Orbital rockets vary significantly in size, making it hard to judge their true scale when viewed from afar. But by comparing all the well-known rockets ever developed, one can determine the average size of an orbital rocket.

The average height of a rocket able to reach low Earth orbit and beyond is 58 meters or 190 feet, with a weight of 1063 metric tons or 2.34 million pounds. This is determined by calculating the average length and mass of the 30 biggest launch vehicles manufactured throughout history until now.

When thinking of the traditional space-bound rocket, it is hard not to envision the iconic Saturn V rocket used during the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s. This behemoth stood over 110 meters (363 feet) high and weighed 2800 metric tons.

During the same period, the Soviet Union worked on rockets closely matching these dimensions. After the end of the Space Race, however, smaller rockets were used increasingly to put astronauts and satellites into space.

(It was simply too costly to manufacture and launch these large rockets, and reaching the lunar surface was no longer a priority. At the time of writing, no one has sent a human back to the surface of the moon in almost 50 years.)

Since the start of the 21st Century, private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Orbital Sciences have started their own space programs, producing a variety of different rockets for both government and commercial use.

In late 2017, NASA pledged to send astronauts back to the moon with its Artemis Program. Meanwhile, SpaceX is working on its Starship Super Heavy to send humans to the moon and Mars. These programs signaled the return of large launch vehicles to the space industry.

Saturn V Rocket
A Saturn V rocket, the biggest rocket ever successfully launched, lifts off from Launch Complex Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

With rockets capable of reaching low Earth orbit varying in size from as small as 18 meters (like the Electron from Rocket Lab) to 120 meters (like SpaceX’s upcoming Starship Super Heavy) in height, it can be hard to determine how big your average rocket actually is.

However, as will be illustrated in the next section, by calculating the average height and mass of the biggest rockets either already in production or the advanced stages of planning, one can determine the average size of these launch vehicles with a high degree of accuracy.

30 Biggest Rockets In The World

By taking a closer look at each rocket that makes the list of the 30 launch vehicles ever produced, one will be able to get a better understanding of the actual size and scope of these engineering marvels.

Sifting through the hundreds of rockets ever planned or produced (and even discontinued) and selecting the 30 best examples is not a straightforward process. As a result, each vehicle must adhere to a strict set of criteria to be included in the list.

Criteria For Selecting The Biggest Rockets

In order for a rocket to be included in the list, it must satisfy at least one or more of the following conditions (in order of importance):

  1. Must be able to reach low Earth orbit or be able to put a payload into orbit.
  2. Must already be in production or advanced stages of planning.
  3. Be of historical significance.

All rockets in this list adhere to at least one or more of these conditions. Launch vehicles that were only used as prototypes or never left the planning stages (like the 100 meters high Ares 1-X used during NASA’s Constellation Program) were not included.

Similarly, rockets that are in the early planning stages, with no final plans approved, were also not included. Launch vehicles included in the list due to their historical significance had to fulfill the requirement of exceeding the Kármán line (at an altitude of 100 km).

30 Biggest Rockets In The World (Past And Present)

The following is a list of the 30 biggest, most widely used, and historically significant rockets at the time of writing. They are ranked according to height (or length). Other key characteristics like weight, diameter, and payload capabilities are also included.

(A table of the abbreviations used and their meaning is included at the end of this list.)

1) SpaceX Starship Super Heavy (USA)

SpaceX Starship Super Heavy

Size

Length:120 meters (393 feet)
Diameter:9 meters (30 feet)
Weight:4 400 metric tons (9.7 million pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:>100 metric tons (220 000 pounds)
GTO:>100 metric tons (220 000 pounds)
TLI:>100 metric tons (220 000 pounds)
MTO:>100 metric tons (220 000 pounds)

SpaceX is currently in the advanced stages of testing and assembling the biggest rocket ever produced. The two sections making up the rocket consist of the Starship upper stage and a super heavy booster. When combined, the rocket stands a total of 120 meters high.

The fully reusable booster stands 70 meters (230 ft) high and will carry the second stage into the upper atmosphere, where the thrusters on the 50 meters (164 feet) long Starship will ignite and continue to take the vehicle into lower Earth orbit and beyond.

The ambitious project from SpaceX aims to take astronauts back to the Moon and eventually to Mars with bold plans to help establish a colony on the planet with the assistance of regular flights with different variants of this giant spacecraft.

