The ten most beautiful rockets!

Lots and Lots of Rockets!

Ok, this is bound to be highly subjective! But for what it’s worth, here are the ten most beautiful rockets, in my opinion.

10. Electron.

The shape is simple but the paint job wins the prize. New Zealand based, which is why we have what is effectively a rocket wearing an All Blacks rugby shirt.

I note they also claim to have the most beautiful launch site in the world, and having visited New Zealand, I am willing to accept that.

The AXM Electron Rocket
The Electron Rocket

9. Angara A-5

OK, so it’s way over budget and years late, but as far as looks go, I really like Russian’s Angara A5. Those big boosters, as large as the core, are great for catching light and shadow.

Angara A5, perspective free views

8. Black Arrow.

Maybe I’m biased being British. But I really like the compact Black Arrow, even if it is sometimes cruelly called the Lipstick rocket. The mix of painted areas, shiny metal, and that red fairing make it a joy to render.

The smallest rocket to put something in orbit? I think so… 

Black Arrow Rocket, perspective free renders

7. Energia / Buran

The Energia / Buran combination is another one that’s a joy to render, and looks good from many angles. A bit more colour variation would be welcome, but even so, a lovely looking craft. The bulges at the top of the boosters are dummy parachute packs, Energia was to have a high degree of re-usability.

Energia Buran Stack
Energia Buran Stack, Perspective Free

And technically superior to the shuttle in many ways too.

6. Saturn 1

For me the first Saturn rockets were clear winners in the looks department.

Saturn 1 Rocket
Saturn 1 Rocket

The alternating black and white tubes of the clustered first stage, a highly distinctive shape, a real “form follows function” rocket.  Compared to this, the Saturn V is a dull “cylinder / taper / cylinder / pointy” design, very boring.

5. Mercury Atlas.

Mercury Atlas rocket
Mercury Atlas rocket

The shiniest rocket! At least until the liquid oxygen results in all that polished metal being covered in frost. The fine ribs on the hull also show nicely in a good photos or render.

4. Meteor 2K, Sounding Rocket.

Small but perfectly formed. Poland’s Meteor 2K is the smallest rocket here at 4.4 metres, but the paint job makes it the real world rocket that’s closest to a Tin Tin rocket. Note the sloping tops to the boosters – this is so they peel away without any complicated system, once their work is done.

Two views of Poland's Meter 2 Sounding Rocket
Two views of Poland’s Meter 2 Sounding Rocket

3. Delta IV Heavy

This thing just reeks of raw power. Particularly in photos of it taking off. You only need to look at it once to realise that this is a beast.

Delta IV heavy, by Ben Cooper
Delta IV heavy, by Ben Cooper

And with this rocket, I’m not going to try and compete against the spectacular launch photography of Ben Cooper.

His site is here:

2. Chelomei’s UR-700

Unflown, though some hardware was built to test the flow between tanks.

A direct ascent Moon rocket by Chelomei, a bundle of tanks using Proton / UR-500 technology. Fuel is pumped between tanks in flight, so the core stages are fully fuelled when the outer stages are dropped. It was intended to replace the N-1, and would have used the same launch facilities after adapting them.

UR-700 Moon Rocket
UR-700 Moon Rocket, by Chelomei, competitor to the N-1

Every time I post a render of this one on Social Media, the Kerbal Crew go nuts!

1. The “Luna”.

Ok, so the number one rocket is not real. But look at it. Does anything scream out “SPACE ROCKET!” like this classic elegant chrome cigar with fins design?

The Luna
The Luna, from “Destination Moon”

And here, as shown in the film.

Luna from "Destination Moon"
Luna from “Destination Moon”

What I don’t like…

If a rocket is basically “Cylinder, taper, cylinder, pointy bit”, then it’s probably boring. Particularly if it’s mostly white, with a few black bits. 

And while I’m at it, the ugliest rocket is…

Ares 1, The ugliest rocket.

I mean look at it. A stick with a lump on the top, that looks like it’s about to fall over. It looks like someone has balanced an old toilet brush on end, one that’s lost all the bristles.

Ares 1 Rocket
Ares 1 Rocket. A big ugly dumb firework.

Bad names for rockets.

What not to call your rocket… I mean, something as cool as a spacecraft should have a cool name, yes?

