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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Science

Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

All living things have a genetic system made up of DNA. This graphic explores the basics of DNA composition and structure.

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Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.

But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?

This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.

Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA

A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.

This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).

While most living things rely on a mix of DNA and RNA for cellular reproduction, some viruses just use RNA to store their genetic information and replicate faster.

DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.

Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms

Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!

This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.

Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:

OrganismKingdomSize of genomes (number of base pairs)
Poplar treePlant500,000,000
HumanAnimal3,200,000,000
ChimpanzeeAnimal3,300,000,000
Marbled lungfishAnimal130,000,000,000
DogAnimal2,400,000,000
WheatPlant16,800,000,000
PufferfishAnimal400,000,000
Canopy plantPlant150,000,000,000
Mouse-ear cressPlant140,000,000
CornPlant2,300,000,000
MouseAnimal2,800,000,000
MossPlant510,000,000
Fruit FlyAnimal140,000,000
C. ruddiiBacteria160,000
S. pombeFungi13,000,000
S. cerevisiaeFungi12,000,000
S. cellulosumBacteria13,000,000
H. pyloriBacteria1,700,000
E. coliBacteria4,600,000
Panadoravirus s.Virus2,800,000
HIV-1Virus9,700
Influenza AVirus14,000
BacteriophageVirus49,000
Hepatitis D virusVirus1,700

The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.

Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.

In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.

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Explainer: The Different Types of Volcanoes on Earth

This graphic provides a brief introduction to volcanoes, explaining their different types of shapes and sizes, and how they erupt.

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Infographic explaining how volcanoes are formed and different types

Explainer: The Different Types of Volcanoes on Earth

Even if you don’t live near a volcano, you’ve been impacted by their activity.

It’s estimated that more than 80% of our planet’s surface has been shaped by volcanic activity. They’ve helped create our mountain ranges, plains, and plateaus, and have even helped fertilize the land that we now use to grow crops.

These critical mounds come in many shapes and sizes. This graphic by Giulia De Amicis provides a brief introduction to volcanoes, explaining their different types of shapes and eruptions.

Types of Eruptions

A volcano starts to form when molten rock rises from a crack in the Earth’s surface, which often emerge along tectonic plate boundaries.

Magma rises to the Earth’s surface because it’s lighter than rock. When it surfaces or erupts, it’s referred to as lava.

There are various types of volcanic eruptions, depending on the lava’s temperature, thickness, and composition. Generally speaking, high gas content and high ​​viscosity lead to explosive eruptions, while low viscosity and gas content lead to an effusive, or steadily flowing, eruption.

The Four Main Types of Volcanoes

Volcanoes vary in size and structure, depending on how they’re formed. Most volcanoes types fall into four main groups:

Shield Volcanoes

Shield volcanoes are built slowly, from low-viscosity lava that spreads far and quick. The lava eventually dries to form a thin, wide sheet, and after repeated eruptions, a mount starts to form.

From the top, these types of volcanoes look like a shield, hence the name. While these volcanoes take a while to form, they aren’t necessarily low. In fact, the world’s tallest active volcano, Mauna Kea in Hawaii, is a shield volcano.

Stratovolcanoes

Also known as composite volcanoes, stratovolcanoes are built relatively fast, at least compared to shield volcanoes. This is because, in between lava eruptions, composite volcanoes emit ash and rock, which helps add structure to the mound rather quickly.

Some well-known composite volcanoes are Mount Fuji in Japan, Mount St. Helens in Washington, and Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador.

Volcanic Domes

Opposite to shield volcanoes, volcanic domes are formed when lava is highly-viscous. Because the thick lava can’t travel very far, it starts to pool around the volcano’s vent.

This can sometimes create a pressure build-up, meaning dome volcanoes are prone to explosive eruptions.

Cinder Cones

These types of volcanoes typically don’t release lava. Rather, their eruptions typically emit volcanic ash and rocks, known as pyroclastic products.

Cinder cones are characterized by a bowl-shaped crater at the top, and usually don’t exceed 400 m (1,312 ft) in height.

How Volcanoes Benefit the Earth

Volcanoes have a number of ecological benefits. Once broken down, volcanic materials create exceptionally fertile soil, which can help build prospering new habitats for animals and plants.

Volcanic eruptions can also help cool our climate. When a volcano explodes, ash and sulfur gas from the eruption combine with water droplets and get trapped in the atmosphere for years. This has a cooling effect which is extremely beneficial to us, especially given our current global warming situation.

Dr. Tracy Gregg, associate professor for the University at Buffalo’s geology department, told Accuweather that “volcanoes have actually helped to keep the world about 2 to 3 degrees cooler than it otherwise may be.”

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