To able to reach the space, we need rockets. Rocket engines work by action and reaction (“To every action, there is always opposed an equal reaction”Notes 1) and push rockets forward simply by expelling their exhaust in the opposite direction at high speed and can therefore work in the vacuum of space. Space rockets are usually enormous in size, because the bigger the rocket is, the more thrust can produce its engine and can carry more weight into the orbit. Here are the 10 tallest rockets ever launched in the history of space exploration.
Related: NASA, SpaceX, and Blue Origin’s rockets comparison
The amazing 4K Ultra-HD video titled “10 TALLEST Space Rockets Ever Launched!” below is published by the Dark Space channel.
List of the tallest rockets ever launched
10. Space Shuttle: 56.14 meters (184.2 feet)
Height: 56.14 m (184.2 ft)
Diameter: 8.7 m (28.5 ft)
Mass: 2,030,000 kg (4,470,000 lb)
Payload to LEONotes 2: 27,500 kg (60,600 lb)
Payload to ISS: 16,050 kg (35,380 lb)
Payload to GTONotes 3: 3,810 kg (8,400 lb)
Max. Thrust: 35,000 kN (7,800,000 lbf)
The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable spaceflight vehicle capable of reaching low Earth orbit (LEO), commissioned and operated by the NASA from 1981 to 2011. Four fully operational orbiters were initially built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis. Of these, two were lost in mission accidents: Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003, with a total of fourteen astronauts, killed. A fifth operational (and sixth in total) orbiter, Endeavour, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger. The Space Shuttle was retired from service upon the conclusion of Atlantis’s final flight on July 21, 2011. The U.S. has since relied primarily on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station.
9. Atlas V: 58.30 meters (191.27 feet)
Height: 58.30 m (191.27 ft)
Diameter: 3.81 m (12.5 ft)
Mass: 334,500 kg (737,400 lb)
Payload to LEO: 8,250-20,520 kg (18,190-45,240 lb)
Payload to GTO: 4,750-8,900 kg (10,470-19,620 lb)
Max. Thrust: 10,600 kN (2,400,000 lbf)
Atlas V is an expendable launch system. It was formerly operated by Lockheed Martin and is now operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture with Boeing. Each Atlas V rocket uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen to power its first stage and an American-built RL10 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power its Centaur upper stage. Atlas V is commonly used for interplanetary missions, military payloads and cargo runs to the International Space Station. As of July 2018, this rocket type has had 78 launches with no complete failures, making it among the most reliable in the world.
8. Ariane 4: 58.72 meters (192.65 feet)
Height: 58.72 m (192.65 ft)
Diameter: 3.8 m (12.5 ft)
Mass: 240,000-470,000 kg (529,110-1,036,175 lb)
Payload to LEO: 5,000-7,600 kg (11,024-16,756 lb)
Payload to GTO: 2,000-4,300 kg (4,410-9480 lb)
Max. Thrust: 12,120 kN (2,725,000 lbf)
The Ariane 4 is a retired European expendable launch system. It was operational between 1988 and 2003. It has flown 116 times, 113 of which were successful, yielding a success rate of 97.4%.
7. Delta IV Medium: 62.50 meters (205.5 feet)
Height: 62.50 m (205.5 ft)
Diameter: 5 m (16 ft)
Mass: 404,600 kg (891,990 lb)
Payload to LEO: 13,774 kg (30,300 lb)
Payload to GTO: 6,150 kg (13,558 lb)
Max. Thrust: 3,560 kN (800,000 lbf)
The Delta IV is an expendable launch system and primarily designed to satisfy the needs of the U.S. military. It is built by Boeing, operated by United Launch Alliance for commercial launches, military missions as well as NASA Flights.
6. Angara-A5: 64 meters (210 feet)
Height: 64 m (210 ft)
Diameter: 8.86 m (29.1 ft)
Mass: 790,000 kg (1,740,000 lb)
Payload to LEO: 24,500 kg (54,000 lb)
Payload to GTO: 7,500 kg (16,500 lb)
Max. Thrust: 7,680 kN (1,730,000 lbf)
Angara-A5 heavy-lift launch vehicle is the second rocket developed in the Russian-made Angara rocket family. Angara rockets are intended, along with Soyuz-2 variants, to replace several existing launch vehicles.
