A paper summarizes commonly proposed advanced launch concepts, including both concepts that employ propellant and propellant-less concepts. A wide range of advanced launch concepts have been proposed in an effort to revolutionize space access through either a significant reduction in launch costs or significant improvements in launch performance. These revolutionary concepts aren't necessarily required to be in the propulsion arena. For example, materials that can dramatically reduce the inert mass fraction will also aid in a launch vehicle's ability to place more payload into orbit with existing propulsion systems.

Each concept is briefly described along with its potential in two generic mission classes: small satellite launch to LEO and large satellite launch to GEO. It is shown that there is significant room for improvement in the cost and performance of current launch systems. It is also shown that historical predictions of launch cost reductions and/or performance improvements for new technologies have been highly optimistic with realized costs and performance leading to only incremental improvements instead of revolutionary advancements.

This work was done by Anthony P. Pancotti of ERC Inc.; and Andrew D. Ketsdever, Marcus P. Young, and Jason B. Mossman of the Air Force Research Laboratory.