Comparing the Size of The World’s Rockets, Past and Present
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Comparing the Size of The World’s Rockets, Past and Present

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The Size of The World’s Rockets, Past and Present

The SpaceX Starship might be the next rocket to take humans to the moon, but it won’t be the first, and likely not the last.

Starting in the mid-20th century, humanity has explored space faster than ever before. We’ve launched satellites, telescopes, space stations, and spacecrafts, all strapped to rocket-propelled launch vehicles that helped them breach our atmosphere.

This infographic from designer Tyler Skarbek stacks up the many different rockets of the world side-by-side, showing which country designed them, what years they were used, and what they (could) accomplish.

How Do The World’s Rockets Stack Up?

Before they were used for space travel, rockets were produced and developed to be used as ballistic missiles.

The first rocket to officially reach space—defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as crossing the Kármán line at 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Earth’s mean sea level—was the German-produced V-2 rocket in 1944.

But after World War II, V-2 production fell into the hands of the U.S., the Soviet Union (USSR), and the UK.

Over the next few decades and the unfolding of the Cold War, what started as a nuclear arms race of superior ballistic missiles turned into the Space Race. Both the U.S. and the USSR tried to be the first to achieve and master spaceflight, driving production of many new and different rockets.

Origin CountryRocketYears ActivePayload (Range)Success/Failure
GermanyV-21942–1952(Suborbital)2852/950
U.S.Vanguard1957–19599 kg (LEO)3/8
USSRSputnik1957–19641,322 kg (LEO)6/1
U.S.Juno 11958–195811 kg (LEO)3/3
U.S.Juno II1958–196141 kg (LEO)4/6
USSRVostok1958–19914,725 kg (LEO)106/3
U.S.Redstone1960–19611,800 kg (Suborbital)5/1
U.S.Atlas LV-3B1960–19631,360 kg (LEO)7/2
U.S.Atlas-Agena1960–19781,000 kg (LEO)93/16
U.S.Scout1961–1994150 kg (LEO)121/27
USSRVoskhod1963–19765,900 kg (LEO)281/14
U.S.Titan II1964–19663,100 kg (LEO)12/0
Europe (ELDO)Europa1964–1971360 kg (GTO)4/7
FranceDiamant1965–1975160 kg (LEO)9/3
U.S.Atlas E/F1965–2001820 kg (LEO)56/9
USSRSoyuz1965–Present7,100 kg (LEO)1263/44
USSRProton1965–Present23,700 kg (LEO)375/48
U.S.Saturn 1B1966–197521,000 kg (LEO)9/0
U.S.Saturn V1967–197348,600 kg (TLI)13/0
USSRKosmos-3M1967–20101,500 kg (LEO)424/20
UKBlack Arrow1969–1971135 kg (LEO)2/2
U.S.Titan 23B1969–19713,300 kg (LEO)32/1
USSRN11969–197223,500 kg (TLI)0/4
JapanN-11975–19821,200 kg (LEO)6/1
Europe (ESA)Ariane 11976–19861,400 kg (LEO)9/2
USSRTsyklon-31977–20094,100 kg (LEO)114/8
U.S.STS1981–201124,400 kg (LEO)133/2
USSRZenit1985–Present13,740 kg (LEO)71/13
JapanH-I1986–19923,200 kg (LEO)9/0
USSREnergia1987–198888,000 kg (LEO)2/0
IsraelShavit1988–2016800 kg (LEO)8/2
U.S.Titan IV1989–200517,000 kg (LEO)35/4
U.S.Delta II1989–20186,100 kg (LEO)155/2
Europe (ESA)Ariane 41990–20037,600 kg (LEO)113/3
U.S.Pegasus1990–Present443 kg (LEO)39/5
RussiaRokot1990–Present1,950 kg (LEO)31/3
U.S.Atlas II1991–20046,580 kg (LEO)63/0
ChinaLong March 2D1992–Present3,500 kg (LEO)44/1
IndiaPSLV1993–Present3,800 kg (LEO)47/3
JapanH-IIA1994–201815,000 kg (LEO)40/1
Europe (ESA)Ariane 51996–Present10,865 kg (GTO)104/5
BrazilVLS-11997–2003380 kg (LEO)0/2
USSRDnepr-11999–20154,500 kg (LEO)21/1
U.S.Atlas III2000–20058,640 kg (LEO)6/0
JapanM-V2000–20061,800 kg (LEO)6/1
U.S.Minotaur 12000–2013580 kg (LEO)11/0
IndiaGSLV MK12001–20165,000 kg (LEO)6/5
U.S.Atlas V 4002002–Present15,260 kg (LEO)54/1
U.S.Delta IV Medium2003–Present9,420 kg (LEO)20/0
U.S.Delta IV Heavy2004–Present28,790 kg (LEO)12/1
U.S.Falcon 12006–2009180 kg (LEO)2/3
ChinaLong March 4C2006–Present4,200 kg (LEO)26/2
U.S.Atlas V 5002006–Present18,850 kg (LEO)27/0
IranSafir2008–Present65 kg (LEO)4/1
U.S.Minotaur IV2010–Present1,735 kg (LEO)6/0
Europe (ESA)Vega2012–Present1,450 kg (SSO)14/1
U.S.Minotaur V2013–Present532 kg (GTO)1/0
JapanEpsilon2013–Present1,500 kg (LEO)4/0
U.S.Antares2013–Present8,000 kg (LEO)11/1
U.S.Falcon 9 FT2013–Present22,800 kg (LEO)96/0
IndiaGSLV MK32014–Present4,000 kg (GTO)4/0
RussiaAngara 52014–Present13,450 kg (LEO)3/0
U.S.New Shepard2015–Present(Suborbital)14/0
New ZealandElectron2017–Present225 kg (SSO)17/2
U.S.Falcon 9 Heavy2018–Present54,400 kg (LEO)3/0
U.S.Starship2021–Present100,000 kg (LEO)0/0
U.S.SLS2021–Present36,740 kg (TLI)0/0