So please avoid yet another one called Aries or Ares, or some variant on that. Similarly with Orion, way too many of those. Or a variation of Vulcan / Vulkan. 

Combinations of Greek letters, Roman Numerals, and postcode letters and numbers are kind of boring too. (Looking at you, Delta II 7420-10C, etc).

And that’s it for now!

Let me know ion the comments if you have any proposals for beautiful rockets that should have made the list…


19 thoughts on “The ten most beautiful rockets!”

    1. i seriously think it looks boring – just a sequence of cylinders and tapers, and really boring colours too.

      1. haha same to be honest. Yeah Saturn I is beautiful though. I would have included Titan IIG, 2018 BRF design and Ariane 6. I would have removed the Luna because its fictional, Meteor because I don’t think it quite makes the cut and Angara because it isn’t really the most nice looking rocket

  1. I might quibble on some of the choices of 10 – 9, but Luna! Yes!

    I’d put the Saturn 1-b in there, and it looks like we’re confined to rockets that lift off from Earth (as opposed to being assembled and launched in LEO or elsewhere. So, I’m good. I do like the classic Black Brandt and the V-2, as well.

  2. Wouah ! On your banner with all the rockets, there is a new version of the UR-700, I think it’s the one with nuclear upperstages. Can you confirm ? And have you done large drawings of it ?

  3. As you put a “unreal” rocket at number one, I realy expected to see the Tintin moonrocket at that place. I know it is based on a V2 but his altered wings and damshape painting make it much more beautifull. In Brussels airport there is 10m high version and its really an eyecacher.
    Regards, Peter

    1. The TinTin test rocket was a lot closer to a V2 – And I accept that a lot of work went into making it realistic, more than most people realise. And I worked in Brussels for a year, the one in the airport is superb!

      In defence of the “Luna” I think it was a LOT more influential, there are so many slim chrome rockets that are clearly based on it.

  4. OTRAG should get some love.

    It’s modularity might allow outsized payloads that don’t have to be too mount.

    Imagine a flat plate a football field across, standing on one “edge”

    Along its length are OTRAG pods that fall away. The payload is in the middle of a tubular OTRAG sandwich.

    They fall away, leaving huge panels that could allow the Cassiopeia space based solar power says to be made one huge piece at a time.

    1. Hi Jeff, this is Shawn Stockle, just found the atomic rockets website, yours is the first link I found to send an email. I am a proponent of the constant 1G acceleration method. A ship using this method can get to Alpha Centauri in 3.6 Earth/7.3 ship years. Not only is this the fastest way we can get there but you would have gravity the whole way. What’s needed for this to happen is a fission rocket that can put out thrust for long periods and does not consume hydrogen. A 10 ton ship would require a mere 10 tons of continuous thrust. Uranium and Plutonium are jittery atoms, they are on the verge of fissioning all by themselves, there has to be a way to use electrical current to get them to fission in a linear fashion unlike a bomb that requires critical mass/chain reaction. I invite you to watch “liquid plutonium rocket” on youtube.

  5. My favourite 3D printed rocket is a110cm Facon heavy. Starship is however quite boring but the inside tanks are (hidden) but fantastic. The enormous ous starship booster is not exciting me at all to print. I’ve printed a nice N-1 but it’s only 40cm. Another favourite is the Jupiter 2. My goal is a 100cm Eagle from Space 1999 but the models are very tricky to print.

  6. I’d like to suggest room in the top 10 for the Arianne 5 – simple design, yet beautiful. Since there’s an award for ugliest rocket, can we also have an award for ‘novelty rocket’ which should go to New Shepard (nudge, nudge).

  7. Please tell me where a higher resolution version of that image with two rows of real and fictional rockets is available. Preferably one that labels them.

      1. One request if I may.

        I just learned that the SLS core dry weight was 188,000 pounds vs Starship’s 220,000 pounds.

        SLS, being hydrogen filled—is likely lighter wet than methalox Starship.

        Just for fun…could you do a print of an SLS with one M-1 atop SuperHeavy with SRBs?

        I am thinking the SLS core block itself would reach the Moon, and possibly land there (Horizontally)
        so ISRU gets tankage….and you refuel there…not in LEO with dozens of Starship tanker flights.

        That one soft landed SLS core might make all the difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.