Analysis and Data: Maiden flights are becoming more reliable

The recent maiden flight successes of the Epsilon, Falcon 9 V1.1 and Kuaizhou seem to indicate that maiden (first) flights of launch vehicles are becoming more reliable. In fact, of these three, only the Epsilon is a “brand new” vehicle. Falcon 9 V1.1. is actualy a modified version of the standard Falcon 9 while the Kuaizhou is thought to be a derivative from a Chinese DF-21 ballistic missile. 

Derivative and modified types should have better reliabilities than brand new launch vehicles which have a maiden loss rate of  50% since 1990.  Nevertheless examination of more recent results below shows that maidens flown since 2000  have a better success rate with only 3/10 (30%) flights failing.  This seems to indicated that brand new rockets are getting more reliable. 

It should be noted that second flights (the second column) of new vehicles are also prone to failure with an overall failure rate since 1990 of 30%.  The is always a “learning curve” in early flights when operators iron out the problems/teething troubles with their new launch vehicles.

Table 1: Launch vehicle related failures for brand new rockets since 1990.

Launch Vehicle

Maiden Launch Date

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

Early flight failure rate (%)

Antares

21/04/2013

OK

OK

-

-

-

-

Ariane 5G

04/06/1996

FAIL

FAIL

OK

OK

OK

40

Ariane 5GS

11/08/2005

OK

OK

OK

OK

OK

0

Ariane 5ECA

11/12/2002

FAIL

OK

OK

OK

OK

20

Athena 1

15/08/1995

FAIL

OK

-

-

-

-

Atlas 3A

24/05/2000

OK

OK

-

-

-

-

Brazilian VLS

02/11/1997

FAIL

FAIL

-

-

-

-

Conestoga

23/10/1995

FAIL

-

-

-

-

-

Delta III

27/08/1998

FAIL

FAIL

OK

-

-

-

Delta IV

20/11/2002

OK

OK

OK

OK

OK

0

Epsilon

14/09/2013

OK

-

-

-

-

-

Falcon 1

24/03/2006

FAIL

FAIL

FAIL

OK

OK

60

Falcon 9

04/06/2010

OK

OK

OK

FAIL

-

-

H2

03/02/1994

OK

OK

OK

OK

OK

0

KSLV-1

25/08/2009

FAIL

FAIL

OK

-

-

-

Long March 3A

08/02/1994

OK

OK

OK

OK

OK

0

Long March 2E

16/07/1990

FAIL

OK

OK

OK

OK

20

Long March 3B/3C

14/02/1996

FAIL

OK

OK

OK

OK

20

M-V

12/02/1997

OK

OK

FAIL

OK

OK

20

PSLV

20/09/1993

FAIL

OK

OK

FAIL

OK

40

Pegasus

05/04/1990

OK

FAIL

OK

OK

FAIL

40

Vega

13/02/2012

OK

OK

-

-

-

-

Failure Rate

 

11/22

6/20

2/15

2/13

1/12

13/60

Failure Rate (%)

 

50.0

30.0

13.3

15.4

8.3

21.7

 Source: Flightglobal/Ascend Space Review online publication

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