The Space Daily April 10th Rocket Science item Europe's largest sounding rocket launched from Esrange says:

MAXUS 9, Europe's largest sounding rocket for experiments in microgravity, successfully lifted off from SSC's (Swedish Space Corporation's) launch facility Esrange Space Center in northern Sweden.

The rocket was launched at 11:30 local time and carried nine scientific experiments and a technology demonstrator, all together 579 kg, to an altitude of 678 km which enabled slightly more than 12 minutes and of stable microgravity, $10^{-5}$ g

A quick estimate shows that a ballistic trajectory rising to that height and then returning would indeed have a time of about 12 and a half minutes, so I am guessing there was just enough delta-v (about 3600 m/s) to attain vertical velocity quickly, and then the next twelve minutes were free-fall, and there would be no attempt to achieve substantial horizontal velocity to prolong the duration of the zero gee status.

Is that roughly correct?

Is this a new time and/or altitude record for this kind of trajectory?

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect the record is for an ICBM test. These tend to be very fast, and testing they often will go almost vertical. But good luck getting the information on this one... $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto I can imagine that when testing an ICBM, one might have chosen a fairly vertical trajectory to avoid scaring the heck out of the rest of the planet. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @PearsonArtPhoto I don't know, according to XMen Apocalypse, the ICBMs don't go very high. They also don't cause much damage even when controlled by someone wanting to create an apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – Chloe
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Chloe according to XMen Apocalypse mutants are roaming the Earth. Yet I see none. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Real ICBMs in action don't go that far. Testing them, it is common to launch them nearly vertical to minimize fear from other countries, etc. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


New Horizons went into Earth parking orbit first, so it doesn't count. For a suborbital direct ascent trajectory, some early lunar probes (USSR's Luna-1 for example) would hold this record. Otherwise, early vertical research probes included the Blue Scout Junior, one of which reached 44400 km on 1961 Dec 4 (mission O-2) - another may have reached 225000 km on 1961 Aug 17 (mission O-1) although it wasn't tracked, so we're not sure if it really made it. A Chinese suborbital probe reached over 10000 km and possibly 30000 km on 2013 May 13. So the ICBMs, which are optimized for range and not apogee and only get to at most 2000 km or so, are not remotely in the running.

The record for a launch from Europe is probably Rubis 04, launched from Biscarosse, France, in July 1967 to 2000 km or so. The French navy also launch missiles from submarines off the coast of Brittany towards S America, but their apogee is likely closer to 1000 km (and of course, is secret).

You can find more at my catalog of orbital and suborbital space launches at JSR Launch Vehicle Database, 2016 Dec 30 Edition.

  • $\begingroup$ New Horizons went into Earth parking orbit first, so it doesn't count. I've tried to find information on this, but can't. It seems to contradict other things I've read. Do you have a reference you can point to? $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve - I found that statement here: New Horizons Mission Design, page 30: It was first inserted into an elliptical Earth parking orbit of perigee altitude 165 km and apogee altitude 215 km. After a short coast in the parking orbit, the spacecraft was then injected into the desired heliocentric orbit $\endgroup$
    – Ricardo
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve - On page 13, it says: The New Horizons spacecraft is first placed into an Earth parking orbit by the first stage and the Centaur’s first burn, and then injected into the specified heliocentric trajectory through the combined injection burn supplied by the Centaur (second burn) and the STAR 48B after a short coasting in the parking orbit. $\endgroup$
    – Ricardo
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Jonathan is pretty much the canonical source for this sort of information, both in the industry and among amateur satellite observers. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ Discussion below What's the record for the fastest trip to the Moon? shows that there is a problem with these historical dates; any thoughts? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 16:49

Not sure if this counts, but New Horizons was launched directly into an escape trajectory and did not enter orbit. It made it to Pluto and beyond. From Wikipedia:

New Horizons was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 kilometers per second

That might be considered "straight up".

  • $\begingroup$ It's not what I was thinking of, but except for the suborbital part it fits the description perfectly - very good! I never knew this. I was about to start saying something about gravitational assist until I saw the block quote. Wow, I never knew that. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Pages 13 and 30 of the New Horizons Mission Design and Jonathan McDowell in his answer to this very same question, seem to differ, saying that New Horizons coasted shortly in a parking orbit before injection into the desired heliocentric orbit. Maybe Wikipedia is wrong? $\endgroup$
    – Ricardo
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ I checked. The wikipedia page talks about re-igniting the Centaur, which means it went into parking orbit first, so not straight up. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ and even if launched directly into escape it'll have been launched sideways to minimise gravity losses. $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 22:13

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