2) NASA Saturn V (USA)

Saturn V

Size

Height:110.6 meters (363 feet)
Diameter:10.1 meters (33 feet) at base
Weight:2 800 metric tons (6.2m pounds)
Stages:3

Payload Capacity

LEO:140 metric tons (310 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:48.6 metric tons (107 100 pounds)
MTO:N/A

It may be approximately 50 years since its last flight, but the iconic Saturn V rocket remains the largest launch vehicle ever produced and successfully flown. It stood 110.6 (363 feet) tall and consisted of 3 stages that were deployed during specific points through its flight.

The Saturn V formed part of NASA’s Apollo Program in the 1960s and 70s that successfully took astronauts to the Moon and returned them safely to the planet’s surface. To date, it remains the only rocket capable of landing astronauts on the lunar surface.

3) N1 (USSR)

USSR N1

Size

Height:105.3 meters (345 feet)
Diameter:17 meters (55.8 feet) at base
Weight:2 750 metric tons (6.1m pounds)
Stages:5

Payload Capacity

LEO:95 metric tons (209 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:23.5 metric tons (52 000 pounds)
MTO:N/A

During the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the N1 was Russia’s attempt to put cosmonauts on the moon. It was almost as tall as the American Saturn V at 105.3 meters (345 feet) and consisted of an impressive five stages.

Four attempts were made at launching the rocket, but unfortunately, all of them ended in failure. The program was officially canceled in 1976.

4) Long March 9 (China)

Long March 9

Size

Height:103 meters (338 feet)
Diameter:9.5 meters (31 feet) at base
Weight:3 997 metric tons (8.8m pounds)
Stages:3

Payload Capacity

LEO:150 metric tons (330 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:53 metric tons (117 000 pounds)
MTO:44 metric tons (97 000 pounds)

China’s Long March 9 is a super-heavy lift launch vehicle currently in its final planning and development stages. When completed, the rocket will stand 103 meters (338 feet) tall and be able to carry 150 metric tons (330 000 pounds) of payload to low Earth orbit.

At the time of writing, the assembly of the YF-130 thrusters that will power the first stage was already completed. The rocket will form part of the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) plan to send astronauts to the Moon.

5) ULA SLS Block 1 (USA)

SLS Block 1

Size

Height:98.1 meters (322 feet)
Diameter:8.4 meters (27.6 feet) core stage
Weight:2 608 metric tons (5.75m pounds)
Stages:3

Payload Capacity

LEO:95 metric tons (209 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:>27 metric tons (59 525 pounds)
MTO:N/A

More than 50 years after first landing on the surface of the Moon, NASA is aiming to return humans with its Artemis Program launched in 2017. The vehicle that will be used for this is called the Space Launch System (SLS), standing 98.1 meters (322 feet) tall.

The first iterations of this rocket will make use of “spare parts” which were left over from the Space Shuttle Program. These include the RS-25 engines (Space Shuttle Main Engines) and its solid rocket boosters.

Whether the SLS will actually launch remains to be seen. NASA is a state-owned company, and its budget has to be approved by the US Congress every year. (This has turned NASA and the Artemis Program into a political football between political parties.)

Almost all the components necessary to finalize the SLS are completed and in place, but no clear launch date has been set. NASA already missed multiple deadlines for the first launch of the rocket, so it remains unclear if or when the vehicle will take flight.

6) ULA Delta IV Heavy (USA)

Delta IV Heavy

Size

Height:72 meters (236 feet)
Diameter:5 meters (16 feet) single-core diameter
Weight:733 metric tons (1.62m pounds)
Stages:2+

Payload Capacity

LEO:28.8 metric tons (63 470 pounds)
GTO:14.2 metric tons (31 350 pounds)
TLI:10 metric tons (22 000 pounds)
MTO:8 metric tons (18 000 pounds)

The Delta IV Heavy is part of the Delta rocket family that dates back to the 1960s when the first rockets were basically nothing more than modified Thor ballistic missiles. Alongside Atlas rockets, Delta rockets formed the backbone of the US space industry for decades.

The Delta IV Heavy is the latest version of the Delta family and was first used in 2004. It will also be the last Delta rocket ever produced, soon to be replaced by the Vulcan Centaur. Apart from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, it is currently the most powerful rocket in production.

It consists of three Delta Medium cores, with two cores separating from the center core 242 seconds after launch, allowing the center core to continue for another 86 seconds before separating from the second stage, which continues to orbit.

