In regards to rocket launches, what rocket launch contained the most potential energy (joules/btu/etc.) in its thrust propellant to achieve is basic mission? I'm not as much concerned with differences between different specific launches of a given configuration, but in general? This should be for a rocket configuration that has actually been launched, whether it successfully reached orbit (i.e. Saturn V), or blew up on the way (i.e. N1). Nothing that is still only on the drawing board or only still in development (aka NASA SLS). If it tried actually to launch, it can be considered.

For convenience this doesn't need to include fuel used for purely maneuvering actions once in space (i.e. maneuvering thrusters) or onboard power (fuel cells, RTGs, etc.), but rather main propellants (whether solid or liquid) designed to alter the velocity of the spacecraft for mission purposes.

My guesses would be that the most potential launch energy would be between the Soviet N1, Soviet Buran, Saturn V, and US Space Shuttle, but not sure if there are other heavy lift vehicles that would be comparable.

I'm not quite sure how to properly word this question with the proper terminology, so please feel free to edit as appropriate.

I guess another way to basically ask this question, would be to ask which rocket would have (or did) make the biggest "bang" if it performed an unexpected very rapid highly exothermic deconstruction event at launch time? You can put Marvin the Martian's "There's supposed to be an Earth shattering kaboom!" quote here if you'd like.


1 Answer 1


It was probably the launch of Apollo 16 with about 41.9 TJ.

Apollo 16 carried the most fuel of the Apollo missions with a fuel mass of 1,439,894 + 160,551 + 43,727 (+ a little for LM?) = 1,644,172 pounds = 745,784 kg. They used RP-1/LOX for the first stage and LH2/LOX for the second and third stage.

The N1 total mass was lower than Saturn V and it used RP-1/LOX on all stages. It seems it contained about 680 tons of RP-1 so much less than Saturn V.

Now these were the most powerful rockets built so far, so we can ignore the other ones like the Space Shuttle (correct me if I'm wrong).

RP-1 has an energy density of about 44 MJ/kg and LH2 of about 142 MJ/kg. So since the Saturn used a mix of RP-1 and LH2 and had more fuel (unsure) it therefor contained the most potential energy.

Plugging in the numbers I get:

  • Apollo 16 stage 1: 653,125 kg RP-1 * 44 MJ/kg = 28,737,500 MJ
  • Apollo 16 stage 2+3: 92,659 kg LH2 * 142 MJ/kg = 13,157,578 MJ
  • Apollo 16 total: 41,895,078 MJ = 41.9 TJ
  • N1 total: 680,000 kg * 44 MJ/kg = 29,920,000 MJ = 29.9 TJ
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you think about the little for LM, you should think about the propellants for SM too. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Mar 30, 2019 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ Because the capacity of 16 was more than say 7's, or because it was finally actually fully fueled? What's the maximum capacity for 7~17? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Apr 30, 2020 at 23:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Mazura: AFAIK, the tank capacities did not change (see related question and its answers/comments). The tanks were filled with as much as was needed for each mission (plus some safety margin). $\endgroup$
    – DarkDust
    May 1, 2020 at 13:10

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