How Small Can a Launch Vehicle Be?
Lawrence Livermore, 10 July 2005
https://e-reports-ext.llnl.gov/pdf/321763.pdf [PDF, 183K]
This classic document reviews the background requirements of launching a vehicle to low Earth orbit, focusing on the issue of lower bounds on the size of the vehicle.
Trajectory simulations from Earth to orbit indicate comparative velocity requirements depending on vehicle size, for several propellant options. Smaller vehicles are more affected by drag, resulting in steeper trajectories that require more total velocity. Although they are technically challenging, launch vehicles smaller than 1 ton are not ruled out by the nature of ascent trajectories.