5. Falcon Heavy: 70 meters (230 feet)
Height: 70 m (230 ft)
Diameter: 3.66 m (12.0 ft)
Width: 12.2 m (40 ft)
Mass: 1,420,788 kg (3,132,301 lb)
Payload to LEO: 63,800 kg (140,700 lb)
Payload to GTO: 26,700 kg (58,900 lb)
Payload to Mars: 16,800 kg (37,000 lb)
Payload to Pluto: 3,500 kg (7,700 lb)
Max. Thrust: Sea level: 15,200 kN (3,400,000 lbf), Vacuum: 16,400 kN (3,700,000 lbf)
As of July 2018, Falcon Heavy is the world’s most powerful operational rocket. Designed and manufactured by SpaceX, it is a partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle.
SpaceX conducted Falcon Heavy’s first test flight on February 6, 2018, at 3:45 p.m. EST (20:45 UTC). The rocket carried a Tesla Roadster belonging to SpaceX founder Elon Musk as a dummy payload.
Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans into space beyond low Earth orbit, especially to the Moon, Mars, and potentially to asteroids for mining. But Elon Musk, the founder and the CEO of SpaceX, does not plan to apply for a human-rating certification to carry NASA astronauts. By the early 2020s, the BFR (“Big Falcon Rocket”) will replace Falcon Heavy and other current Falcon launch vehicles.
4. Delta IV Heavy: 72 meters (236 feet)
Height: 72 m (236 ft)
Diameter: 5 m (16 ft)
Width: 15 m (49 ft)
Mass: 733,000 kg (1,616,000 lb)
Payload to LEO: 28,790 kg (63,470 lb)
Payload to GTO: 14,220 kg (31,350 lb)
Max. Thrust: 6,280 kN (1,410,000 lbf)
First launched in 2004, the Delta IV Heavy (Delta 9250H) is an expendable heavy-lift launch vehicle. It is the largest type of the Delta IV rocket family, and is the world’s second-highest-capacity rocket in operation, with a payload capacity half of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. It is manufactured by United Launch Alliance.
3. Ares I-X: 94.2 meters (309 feet)
Height: 94.2 m (309 ft)
Diameter: 5.5 meters (18 ft)
Payload to LEO: 25,400 kg (56,000 lb)
Max. Thrust: 15,000 kN (3,372,134 lbf)
The now-canceled Ares I was the crew launch vehicle that was being developed by NASA as part of the Constellation program. Ares I-X was the first-stage prototype of Ares-I. It was launched on October 28, 2009. Ares I vehicles were intended to launch Orion crew exploration vehicles. Now NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch the Orion spacecraft.
2. N1: 105 meters (344 feet)
Height: 105 m (344 ft)
Diameter: 17.0 m (55.8 ft)
Width: 15 m (49 ft)
Mass: 2,750,000 kg (6,060,000 lb)
Payload to LEO: 95,000 kg (209,000 lb)
Payload to TLINotes 4: 23,500 kg (51,800 lb)
Max. Thrust: 45,400 kN (10,200,000 lbf)
N1 was the Soviet counterpart to the NASA’s Saturn V (see below). It was designed with crewed extra-orbital travel in mind (i.e. moon landing). Its first stage still remains the most powerful rocket stage ever built. However, the rocket was underfunded and rushed. The development has started in October 1965, almost four years after the Saturn V. The project was badly derailed by the death of its chief designer Sergei Korolev (1907 – 14 January 1966, the lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer during the Space Race) in 1966. Each of the four attempts to launch an N1 failed; during the second launch attempt the N1 rocket crashed back onto its launch pad shortly after liftoff and exploded, resulting in one of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions in human history. The N1 program was suspended in 1974, and in 1976 was officially canceled. Along with the rest of the Soviet manned lunar programs, the N1 was kept secret almost until the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991; information about the N1 was first published in 1989.
