D*CASCLiquid with solid-fuel boosters4,500 kg (9,921 lb)
Ariane 6Arianespace (Europe)Liquid with solid-fuel boosters10,350-21,640 kg (22,818-47,708 lb)7,200-15,500 kg (15,873-34,172)
Vulcan CentaurUnited Launch Alliance (USA)Liquid with solid-fuel boosters27,200 kg (59,966 lb)
Space Launch System (SLS)NASALiquid with solid-fuel boosters95,000 kg (209,439 lb)
Starship /Super HeavySpaceXLiquid100,000+ kg (220,462 lb)
Source: Wikipedia
* Successful maiden flight
+ Successful second flight, maiden flight failed

New boosters are being developed in Europe, Japan and the United States to replace launchers that have been the mainstay for military and civilian payloads.

United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket will replace the Atlas V and Delta IV launcher families. The new booster is designed to launch a wide range of payloads. It can be launched in its basic two-stage variant or be augmented with two, four or six solid rocket boosters.

Artist’s conception of Vulcan Centaur rocket. (Credit: ULA)

The maiden launch has been delayed due to technical challenges with the BE-4 first stage engine supplied by Blue Origin. The first flight is still scheduled for the end of this year, but it could slip into 2023.

Europe’s Ariane 6 is designed to give Europe a more affordable, competitive and flexible launch vehicle than Ariane 5, which typically launches two large geosynchronous communications satellites at a time. Ariane 6 can be launched in a two-stage configuration, or augmented with between two or four solid rockets to accommodate heavier payloads.

In June, European Space Agency Director General Josef Aschbacher revealed that the rocket’s maiden would be delayed into 2023 due to a series of development issues.

H3 launch vehicle variants (Credit: JAXA)

Japan’s H3 rocket is designed to replace the H-IIA and H-IIB rockets. (H-IIA is operational; H-IIB was retired in 2020.) Like Vulcan Centaur and Ariane 6, the H3 is a two-stage booster whose payload can be increased by adding two tor four solid-fuel boosters.

Engineers have experienced technical challenges with the new rocket’s engines. Officials have not set a date for the maiden launch.

RFA One launcher in flight (Credit: Rocket Factory)

Launch Vehicles by Nation

Europe and the United States are tied with six new launch vehicles making their maiden or second flights. China is in third place with five new rockets, with India behind it with three boosters. South Korea has launched one new rocket — Nuri — and has another — Blue Whale 1 — awaiting its first flight. Australia, Japan Russia and Taiwan have one new rocket each.

New Launch Vehicles by Nation/Region

PrimeOrbexLiquid150 kg (331 lb)
Skyrora XLSkyroraLiquid315 kg (694 lb)
SpectrumIsar AerospaceLiquid1,000 kg (2,205 lb)700 kg (1,543 lb)
RFA OneRocket Factory AugsburgLiquid1,600 kg (3,527 lb)650-1,350 kg (1,433-2,976 lb)
Vega C*Arianespace (built by Avio)3 Solid, 1 liquid2,200 kg (4,850 lb)
Ariane 6ArianespaceLiquid with solid-fuel boosters10,350-21,640 kg (22,818-47,708 lb)7,200-15,500 kg (15,873-34,172)
AlphaFirefly AerospaceLiquid1,000 kg (2,205 lb)630 kg (1,389 lb)
RS1ABL Space SystemsLiquid1,350 kg (2,976 lb)
Terran 1Relativity SpaceLiquid1,479 kg (3,261 lb)898 kg (1,980 lb)
Vulcan CentaurUnited Launch AllianceLiquid with solid-fuel boosters27,200 kg (59,966 lb)
Space Launch System (SLS)NASALiquid with solid-fuel boosters95,000 kg (209,439 lb)
Starship / Super HeavySpaceXLiquid100,000+ kg (220,462 lb)
Jielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3)China RocketSolid1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
ZK-1A (Lijian-1)*CAS SpaceSolid2,000 kg (4,409 lb)1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
Zhuque-2LandSpaceLiquid4,000 kg (8,818 lb)2,000 kg (4,409)
ZK-2CAS SpaceSolid3,550 kg (7,826 lb)
Long March 6A*CASCLiquid with solid-fuel boosters4,500 kg (9,921 lb)
AgnibaanAgnikul CosmosLiquid100 kg (220 lb)
Vikram 1Skyroot Aerospace3 Solid, 1 liquid480 kg (1,058 lb)
Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV)Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)3 Solid, 1 liquid500 kg (1,102 lb)300 kg (661 lb)
Blue Whale 1Perigee AerospaceLiquid65 kg (143 lb)50 kg (110 lb)
Nuri (KSLV-II)+Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)Liquid1,500-2,600 kg (3,307-5,732 lb)
ErisGilmour Space (Australia)Hybrid305 kg (672 lb)
H3Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan)Liquid with solid-fuel boosters4,000 kg (8,819 lb)
Angara-1.2*Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (RVSN RF)Liquid3,800 kg (8,378 lb)
Hapith VTaiwan Innovative Space Inc. (TiSpace)Hybrid390 kg (860 lb)350 kg (772 lb)
Source: Wikipedia
* Successful maiden flight
+ Successful second flight, maiden launch failed

Four European startup — Orbex, Skyrora, Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg — are developing boosters for the small satellite market. Vega C and Ariane 6 will serving the medium and large satellite markets, respectively.

