Launch vehicles can be grouped into two categories. The first consists of vehicles that can propel their payloads fast enough at a sufficient altitude to achieve orbit. A launch vehicle that is unable to place a payload in orbit, but can still carry a payload into space, is referred to as a suborbital launch vehicle.
The Sea Launch consortium operates a derivative of the Ukrainian Zenit 2 rocket, modified with Russian and American components and used by Sea Launch as its standard booster since the company’s first launch in 1999. The Zenit-3SL rocket launches from Sea Launch’s ocean platform. A variant of this system, the Zenit-3SLB, launches from the Zenit pad at Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
In 2009, a total of ## orbital launches took place from ## spaceports around the world. These launches carried ## payloads for militaries, civil government organizations, commercial entities, and universities into Earth orbit and destinations beyond.
In early 2009, Iran achieved a major milestone by successfully orbiting an Iranian spacecraft, Omid (Hope), in low Earth orbit aboard an indigenously built Safir rocket. The Iranian Communications Minister announced plans to manufacture seven additional satellites as well as undertake a 12-year human spaceflight program.
The primary advantages of sounding rockets are their low cost, comparative ease of transport, ability to be launched from locations on land or sea, and relatively short turnaround times between mission concept and launch. These characteristics make sounding rockets a frequent choice of university science programs and research institutes that require less expensive access to space, enabling space-based experiments that might not otherwise receive funding.
The Brazilian Space Agency has sporadically continued development of its proposed Veículo Lançador de Satélites (VLS) booster, designed to launch from the country’s Alcântara spaceport near the equator. Brazil hopes to perform further tests featuring a mockup rocket in 2010. Possibly as early as 2009, Brazil is expected to begin launching Ukrainian-built rockets under a joint venture between the two countries formalized in 2007.[
From the launch of the Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957, through the end of 2008, approximately ## orbital launches have occurred. These missions carried some ten thousand satellites, experiments, probes, landers, and other spacecraft on trajectories ranging from Earth orbit to missions beyond our solar system.