7) SpaceX Falcon Heavy (USA)

SpaceX Falcon Heavy

Size

Height:70 meters (230 feet)
Diameter:3.66 meters (12 feet) single-core diameter
Weight:1 420 metric tons (3.13m pounds)
Stages:2+

Payload Capacity

LEO:63.8 metric tons (141 000 pounds)
GTO:26.7 metric tons (59 000 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO: 16.8 metric tons (37 000 pounds)

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in production. Standing 70 meters (230 feet) tall, it is capable of carrying more than 63 metric tons to low Earth orbit.

Similar to the Delta IV rocket, it consists of three Falcon 9 cores. Approximately 2½ after launch, the side boosters separate from the central core, which continues to burn before separating from the second stage, which takes the payload to orbit.

Unlike the Delta IV Heavy, though, the Falcon Heavy is partially reusable, with its two side boosters returning and landing close to the launch site shortly after launch and the central core landing further downrange on a drone ship.

8) SpaceX Falcon 9 (USA)

SpaceX Falcon 9

Size

Height:70 meters (230 feet)
Diameter:3.66 meters (12 feet)
Weight:549 metric tons (1.21m pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:22.8 metric tons (50 000 pounds)
GTO:5.5 metric tons (12 000 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO: 4 metric tons (8 800 pounds)

The Falcon 9 is currently SpaceX’s primary workhorse. It is a partially reusable launch vehicle, which first-stage rocket booster is capable of returning to the Earth’s surface after separation and safely landing to be reused later for subsequent launches.

(Its bigger brother, the Falcon Heavy, is based on combining three SpaceX Falcon 9 cores.)

The Falcon 9 is also human-rated by NASA to carry astronauts to space and the International Space Station (ISS) and is currently the only US-based launch vehicle capable of carrying humans to low Earth orbit.

9) Angara 5A (Russia)

Angara 5A

Size

Height:64 meters (210 feet)
Diameter:8.86 meters (29.1 feet)
Weight:790 metric tons (1.74m pounds)
Stages:2-3

Payload Capacity

LEO:24.5 metric tons (54 000 pounds)
GTO:7.5 metric tons (16 500 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO: N/A

The Angara rocket family started development shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Many of the components used by Russian rockets were produced outside the country, and the Russian government wanted to eliminate reliance on outside sources for its launch vehicles.

The Angara rocket was the result of this decision, which would be built and assembled almost entirely in Russia, and also launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome north of Moscow instead of Baikonur Cosmodrome, situated in neighboring Kazakhstan.

The 5A version had its first test flight on 9 July 2014 from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. It is a heavy-lift launch vehicle standing 64 meters (210 feet) tall using up to three stages during launch. It is capable of putting payloads of more than 24 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

10) Ariane 6 (European Space Agency)

Ariane 6

Size

Height:63 meters (207 feet)
Diameter:5.4 meters (18 feet)
Weight:860 metric tons (1.9m pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:21.65 metric tons (47 730 pounds)
GTO:11.5 metric tons (25 400 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO: N/A

Ariane rockets are the primary launch vehicle used by the European Space Agency (ESA), and all launches take place at the Guiana Space Centre situated in French Guiana.

The Ariane 6 is a heavy-lift launch vehicle currently in its final stages of development and is intended to replace the highly successful Ariane 5 rocket family. At the time of writing, its initial launch was postponed several times and is scheduled for late 2022.

The rocket stands 63 meters (207 feet) tall and will be capable of putting a payload with a mass of 21.65 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

11) ULA Delta IV Medium (USA)

Delta IV Medium

Size

Height:63 meters (207 feet)
Diameter:5 meters (16 feet)
Weight:249.5 metric tons (550 100 pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:11.47 metric tons (25 290 pounds)
GTO:4.44 metric tons (9 790 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO: N/A

Alongside the Delta IV Heavy, the Delta IV Medium forms part of the last of the Delta family of rockets, soon to be replaced by the Vulcan Centaur. Although the Delta Heavy variant remains active, the Delta Medium took its last flight on 22 August 2019.

