Satellite Launch Vehicles

Edited by Chameleon, Sharingknowledge, SarMal


Have you ever wondered that how big, fat satellites are carried from the Earth and transported into the outer space? They are carried with the help of a launch vehicle, known as Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) which act as a taxi cab for the satellites. Satellites are packed carefully onto the SLV before blast off. Powered by a rocket engine, the SLV carries the satellite into space.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Figure 1. Satellite Launch Vehicle

Structure of Satellite Launch Vehicle

Known as stages, a satellite launch vehicle is made up of several different segments. Each stage plays a different role. To further understand the structure of a launch vehicle, take a look at the following picture where different stages of launch vehicle are labelled.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Figure 2. Stages of SLV

First Stage

The first stage of SLV contains fuel which is used to lift the satellite and launch the vehicle off from the ground. Launch vehicles weighs many hundreds of tons, and powerful rockets are required to lift the vehicle and satellite into space. After the consumption of all the fuel, the first stage is not required anymore, breaks off and falls away.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Second Stage

After the first stage breaks off from the launch vehicle, the second stage which contains smaller rockets ignites. The rockets of the second stage have their own fuel tanks which provide further fuel and energy to the launch vehicle carrying the satellite further into space. Like the first stage, the second stage also breaks off after all the fuel has been consumed and burns up in the Earth's atmosphere or falls back onto the ground.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Upper Stage & Fairing

A satellite is enclosed in a metal shield known as fairing. The upper stage of the satellite is connected to the fairing. Fairing provides protection to the satellite while it is being launched, and makes it easier for the launch vehicle to travel through the resistance of the Earth's atmosphere. When the satellite reaches above the Earth's atmosphere, fairing splits apart and burns up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

The rockets of the upper stage fire after the satellite is in space, placing the satellite in the exact spot as programmed. Different motors are attached to the satellite which aids the satellite to move it into its intended orbit.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Once the launch vehicle is out of the Earth's atmosphere, the satellite separates from the upper stage. The satellite is then sent into a transfer orbit that sends the satellite higher into space. Once the satellite reaches its desired orbital height, it unfurls its solar panels and communication antennas, which had been stored away during the flight. The satellite then takes its place in orbit with other satellites and is ready to provide communications to by sending and receiving signals to and from Earth.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Popular Launching Sites in World

The complicated procedure of satellite launching requires scientists to choose launching sites after much deliberation and feasibility studies. SLVs are launched from only a few places in the world including Cape Canaveral, Florida; Kourou, French Guiana; Xichang, China, Baikonur, Kazakhstan and Sriharikota, India. The launching sites are chosen near the ocean, so that the vehicle falls into the water, and not on the land after falling away.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Disposal of Satellite and their Launch Vehicles

Although outer space is often imagined to be a desolate, empty place, the region around Earth swarms with thousands of satellites (approximately 2500 artificial satellites in orbit) and millions of pieces of man-made debris consisting of old satellites just hanging around in orbit.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Figure 3. Space Debris

Satellite Disposal: Low Orbit

Just like an ordinary machine, satellites are not designed to last forever. Whether their job is to observe weather, study-specific characteristics of a particular area, or communication, eventually all satellites grow old, wear out, break and are useless, just like an old vacuum cleaner or a washing machine. Depending on the height of the satellite, there are two practices used to dispose of them.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Given the design of satellites, disposing of the small satellites that revolve in the low Earth orbits is relatively easy. Engineers program satellites to use every last bit of fuel to slow down as it falls out of orbit towards Earth. As the satellite falls at thousands of miles per hour, the heat from the friction of air will burn up the falling satellite, dispersing disintegrated bits into space.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Satellite Disposal: Point Nemo

Bigger satellites and larger space stations in higher orbit cannot entirely burn up before reaching the ground. Scientists have created a final destination for these old satellites so that their debris falls into a desolated area. Located in the Southern Pacific Ocean, Point Nemo has become the final resting place for decommissioned satellites from around the world. Point Nemo is the most desolate place on Earth and largely uninhabitable by even the smallest of aquatic life. There are currently 161 sunken space vessels resting in Point Nemo.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Graveyard Orbits

The satellites moving in the highest Earth orbits need a lot of fuel if they are to be slowed down enough to fall back into the atmosphere. Conversely, it takes much less fuel to blast them farther into space than sending them back to the Earth. The "Graveyard Orbit" is located almost 22,400 miles above the Earth. These higher satellites are moved into Graveyard Orbits at the end of their operational life to reduce the possibility of colliding with other operational satellites.

Was this helpful? Yes | No| I need help

Referencing this Article

If you need to reference this article in your work, you can copy-paste the following depending on your required format:

APA (American Psychological Association)
Satellite Launch Vehicles. (2017). In ScienceAid. Retrieved Jun 4, 2023, from

MLA (Modern Language Association) "Satellite Launch Vehicles." ScienceAid, Accessed 4 Jun 2023.

Chicago / Turabian "Satellite Launch Vehicles." Accessed Jun 4, 2023.

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


ScienceAid welcomes all comments. If you do not want to be anonymous, register or log in. It is free.

Article Info

Categories : Aerospace

Recent edits by: Sharingknowledge, Chameleon

Share this Article:

Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 1,087 times.


Thank Our Volunteer Authors.

Would you like to give back to the community by fixing a spelling mistake? Yes | No