As the Space Race wound down, the U.S. proved to be the biggest producer of different rockets. The eventual dissolution of the USSR in 1991 transferred production of Soviet rockets to Russia or Ukraine. Then later, both Europe (through the European Space Agency) and Japan ramped up rocket production as well.

More recently, new countries have since joined the race, including China, Iran, and India. Though the above infographic shows many different families of rockets, it doesn’t include all, including China’s Kuaizhou rocket and Iran’s Zuljanah and Qased rockets.

Rocket Range Explained and Continued Space Aspirations

Designing a rocket that can reach far into space while carrying a heavy payload—the objects or entities being carried by a vehicle—is extremely difficult and precise. It’s not called rocket science for nothing.

When rockets are designed, they are are created with one specific range in mind that takes into account the fuel needed to travel and velocity achievable. Alternatively, they have different payload ratings depending on what’s achievable and reliable based on the target range.

  • Suborbital: Reaches outer space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere and comes back down. It won’t be able to complete an orbital revolution or reach escape velocity.
  • LEO (Low Earth orbit): Reaches altitude of up to ~2,000 km (1242.74 miles) and orbits the Earth at an orbital period of 128 minutes or less (or 11.25 orbits per day).
  • SSO (Sun-synchronous orbit): Reaches around 600–800 km above Earth in altitude but orbits at an inclination of ~98°, or nearly from pole to pole, in order to keep consistent solar time.
  • GTO (Geosynchronous transfer orbit): Launches into a highly elliptical orbit which gets as close in altitude as LEO and as far away as 35,786 km (22,236 miles) above sea level.
  • TLI (Trans-lunar injection): Launches on a trajectory (or accelerates from Earth orbit) to reach the Moon, an average distance of 384,400 km (238,900 miles) from Earth.

But there are other ranges and orbits in the eyes of potential spacefarers. Mars for example, a lofty target in the eyes of SpaceX and billionaire founder Elon Musk, is between about 54 and 103 million km (34 and 64 million miles) from Earth at its closest approach.

With space exploration becoming more common, and lucrative enough to warrant billion-dollar lawsuits over contract awards, how far will future rockets go?

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Misc

Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

What is monkeypox, and what risk does it pose to the public? This infographic breaks down the symptoms, transmission, and more.

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Explainer: What to Know About Monkeypox

The COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the minds of the people around the world, so it comes as no surprise that recent outbreaks of another virus are grabbing headlines.

Monkeypox outbreaks have now been reported in multiple countries, and it has scientists paying close attention. For everyone else, numerous questions come to the surface:

  • How serious is this virus?
  • How contagious is it?
  • Could monkeypox develop into a new pandemic?

Below, we answer these questions and more.

What is Monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus which also includes the variola virus (which causes smallpox) and the cowpox virus. The primary symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a distinctive bumpy rash.

There are two major strains of the virus that pose very different risks:

  • Congo Basin strain: 1 in 10 people infected with this strain have died
  • West African strain: Approximately 1 in 100 people infected with this strain died

At the moment, health authorities in the UK have indicated they’re seeing the milder strain in patients there.

Where did Monkeypox Originate From?

The virus was originally discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in monkeys kept for research purposes (hence the name). Eventually, the virus made the jump to humans more than a decade after its discovery in 1958.

It is widely assumed that vaccination against another similar virus, smallpox, helped keep monkeypox outbreaks from occurring in human populations. Ironically, the successful eradication of smallpox, and eventual winding down of that vaccine program, has opened the door to a new viral threat. There is now a growing population of people who no longer have immunity against the virus.

Now that travel restrictions are lifting in many parts of the world, viruses are now able to hop between nations again. As of the publishing of this article, a handful of cases have now been reported in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and a number of European countries.

On the upside, contact tracing has helped authorities piece together the transmission of the virus. While cases are rare in Europe and North America, it is considered endemic in parts of West Africa. For example, the World Health Organization reports that Nigeria has experienced over 550 reported monkeypox cases from 2017 to today. The current UK outbreak originated from an individual who returned from a trip to Nigeria.