It is a two-stage launch vehicle, often assisted by an arrangement of solid rocket boosters (SRB) to lift heavier payloads into orbit. The rocket is 63 meters (207 feet) high and is capable of putting payloads of over 11 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

12) Titan IVB Centaur (USA)

Titan IVB Centaur

Size

Height:63 meters (207 feet)
Diameter:3.05 meters (10 feet)
Weight:943 metric tons (2.07m pounds)
Stages:3+

Payload Capacity

LEO:21.68 metric tons (47 796 pounds)
GSO:5.76 metric tons (12 690 pounds)
HCO:5.66 metric tons (12 470 pounds)
MTO: TBD

Like many other rockets from its generation, the Titan rocket family can be traced back to the original Titan 1, the United States’ first two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) developed by Glenn L. Martin Company (now Lockheed-Martin) in 1955.

The Titan IVB was the final iteration of the Titan family. It was a four-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle that stood 63 meters (207 feet) tall and was able to put a payload of more than 21 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

It typically consisted of two liquid-fueled lower stages, supported by a pair of solid rocket boosters (SRB) during launch. The Centaur upper stage used cryogenic fuels that made it ideal for operating in space.

13) Long March 7 / Chang Zheng 7A (China)

Long March 7

Size

Height:60.13 meters (197.3 feet)
Diameter:3.35 meters (11 feet)
Weight:573 metric tons (1.26m pounds)
Stages:3

Payload Capacity

LEO:13.5 metric tons (29 800 pounds)
GTO:7 metric tons 15 000 pounds)
TLI:5 metric tons (11 000 pounds)
MTO: N/A

The Long March 7 made its maiden flight on 25 June 2016. Developed by the Chinese Aerospace Science And Technology Corporation, the rocket is expected to become the workhorse of the Chinese rocker fleet.

The rocket is a medium to heavy-lift launch vehicle standing 60.13 meters (197.3 feet) tall and capable of carrying payloads of up to 13.5 metric tons (29 800 pounds) to low Earth orbit or 5 metric tons (11 000 pounds) to Trans Lunar Insertion (TLI).

14) Zenit-3 SL (USSR)

Zenit-3 SL

Size

Height:59.6 meters (196 feet)
Diameter:3.9 meters (13 feet)
Weight:462.2 metric tons (1.02m pounds)
Stages:3

Payload Capacity

LEO:6.1 metric tons (13 448 pounds)
GTO:>6 metric tons (13 228 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO: N/A

The Zenit-3 SL was a unique launch vehicle due to its launching system. The rocket was assembled on a ship called the Sea Launch Commander, built specifically for this purpose. It was then placed on a self-propelled floating launch platform called the Odyssey.

The advantage of this system was that the platform could be positioned in an optimal position in the Atlantic Ocean close to the Equator, from where it primarily launched communication satellites into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

The Zenit-3 SL was 59.6 meters (196 feet) high and could carry payloads of more than 6 metric tons (13 228 pounds) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

15) Energia (USSR)

Energia Rocket

Size

Height:58.8 meters (193 feet)
Diameter:17.65 meters (57.9 feet)
Weight:2 400 metric tons (5.3m pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:100 metric tons (220 000 pounds)
GSO:20 metric tons (44 000 pounds)
TLI: 32 metric tons (71 000 pounds)
MTO: 6 metric tons (13 000 pounds)

The Energia rocket was a super heavy-lift vehicle produced by the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 80s. It was a highly capable vehicle with a large payload capacity. Plans were also in the works for future versions to be fully reusable. Its maiden flight was on 15 May 1987.

Since it was primarily designed to carry the Buran Spacecraft (the USSR’s version of the Space Shuttle), it carried its payload on the side of the rocket. As a result of the cancellation of the Buran Program in 1993, only two launches of the Energia ever took place.

The rocket was a two-stage launch vehicle with a height of 58.8 meters (193 feet) and was able to carry a payload of 100 metric tons (220 000 pounds) into low Earth orbit.

16) ULA Atlas V (USA)

Atlas V

Size

Height:58.3 meters (191 feet)
Diameter:3.81 meters (12.6 feet)
Weight:590 metric tons (1.3m pounds)
Stages:2-3

Payload Capacity

LEO:18.85 metric tons (41 560 pounds)
GTO:8.9 metric tons (19 620 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Atlas rocket family dates back to the SM-6 Atlas, an intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the United States in the 1950s. The rocket went through various iterations during its service and is considered one of the most successful workhorses in NASA’s fleet.