American companies ABL Space, Firefly Aerospace and Relativity Space are developing launchers to serve the small-satellite industry. Vulcan Centaur is designed for large satellites while SLS and Starship/Super Heavy are heavy-lift vehicles designed to support deep-space exploration.

Three of China’s new rockets are focused on serving the small to medium launch sector. ZK2 rocket will be one of the most powerful solid-fuel boosters in the world with a 3,550 kg (7,826 lb) lifting capacity to SSO. China has placed a major emphasis on commercializing its space industry through startups, spinoffs from government corporations, and a policy of civil-military fusion that involves cooperation between the two sectors.

Indian startups Agnikul Cosmos and Skyroot Aerospace are developing rockets as the nation looks to spur more private participation in its government-dominated space program. The other new booster, SSLV, was developed by the nation’s space agency, ISRO.

Australia’s Gilmour Space and Taiwan Innovative Space are both developing small-satellite launchers that use hybrid propulsion systems. Both companies will launch from new Australian spaceports.

A rocket launches from Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst. (Credit: Shetland Flyer Aerial Media)

Launches of New Boosters by Spaceport

Launches of new rockets are to take place from spaceports in Australia, China, French Guiana, India, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The two most watched upcoming launches will no doubt be NASA’s Artemis I mission from Florida and SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy from the company’s Starbase facility in Texas. There haven’t been launches of rockets that powerful from U.S. soil since the Saturn V was retired in 1973.

New spaceports have been spouting up like weeds in Europe and Australia. Sutherland and SaxaVord in Scotland will host launches of the Prime and Skyrora XL rockets. Virgin Orbit is scheduled to conduct the first launch from the United Kingdom’s other new launch site, Spaceport Cornwall, in September.

New Launch Vehicle Flights by Spaceport

Sutherland (Scotland)PrimeOrbex150 kg (331 lb)
SaxaVord (Scotland)Skyrora XLSkyrora315 kg (694 lb)
Spaceport Cornwall (England)^LauncherOneVirgin Orbit500 kg (1,102 lb)300 kg (661 lb)
Andoya (Norway)SpectrumIsar Aerospace1,000 kg (2,205 lb)700 kg (1,543 lb)
Andoya (Norway)RFA OneRocket Factory Augsburg1,600 kg (3,527 lb)650-1,350 kg (1,433-2,976 lb)
Europe’s Spaceport (French Guiana)Vega C*Arianespace2,200 kg (4,850 lb)
Europe’s Spaceport (French Guiana)Ariane 6Arianespace10,350-21,640 kg (22,818-47,708 lb)7,200-15,500 kg (15,873-34,172)
PSC–AlaskaAgnibaanAgnikul Cosmos100 kg (220 lb)
PSC–AlaskaRS1ABL Space Systems1,350 kg (2,976 lb)
VandenbergAlphaFirefly Aerospace1,000 kg (2,205 lb)630 kg (1,389 lb)
Cape CanaveralTerran 1Relativity Space1,479 kg (3,261 lb)898 kg (1,980 lb)
Cape CanaveralVulcan CentaurUnited Launch Alliance27,200 kg (59,966 lb)
Kennedy Space CenterSpace Launch System (SLS)NASA95,000 kg (209,439 lb)
StarbaseStarship / Super HeavySpaceX100,000+ kg (220,462 lb)
Platform, Yellow SeaJielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3)China Rocket1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
JiuquanZK-1A (Lijian-1)*CAS Space2,000 kg (4,409 lb)1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
JiuquanZhuque-2LandSpace4,000 kg (8,818 lb)2,000 kg (4,409)
TBAZK-2CAS Space3,550 kg (7,826 lb)
TaiyuanLong March 6D*CASC4,500 kg (9,921 lb)
TBAVikram 1Skyroot Aerospace480 kg (1,058 lb)
Satish DhawanSmall Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV)Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)500 kg (1,102 lb)300 kg (661 lb)
Whalers WayBlue Whale 1Perigee Aerospace65 kg (143 lb)50 kg (110 lb)
Whalers WayHapith VTaiwan Innovative Space Inc. (TiSpace)390 kg (860 lb)350 kg (772 lb)
Abbot PointErisGilmour Space305 kg (672 lb)
PlesetskAngara-1.2*Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (RVSN RF)3,800 kg (8,378 lb)
NaroNuri (KSLV-II)+Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)1,500-2,600 kg (3,307-5,732 lb)
TanegashimaH3Mitsubishi Heavy Industries4,000 kg (8,819 lb)
Source: Wikipedia
* Successful maiden flight
+ Successful second flight, maiden launch failed
^First launch from Spaceport Cornwall, sixth LauncherOne flight

Andoya Space Center in Norway will host orbital launches for the first time by Isar Aerspace and Rocket Factory Augsburg. Andoya is a sounding rocket range that previously limited launches to suborbital flights.

Australia has developed two new spaceports — Abbot Point and Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex — to host orbital launches. Gilmour Space Technologies will launch from Abbot Point. Taiwan Innovative Space Inc. and Perigee Aerospace of South Korea plan to launch from Whalers Way.