Could Monkeypox become a new pandemic?

Monkeypox, which primarily spreads through animal-to-human interaction, is not known to spread easily between humans. Most individuals infected with monkeypox pass the virus to between zero and one person, so outbreaks typically fizzle out. For this reason, the fact that outbreaks are occurring in several countries simultaneously is concerning for health authorities and organizations that monitor viral transmission. Experts are entertaining the possibility that the virus’ rate of transmission has increased.

Images of people covered in monkeypox lesions are shocking, and people are understandably concerned by this virus, but the good news is that members of the general public have little to fear at this stage.

I think the risk to the general public at this point, from the information we have, is very, very low.
–Tom Inglesby, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

» For up-to-date information on monkeypox cases, check out Global.Health’s tracking spreadsheet

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Technology

Synthetic Biology: The $3.6 Trillion Science Changing Life as We Know It

The field of synthetic biology could solve problems in a wide range of industries, from medicine to agriculture—here’s how.

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How Synthetic Biology Could Change Life as we Know it

Synthetic biology (synbio) is a field of science that redesigns organisms in an effort to enhance and support human life. According to one projection, this rapidly growing field of science is expected to reach $28.8 billion in global revenue by 2026.

Although it has the potential to transform many aspects of society, things could go horribly wrong if synbio is used for malicious or unethical reasons. This infographic explores the opportunities and potential risks that this budding field of science has to offer.

What is Synthetic Biology?

We’ve covered the basics of synbio in previous work, but as a refresher, here’s a quick explanation of what synbio is and how it works.

Synbio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning different biological components and systems in various organisms.

It’s like genetic engineering but done at a more granular level—while genetic engineering transfers ready-made genetic material between organisms, synbio can build new genetic material from scratch.

The Opportunities of Synbio

This field of science has a plethora of real-world applications that could transform our everyday lives. A study by McKinsey found over 400 potential uses for synbio, which were broken down into four main categories:

  • Human health and performance
  • Agriculture and food
  • Consumer products and services
  • Materials and energy production

If those potential uses become reality in the coming years, they could have a direct economic impact of up to $3.6 trillion per year by 2030-2040.

1. Human Health and Performance

The medical and health sector is predicted to be significantly influenced by synbio, with an economic impact of up to $1.3 trillion each year by 2030-2040.

Synbio has a wide range of medical applications. For instance, it can be used to manipulate biological pathways in yeast to produce an anti-malaria treatment.

It could also enhance gene therapy. Using synbio techniques, the British biotech company Touchlight Genetics is working on a way to build synthetic DNA without the use of bacteria, which would be a game-changer for the field of gene therapy.

2. Agriculture and Food

Synbio has the potential to make a big splash in the agricultural sector as well—up to $1.2 trillion per year by as early as 2030.

One example of this is synbio’s role in cellular agriculture, which is when meat is created from cells directly. The cost of creating lab-grown meat has decreased significantly in recent years, and because of this, various startups around the world are beginning to develop a variety of cell-based meat products.

3. Consumer Products and Services

Using synthetic biology, products could be tailored to suit an individual’s unique needs. This would be useful in fields such as genetic ancestry testing, gene therapy, and age-related skin procedures.

By 2030-2040, synthetic biology could have an economic impact on consumer products and services to the tune of up to $800 billion per year.

4. Materials and Energy Production

Synbio could also be used to boost efficiency in clean energy and biofuel production. For instance, microalgae are currently being “reprogrammed” to produce clean energy in an economically feasible way.

This, along with other material and energy improvements through synbio methods, could have a direct economic impact of up to $300 billion each year.

The Potential Risks of Synbio

While the potential economic and societal benefits of synthetic biology are vast, there are a number of risks to be aware of as well:

  • Unintended biological consequences: Making tweaks to any biological system can have ripple effects across entire ecosystems or species. When any sort of lifeform is manipulated, things don’t always go according to plan.
  • Moral issues: How far we’re comfortable going with synbio depends on our values. Certain synbio applications, such as embryo editing, are controversial. If these types of applications become mainstream, they could have massive societal implications, with the potential to increase polarization within communities.
  • Unequal access: Innovation and progress in synbio is happening faster in wealthier countries than it is in developing ones. If this trend continues, access to these types of technology may not be equal worldwide. We’ve already witnessed this type of access gap during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, where a majority of vaccines have been administered in rich countries.
  • Bioweaponry: Synbio could be used to recreate viruses, or manipulate bacteria to make it more dangerous, if used with ill intent.

According to a group of scientists at the University of Edinburgh, communication between the public, synthetic biologists, and political decision-makers is crucial so that these societal and environmental risks can be mitigated.

Balancing Risk and Reward

Despite the risks involved, innovation in synbio is happening at a rapid pace.

By 2030, most people will have likely eaten, worn, or been treated by a product created by synthetic biology, according to synthetic biologist Christopher A. Voigt.

Our choices today will dictate the future of synbio, and how we navigate through this space will have a massive impact on our future—for better, or for worse.

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