The Atlas V signals end of an era for the Atlas rocket family (which accumulated more than 600 launches). Like the Delta IV Medium and Delta IV Heavy, it will be replaced by the Vulcan Centaur from the United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Atlas V is a medium-lift two-stage launch vehicle with a height of 58.3 meters (191 feet) and is capable of putting a payload of more than 18 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

17) Long March 5 (China)

Long March 5

Size

Height:56.97 meters (186.9 feet)
Diameter:5 meters (16 feet)
Weight:854 metric tons (1.88m pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:25 metric tons (55 100 pounds)
GTO:14 metric tons (31 000 pounds)
TLI: 9.4 metric tons (20 700 pounds)
MTO: 6 metric tons (13 000 pounds)

The Long March 5 is one of the main workhorses in the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) fleet of rockets. It is currently the most powerful rocket in the Long March family and closely matches the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and Delta IV Heavy.

It is a heavy-lift two-stage launch vehicle standing 56.97 (186.9 feet) tall and is capable of carrying a payload of 25 metric tons (55 100 pounds) to low Earth orbit.

18) NASA Space Shuttle (USA)

Space Shuttle

Size

Height:56.1 meters (184.1 feet)
Diameter:8.7 meters (28 feet)
Weight:2 030 metric tons (4.47m pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:27.5 metric tons (60 600 pounds)
GTO:10.89 metric tons (24 010 pounds)
GEO: 2.27 metric tons (5 000 pounds)
MTO:N/A

Apart from the iconic Saturn V, NASA’s Space Shuttle is probably the most well-known and recognizable launch vehicle of the late 20th Century. It first flew on 12 April 1981, and the last flight took place on 8 July 2011.

Officially named the Space Transportation System (STS), the aim of the Shuttle Program was to design and operate a reusable space vehicle that could take cargo and crew into space and safely return to the planet’s surface by landing like a conventional aircraft.

The primary goals were to have a versatile, cost-effective vehicle that could be reused with a quick turnaround time between launches. However, constant budget overruns and slow turnaround times, combined with two fatal disasters, led to its eventual cancellation.

The orbiter (shuttle) was carried to space using its three main engines, assisted by a pair of solid rocket boosters (SRB). Both orbiter and boosters were mounted to the side of a large external fuel tank 47 meters (153.8 feet) high and 8.4 meters (27.6 ft) in diameter.

On the launchpad, the combined vehicle height was 56.1 meters (184.1 feet), while the orbiter was able to carry a payload of 27.5 metric tons (60 600 pounds) to low Earth orbit.

Five operational orbiters were built altogether, of which the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia were destroyed in two separate disasters.

19) Ariane 5 (European Space Agency)

Ariane 5

Size

Height:54.7 meters (179 feet)
Diameter:5.4 meters (18 feet)
Weight:780 metric tons (1.72m pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:20 metric tons (44 000 pounds)
GTO:10 metric tons (22 000 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Ariana 5 rocket is one of the most reliable launch vehicles ever used and is the main workhorse of the European Space Agency (ESA). More than 105 successful launches have been completed since its maiden flight on 21 October 1998.

It is a two-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle with a height of 54.7 meters (179 feet) and is capable of putting a payload of 20 metric tons (44 000 pounds) into low Earth orbit. Like all other Ariane rockets, the Ariane 5 launches from French Guiana.

20) Proton (Russia)

Proton Rocket

Size

Height:53 meters (174 feet)
Diameter:7.4 meters (24 feet)
Weight:693.81 metric tons (1.53m pounds)
Stages:3-4

Payload Capacity

LEO:23.7 metric tons (52 200 pounds)
GTO:6.3 metric tons (13 900 pounds)
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Proton rocket is one of the “oldest” rockets still in production and dates back to the vehicle’s first launch on 16 July 1965. Like many of its US counterparts from the era, it was based on the UR-500 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

With over 425 launches, the Proton is one of the most successful rockets in spaceflight history. Although it is still in use at the time of writing, it is expected to be replaced by the heavy-lift Angara launch vehicle.

A major drawback of the Proton is its use of hypergolic fuels, which spontaneously combust when coming into contact with each other but are highly toxic. As a result, a failure close to the ground or on the launchpad will have a major environmental impact.

(Learn more about hypergolic propellants, what exactly they are, and their different advantages and drawbacks in the following in-depth article.)

The Proton rocket can be classified as a heavy-lift three to four-stage launch vehicle standing 53 meters (174 feet) tall and is capable of delivering a payload of 23.7 metric tons (52 200 pounds) to low Earth orbit.

