§ 3.3.5 Earth Launch by Present and Emerging Launch Vehicles
There are a large number of present launch vehicles (Shuttle, Ariane, Proton, Titan, etc.) made by various countries which use more or less the same launch technology.
There are also current research and development programs using new technologies and techniques for reducing the cost of Earth launch, though there are no serious alternatives to chemical rocket launch in the near future.
Covering these topics and issues is beyond the scope of PERMANENT, which focuses on utilizing materials already in space. Launching material up from Earth will be very expensive for the forseeable future, which is why we need to utilize materials already in space, namely asteroidal and lunar materials.
Nonetheless, two things are notable:
- Current launch vehicles in the research and development phase could be scaled to launch payloads only to low Earth orbit. From there, a fleet of reusable interorbital vehicles would be waiting to lift cargoes up to higher orbits, e.g., geosynchronous orbit. The interorbital vehicles would use fuels or propellants extracted from asteroidal or lunar material. Thus, small rockets could deliver satellites to geostationary orbit in conjunction with a reusable interorbital vehicle using asteroidal and/or lunar propellants.
- We will need Earth launch vehicles to deliver the first seed industry to space to process asteroidal or lunar materials.
There are several papers on how we can use present day launch vehicles, such as the Titan IV, Proton, or Ariane, and/or slight modifications of the Space Shuttle (e.g., the Shuttle booster but removing the returnable Shuttle and putting on a nonreturnable payload bay), to return to the moon or start to retrieve asteroidal resources. For example, see Andrew Petro's paper reference.
You can get a comparison of costs for Earth launch by present and planned launchers at http://www.rocketplane.com/comp.htm.