1. Saturn V: 110.6 meters (363 feet), The biggest rocket ever built
Height: 110.6 m (363 ft)
Diameter: 10.1 m (33 ft)
Width: 15 m (49 ft)
Mass: 2,970,000 kg (6,540,000 lb)
Payload to LEO: 140,000 kg (310,000 lb)
Payload to TLI: 48,600 kg (107,100 lb)
Max. Thrust: 35,100 kN (7,891,000 lbf)
The Saturn V was an American human-rated expendable rocket used by NASA between 1967 and 1973. The three-stage liquid-fueled super heavy-lift launch vehicle was developed to support the Apollo program for human exploration of the Moon and was later used to launch Skylab, the first American space station.
The Saturn V was launched 13 times from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with no loss of crew or payload. As of 2018, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status.
Watch the liftoff of the mighty Saturn V rocket:
Watch: how big SpaceX rockets really are
Visual Effects Youtuber “Corridor Crew” (see his Youtube channel) have put together a video that shows off SpaceX’ rockets (Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and BFR) in real-life situations.
Top 10 tallest rockets ever launched, sorted by the Max. thrust
- N1: 45,400 kN (10,200,000 lbf)
- Saturn V: 35,100 kN (7,891,000 lbf)
- Space Shuttle: 35,000 kN (7,800,000 lbf)
- Falcon Heavy: Sea level: 15,200 kN (3,400,000 lbf), Vacuum: 16,400 kN (3,700,000 lbf)
- Ares I-X: 15,000 kN (3,372,134 lbf)
- Ariane 4: 12,120 kN (2,725,000 lbf)
- Atlas V: 10,600 kN (2,400,000 lbf)
- Angara-A5: 7,680 kN (1,730,000 lbf)
- Delta IV Heavy: 6,280 kN (1,410,000 lbf)
- Delta IV Medium: 3,560 kN (800,000 lbf)
Top 10 tallest rockets ever launched, sorted by the payload capacity to LEO
- Saturn V: 140,000 kg (310,000 lb)
- N1: 95,000 kg (209,000 lb)
- Falcon Heavy: 63,800 kg (140,700 lb)
- Delta IV Heavy: 28,790 kg (63,470 lb)
- Space Shuttle: 27,500 kg (60,600 lb)
- Ares I-X: 25,400 kg (56,000 lb)
- Angara-A5: 24,500 kg (54,000 lb)
- Delta IV Medium: 13,774 kg (30,300 lb)
- Atlas V: 8,250-20,520 kg (18,190-45,240 lb)
- Ariane 4: 5,000-7,600 kg (11,024-16,756 lb)
- Newton’s third law: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.
- Low Earth orbit (LEO) is an orbit around Earth with an altitude between 160 kilometers (99 mi) (orbital period of about 88 minutes), and 2,000 kilometers (1,200 mi) (orbital period of about 127 minutes).
- A geostationary orbit, geostationary Earth orbit or geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) is a circular orbit 35,786 kilometers (22,236 mi) above the Earth’s equator and following the direction of the Earth’s rotation. An object in such an orbit has an orbital period equal to the Earth’s rotational period (one sidereal day) and thus appears motionless, at a fixed position in the sky, to ground observers.
- A trans-lunar injection (TLI) is a propulsive maneuver used to set a spacecraft on a trajectory that will cause it to arrive at the Moon.
- “The World’s Tallest Rockets: How They Stack Up” on Space.com
- How The World’s Tallest Rockets Stack Up on “Born to Engineer” website
- Rocket on Wikipedia
- Reaction (physics) on Wikipedia
- Newton’s laws of motion on Wikipedia
- Space Shuttle on Wikipedia
- Space Shuttle Basics on NASA.gov
- Atlas V on Wikipedia
- Atlas V on ULA (United Launch Alliance) Website
- Ariane 4 on Wikipedia
- Delta IV Medium+ (5,4) on SpaceFlight 101 website
- Angara rocket family on Wikipedia
- Falcon Heavy on Wikipedia
- Falcon Heavy on SpaceX website
- Delta IV Heavy on Wikipedia
- N1 Rocket on Wikipedia
- Saturn V on Wikipedia