21) Soyuz-2 (Russia)

Soyuz Rocket

Size

Height:46.3 meters (152 feet)
Diameter:2.95 meters (9 feet 8 inches)
Weight:312 metric tons (688 000 pounds)
Stages:2-3

Payload Capacity

LEO:8.2 metric tons (18 100 pounds)
GTO:3.25 metric tons (7 170 pounds)
TLI:2.35 metric tons (5 180 pounds)
MTO:N/A

Derived from the Vostok rocket that carried the first human, Yuri Gagarin, to space in 1961, the first Soyuz rocket took its maiden flight on 28 November 1966. With over 1 680 launches under its belt, it can be considered the most successful rocket ever produced.

What makes this feat even more impressive is the fact that the Soyuz is human-rated (certified to be crewed by humans) by NASA, the former “enemy” or competitor of the Soviet Union during the Space Race.

In the almost 10 years between the end of the Space Shuttle Program and the first crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, the United States didn’t have its own human-rated launch vehicle, and US astronauts flew to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz rocket.

It is a medium-lift three-stage launch vehicle with a height of 46.3 meters (152 feet) and is capable of putting a payload with a weight of over 8 metric tons (17 600 pounds) into low Earth orbit.

22) Antares (USA)

Antares Rocket

Size

Height:42.5 meters (139 feet)
Diameter:3.9 meters (13 feet)
Weight:298 metric tons (657 000 pounds)
Stages:2-3

Payload Capacity

LEO:8 metric tons (18 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Antares rocket is a launch vehicle developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation for NASA to launch an expendable cargo vessel (the Cygnus spacecraft) to the International Space Station (ISS). Its maiden flight took place on 21 April 2013.

The Antares is a medium-lift three-stage launch vehicle standing 42.5 (139 feet) high and can put a payload with a weight of 8 metric tons (18 000 pounds) into low Earth orbit.

23) Vostok 8K72K (USSR)

Vostok

Size

Height:38.36 meters (126 feet)
Diameter:2.99 meters (9.8 feet)
Weight:281.375 metric tons (620 325 pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:4.73 metric tons (10 420 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Vostok 8K72K was an expendable launch vehicle used by the Soviet Union in the 1960s during the Space Race between the United States and the USSR. It was based on its predecessor, the Vostok L, but with an increased capacity to handle bigger payloads.

The rocket was a two-stage launch vehicle standing 38.36 meters (126 feet) tall and was capable of putting a payload of 4.73 metric tons (10 420 pounds) into low Earth orbit. On 12 April 1961, a Vostok 8K72K launched the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space.

24) Sputnik 8K71PS (USSR)

Sputnik Rocket

Size

Height:30 meters (98.4 feet)
Diameter:2.99 meters (9.8 feet)
Weight:267 metric tons (589 000 pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:500 kilogram (1 100 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

Like their US counterparts, many Soviet rockets evolved from or were directly modified intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The Sputnik rocket family was derived from the R-7 Semyorka ICBM.

The Sputnik 8K71PS was a two-stage launch vehicle with a height of 30 meters (98.4 feet) and could put a payload of 500 kilograms (1 100 pounds) into low Earth orbit. On 4 October 1957, a Sputnik 8K71PS put the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit.

25) Firefly Alpha (USA)

Firefly Alpha

Size

Height:29 meters (95 feet)
Diameter:1.82 meters (6 feet)
Weight:54 metric tons (119 000 pounds)
Stages:2

Payload Capacity

LEO:1 000 kilograms (2 200 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Alpha rocket is an expendable launch system manufactured by Firefly Aerospace, a private American company. The purpose of this two-stage rocket is to cater to the growing commercial small satellite market.

It is a two-stage small-lift launch vehicle standing 29 meters (95 feet) high and capable of carrying a payload of 1 000 kg (2 200 pounds) to low Earth orbit.

26) NASA Mercury-Atlas 6 (USA)

Atlas LV-3B

Size

Height:28.7 meters (94.3 feet)
Diameter:3 meters (10 feet)
Weight:120 metric tons (265 000 pounds)
Stages:

Payload Capacity

LEO:1 360 kilograms (3 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Mercury-Atlas 6 rocket formed part of a group of launch vehicles used during NASA’s Project Mercury, the United States’ first human spaceflight program. It was essentially a modified version of the Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

It was a human-rated launch vehicle with a height of 28.7 meters (94.3 feet) capable of carrying a mass of 1 360 kg (3 000 pounds) to low Earth orbit. On 20 February 1962, the first astronaut from the United States, John Glenn, orbited the Earth onboard a Mercury-Atlas 6.

