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Home / Science / Four giant rockets are due to debut in 2020 – will anyone make it?

Four giant rockets are due to debut in 2020 – will anyone make it?



Enlarge / The Falcon Heavy is just the beginning of big rocket debuts …

Trevor Mahlmann

Rocket enthusiasts may be lucky to see the debut of a handful of big, high-performance rockets , For example, in the last 10 years, only three rockets with a capacity of 25 tons or more into orbit have made their debut: The Russian Angara A5 flew in 201

4, the Chinese Long March 5, 2016 and the SpaceX Falcon Heavy earlier this year.

However, there is a chance that up to four big and mighty rockets will debut in a single year as four boosters have planned their maiden launches for 2020. Of course, there is also a chance that none of them will fly. Delays are often inevitable in the launcher industry, especially with such large and somewhat unparalleled boosters. Given the uncertainty and unprecedented potential, we thought it might be fun to judge if some or all could do it.

Ars turned to several aerospace and aerospace experts for opinions on the viability of these launch dates. To put it bluntly, the "confidence" of achieving a launch in 2020 – and "estimated launch dates" below are at best estimated guesses – reflects what these informed people believe is possible. Remember that there are many, many variables that go into an actual start date: find, hardware readiness, component testing, integrated testing, software, basic system readiness, and more. (19659005) Finally, as glowing rocket fans – and we see things actually done in space – we murmur that all these vehicles will make it to 2020. If you do not like these predictions, please prove us wrong

Ariane 6

  Artistic view of the configuration of Ariane 6 with four boosters
Enlarge / Artistic view of the configuration from Ariane 6 with four boosters.

ESA – D. Ducros

Capacity to LEO : 22 tons
Current Launch Date : Mid 2020
Trust : Medium to High
Our estimated start date : 4Q 2020

We have the greatest confidence in this rocket because its various components are well developed, fully funded, and build on the existing legacy of the Ariane 5 Booster. The French space agency CNES was due to complete construction work on the Ariane 6 launch site this year. Arianegroup has been testing an updated engine for the rocket, the Vulcain 2.1, since January. And just this month, for the first time, the new P120C boosters, which will propel the rocket from the launch pad, have been successfully tested.

With all these factors, coupled with a sense of urgency in Europe about the need to fly the plane Ariane 6 to become more competitive with SpaceX, we have the utmost confidence in the first release of this vehicle in 2020. Book still not your tickets to French Guiana, but maybe pencil the Ariane 6 Introducing your calendar with a trustworthiness

Space Launch System

  NASA is making progress in building components of their space launch system rocket. Here the welding of a liquid oxygen tank was completed.
Enlarge / NASA is making progress in building components of its Space Launch System missile. Here the welding of a liquid oxygen tank was completed

NASA

Capacity to LEO : 70+ tons
Current Launch Date : December 2019-June 2020
Confidence : Medium
Our estimated start date : 2Q 2021

Yes, the space launch system has already slipped a lot. Work on the vehicle began in 2011. At that time, we learned that using components of the Space Shuttle system, such as side mounted solid fuel rockets and the main propulsion of the shuttle, would help accelerate the development of the world's largest rocket However, NASA's extraordinary spending on developing the $ 2 billion SLS rocket has been facing technical problems and delays since its first launch in November 2017. The main contractor for the core phase Boeing has now started producing fuel tanks for the massive core stage of the rocket, but an all-up test of the core stage with its four main engines will take place only next year

Experienced rocket scientists often say that the The hardest part of one The development of the rocket occurs during this integration (when the different parts of the core stage are assembled) and the test phase. That's why we do not have much faith in a launch in less than two years. A successful nuclear test next year would change that.

New Glenn

  Blue Origins conceptual art for a New Glenn rocket launch into orbit.
Enlarge / Blue Origins Conceptual Art for A New Glenn Rocket Launch into Orbit

Blue Origins

Capacity for LEO : 45 tonnes
Current Launch Date : 2020
Trust : Low to Medium [19659012] Our estimated start date : 2Q 2021

Blue Origin, supported by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, certainly has a lot of money. It also has a huge new rocket factory in Florida to assemble the New Glenn Booster, and the first stage engine, the BE-4, continues to undergo a rigorous test plan in West Texas.

But despite these resources and an enormous team of Bezos-built engineers, it's still a big step for the company to move from the single-engine New Shepard 110,000-pound launch system to the New Glenn Booster with seven much larger engines and nearly four million pounds come thrust when taking off.

Do we believe that Blue Origin will be there? Absolute. Do we think that it will happen in 2020? Well … we hope so.

Vulcan

  Conceptual art of a volcanic rocket taking off
/ Conceptual art of a volcanic rocket taking off

United Launch Alliance

Capacity to LEO : 35 tons
Current Start Date : Mid 2020
Confidence : Low
Our estimated start date : 1Q 2022 [19659005] Like the ArianeGroup, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) has developed a new rocket with the intention of to compete with SpaceX. The US Congress was also told not to use Russian engines, so he needed to move on from the proven Atlas V rocket. (By the way, the Vulcan missile does not confuse it with the Ariane 6 Vulcain engine.) They are totally different and the Europeans will tell you that they chose the name first.)

Vulcan has a problem with it Obviously, the parent companies of ULA, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, have fully resourced the resources required to develop Vulcan. Before the Vulcan missile is finalized, ULA may wait for the US Department of Defense to announce the next round of contracts for the Launch Service Agreement. That should happen sometime this summer. This may explain why corporate executives always say "soon" when asked about a Vulcan engine.

The rocket also has a very prominent skeptic – Elon Musk of SpaceX. Famously, Musk said, "I'll seriously eat my hat with a side of mustard if that missile flies a national security satellite ship before 2023." Presumably, Vulcan would have to fly some missions before he would be certified for a national security takeoff, but 2023 for a third mission does not generate the reliance on a maiden launch in 2020.

Even more rockets

Have fun listening to these four titanic boosters do not stop. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (formerly Orbital ATK) is developing the large omega rocket for a possible launch in 2021, though this, like Vulcan, could be dependent on funding the DOD Launch Services Agreement.

Then there's SpaceX's Big Hawk Rocket. This would be the most ambitious rocket ever built, and requires some technical miracles before rolling to a launch pad. In addition, there are serious questions about the funding needed to survey the development of the super mass rocket and a maiden launch in the early 2020s. By that said, Musk and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell are fully committed to the BFR. So we expect it one day – the sooner the better.


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