Conquering space? Man's most ancient dream and one that came true not so long ago; the result of the stiff Space Race between Soviet and American researchers for world supremacy in space exploration. Researchers’ skills have doubtlessly never been as sought after as they were during this great competition, where the first victory was but a speck in the cosmos: the simple beep-beep from Sputnik 1, Earth’s first man-made satellite.
Starting in the 1950s, space exploration became a priority for the world’s super powers. First for the United States and the USSR, followed by France. On 26 November 1965, with the launching of the artificial satellite Astérix produced by CNES, France became the third independent world space power. General de Gaulle’s desire to provide France with space programmes, just like the two other big space players, was later pursued by Georges Pompidou. Pompidou hoped to develop a launch vehicle capable of putting telecommunications satellites into geostationary orbit.
It was in this vein that in 1973, 10 European countries came together to form the European Space Agency (ESA) and developed a satellite launcher named Ariane. Its inaugural flight on 24 December 1979 enabled Europe to establish itself as a key player which today carries out more than half of the commercial launchings in the world.
The growth of telecommunications has resulted in increased demand on all continents. Emerging powers such as China, India, Brazil or even Korea, are all developing their own launch vehicles in order to seize the economic opportunity offered by this expanding market. It is also a way to establish their new international standing. Currently however, there are five powers that really share the satellite launcher market. Europe, with its launch vehicle Ariane, the United States with Delta, Titan and Atlas, Russia and the Ukraine with Proton, Zenith and Soyuz, China with Long March and Japan with H2.
By clicking on the following image, you can discover all the existing and in development launchers around the world. You can compare them and make your idea about all their potentialities now and in the future.
Nevertheless, the state is no longer the only expert in space transport. Private players have entered the market in recent years. For example, the American company Sea Launch Co. LLC. has developed a service that sends satellites into orbit using an old oil rig in the middle of the ocean, this thanks to Norwegian, Russian, Ukrainian and American investment. Another operator, International Launch Services (ILS.), founded in 1995, offers Proton rocket launching services. Proof that when it comes to launch vehicles, the competition is still going strong. In fact, it may have only just begun...