27) NASA Mercury-Redstone (USA)

Mercury-Redstone Rocket

Size

Height:25.4 meters (83.38 feet)
Diameter:1.78 meters (5.83 feet)
Weight:30 metric tons (66 000 pounds)
Stages:1

Payload Capacity

LEO:1 800 kilograms (4 000 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Mercury-Redstone rocket also formed part of NASA’s Mercury Project. It was a one-stage suborbital launch vehicle that was human-rated to put astronauts into space.

Like many other US rockets used during this period, including the Jupiter-C spacecraft, it was based on the Redstone ballistic missile. On 5 May 1961, a Mercury-Redstone rocket carried the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard, into space.

28) Jupiter-C (USA)

Jupiter-C

Size

Height:21.3 meters (69.9 feet)
Diameter:1.8 meters (5.8 feet)
Weight:29 metric tons (64 000 pounds)
Stages:3

Payload Capacity

LEO:11 kilograms (24 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Jupiter-C was a suborbital sounding rocket based on a modified Redstone ballistic missile in the 1950s. It was a three-stage launch vehicle with its two upper stages making use of solid rocket propellant.

What makes this rocket noteworthy, though, is that the Juno I spacecraft that launched the first US satellite into space used a four-stage version of the Jupiter-C. On 1 February 1958, the Juno I launched the Explorer 1 (the first US satellite) into orbit.

29) Electron (New Zealand, USA)

Electron Rocket

Size

Height:18 meters (59 feet)
Diameter:1.2 meters (3.9 feet)
Weight:12.5 metric tons (27 560 pounds)
Stages:2-3

Payload Capacity

LEO:300 kilograms (661 pounds)
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

The Electron rocket is a small-lift, partially reusable rocket operated by Rocket Lab out of New Zealand. Like Firefly Alpha, the purpose of this relatively small two-stage rocket is to cater to the commercial small satellite market.

Although it wasn’t technically designed to be reusable, Rocket Lab was able to recover the first-stage booster multiple times and is working on plans to make this thruster fully reusable for future launches.

30) V2 (Germany)

V2 Rocket

Size

Height:14 meters (46 feet)
Diameter:1.65 meters (5.4 feet)
Weight:12.5 metric tons (27 560 pounds)
Stages:2-3

Payload Capacity

LEO:N/A
GTO:N/A
TLI:N/A
MTO:N/A

No list of notable rockets will be complete without the inclusion of the V2 rocket. Developed during World War 2 by Germany as a weapon that could be deployed over long distances against Allied Forces, it was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile.

The liquid-propellant rocket was not only capable of reaching targets 320 km (200 miles) away but was also the first human-made object to cross the Kármán Line (situated at an altitude of 100 km or 62 miles) into space.

After the end of WW2, Allied Forces seized most of the V2 rocket’s technology and captured the engineers involved, which in part formed the basis for the Space Programs of the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively.

Key To Abbreviations

LEO: Low Earth OrbitLTO: Lunar Transfer Orbit
GTO: Geostationary Transfer OrbitMTO: Mars Transfer Orbit
GSO: Geosynchronous Orbit HCO: Heliocentric Orbit

Conclusion

As the article illustrated, determining the biggest space-bound rocket is not a straightforward process. Many different variables must be considered, and selecting the appropriate launch vehicles to include in the list of thirty largest rockets is also a challenge.

The average size of a rocket able to reach low Earth orbit and beyond is 58 meters (190 feet) in height with a weight of 1063 metric tons (2.34 million pounds). It is determined by calculating the average length and mass of the 30 biggest launch vehicles ever produced, past and present.

The thirty rockets included in the list were carefully selected following a strict set of criteria set out in the article. It is by no means an exhaustive list, and many launch vehicles worthy of inclusion were left out for the time being.

(To learn more about what exactly defines a rocket and what its characteristics are, you can read the full article here.)

This article and list will be updated as new data becomes available or current information becomes outdated.

This article was originally published on headedforspace.com. If it is now published on any other site, it was done without permission from the copyright owner.

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