Expendable launch system

An expendable launch system (or expendable launch vehicle/ELV) is a launch vehicle that can be launched only once, after which its components are either destroyed during reentry or discarded in space. ELVs typically consist of several rocket stages that are discarded sequentially as their fuel is exhausted and the vehicle gains altitude and speed. Most satellites and human spacecraft are currently launched on ELVs. ELVs are simpler in design than reusable launch systems and therefore may have a lower production cost. Furthermore, an ELV can use its entire fuel supply to accelerate its payload, offering greater fuel efficiency. ELVs are proven technology in wide-spread use for many decades.[1] ELVs are usable only once, and therefore have a significantly higher per-launch cost than reusable vehicles. New reusable launch systems under development by private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin have the potential to obsolete many existing ELVs due to the lower per-launch costs of reusable rockets.

A Delta IV Heavy rocket (left) and a Proton-M rocket (right)

Current operators


Arianespace produces, operates and markets the Ariane launcher family.[2] Arianespace's 23 shareholders represent scientific, technical, financial and political entities from 10 different European countries.[3][4]




Mitsubishi Heavy Industries manufactures ELVs.


Russia currently operates several state-owned families of expendable launch vehicles, including Proton and Soyuz.

All of the Russian space sector has been renationalized, starting in 2013 with the formation of the United Rocket and Space Corporation to consolidate a large number of disparate companies and bureaus.[5][6][7] On 19 May 2015 State Duma passed a bill creating the Roscosmos State Corporation, further consolidating the industry.[8]

United States

Several governmental agencies of the United States purchase ELV launches. NASA is a major customer with the Commercial Resupply Services and Commercial Crew Development programs, also launching scientific spacecraft. A state-owned ELV, the Space Launch System, is intended to being flying in 2020 or 2021.[9]

The United States Air Force is also an ELV customer. Both the Delta IV and Atlas V from the 1994 Evolved ELV (EELV) program remain in active service, operated by the United Launch Alliance.[10] The National Security Space Launch (NSSL) competition is currently ongoing to select EELV successors to provide assured access to space.


See also


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