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Examples of "kinds of launch vehicles" include Ariane 5, Electron, Pegasus, Falcon 9, Space Shuttle, Saturn V, etc.; small variations shouldn't be counted as separate.

Question: Which kind of launch vehicle has put the most total payload in space, added up over all launches combined? Is there an obvious winner?

"bonus points:" Was the answer different 5 years ago? Will it be different in another five years?

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  • $\begingroup$ I see at least one caveat with this question. Not all launches are to low earth orbit. For GTO launches the same vehicle lifts 2-3 times less payload. Also it differs for navigation satellites (GPS etc), tundra orbits... Maybe to use some scaling factors for different orbits? ) $\endgroup$ – Heopps Apr 23 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ Would total_number_of_launches x theoretical_max_payload_to_leo give a good metric? It auto-scales the numbers, assuming that rocket launches are "efficient", i.e. using as much of the allowable payload for a given launcher and target orbit. $\endgroup$ – Ludo Apr 23 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Ludo Perhaps, but note that the ratio between LEO and GTO mass capabilities differs a lot between launchers (mainly due to different upper stages). $\endgroup$ – TooTea Apr 23 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh - OK, maybe my clarification can be another question itself. For this question - I would be surprised if Soyuz rocket family with over 1000 launches (1800 to count all R-7 family) will not win by wast number. But I doubt the exact payload weight can be found for all Soyuz launches. At least I can't. Some info here, but only since year 2000: spacelaunchreport.com/soyuz.html. $\endgroup$ – Heopps Apr 23 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ Related: space.stackexchange.com/q/88/195 $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Apr 23 at 15:32
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I would be surprised if Soyuz rocket will not win.

Rough estimations:

The exact statistics could not be available, I'm afraid, but Soyuz rockets made more than 900 successful launches (over 1800 if you count the whole R-7 family). Some info can be found here, but only since year 2000.

Payload mass differs according to orbit type, but to assume an average mass of about 4 tonnes (underestimation, I think) we obtain the estimation 900 x 4 tonnes = 3600 t; for all R-7 we get more than 7000 t.

The question is how to count Space Shuttle. If Orbiter is included, than estimation is above 135 launches x 100 tonnes = 13500 t - much more than Soyuz and more than all R-7. But if don't count Orbiter, than it's not more than 135 x 20 tonnes = 2700 t.

For other launch systems:

Falcon-9 family:

  • not more than 84 launches x 20 tonnes (overestimation) = 1680 t

Ariane-5:

  • about 103 launches x 10 tonnes = 1030 t (most launches are to GTO)

Proton:

  • rather small amount of the launches were to LEO. Most to GTO/interplanetary. To assume average payload mass ~7 t (rather fair, I think) estimation is 363 launches x 7 tonnes = 2541 t, still less than Soyuz.

Titan rocket family:

  • hard to collect exact statistics, but according to Wikipedia had total 363 rockets built, including 107 of heavy configurations (12 of Titan 34D, 31 Titan IIIC, 22 Titan 3D, 6 Titan IIIE, 35 Titan IV). For heavies 107 * 15 tonnes (gross overestimate) = 1605 tonnes. Light configurations had no more than 3 tonnes LEO payload capacity, also most of them vere used for suborbital launches.

Chinese Long March -2, -3, -4:

  • also can be considered as family, because they are technically similar. Can't find detailed statistics or even total number of launches. But we can surely assume the number of launches if far less compared to Soyuz, with payload similar to Soyuz or less (3-9 tonnes).
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  • $\begingroup$ seems pretty convincing to me, thanks! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 23 at 10:07

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