Logistic S-curves are fitted to the progression of payload versus time for the major unmanned launch vehicles in the current United States and European fleets. The results are used to infer the degree to which each vehicle family has approached its predicted payload limit, and the appropriate policy implications are discussed. The study uses well-known methods for fitting the data, and discusses several other figures of merit that may be of possible use as new vehicles mature, or as additional information can be gathered regarding historical vehicles. It has been found, for example, that U.S. launchers are generally very close to their unique "point of diminishing returns," whereas the European launch vehicle family, the Ariane, can be expected to undergo significant growth in the next several decades. The implication is that, if additional payload growth is desired for these U.S. launchers, continued evolutionary design changes must be abandoned in favor of more revolutionary changes, with an associated increase in research and development effort and cost. © 1995.
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