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Teams at Mission Control match the needs of ESA missions with the perfect rocket. The choice of rocket depends primarily on the mass of the payload and where it needs to go.
The further from Earth a spacecraft needs to be lifted, and the more massive it is, the more fuel that is needed.
To the Moon and beyond
The minimum velocity required to get beyond Earth’s gravitational sphere of influence is 11.2 km per second, after which point spacecraft engines and planetary flybys are used to reach deep space destinations.
The mighty Ariane 64 can accelerate 7600 kg (or a large orca) to this important speed.
To geostationary transfer orbit
Most communication and weather satellites live about 36 000 km above Earth’s equator in geostationary orbit - from where they appear to hover unmoving above our heads.
The Ariane 62 can lift 5000 kg (or an Asian elephant) to the geostationary transfer orbit, and the Ariane 64, 11 500 kg (or a whale shark), from where spacecraft boost themselves into geostationary orbit.
Orbiting near Earth
Most human-made objects in space reside in low-Earth orbit, from 100 km to 2000 km above Earth’s surface.
The nimble Vega-C can carry 2250 kg (or a hippopotamus) to this crowded zone, while the Ariane 62 can lift up to 6450 kg (or an African elephant) and the mighty Ariane 64 a whopping 20 000 kg (or a small gray whale!).
Rockets are the backbone of all space-based endeavours. ESA in partnership with industry is developing next-generation space transportation vehicles, Ariane 6, Vega-C, and Space Rider. At Space19+, ESA will propose further enhancements to these programmes and introduce new ideas to help Europe work together to build a robust space transportation economy. This week, take a look at what ESA is doing to ensure continued autonomous access to space for Europe and join the conversation online by following the hashtag #RocketWeek