Issues and Perspectives on Space Launch Vehicles’ Development
The genesis of orbital launch vehicles finds its roots in the ballistic missiles developed in the 1950s by the United States and the Soviet Union. In the wake of the Cold War, the two superpowers transformed their missiles into space carrier rockets, and then plunged themselves into a frenetic race to the Moon. With the development of commercial space applications in the 1970s—first telecommunications, then Earth observation and meteorology and, finally, navigation—launchers evolved into an area of predominantly commercial battles fought over by both public and private operators. The interests of states remain, however, closely intertwined, with launchers ultimately serving as instruments of political sovereignty to ensure independent access to space, a prerogative, so far, of only a few great powers. Space carrier rockets are extremely complex systems requiring a seamless mastery of advanced technologies, including solid or liquid propulsion, pilotage and guidance, light structures, and automatic operations. Countries that decide to provide themselves with an indigenous launch capacity are fully aware of the long-term investments required and of the need to support an industry that has a limited market.