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The three-stage-to-orbit launch system is a commonly used rocket system to attain Earth orbit. The spacecraft uses three distinct stages to provide propulsion consecutively in order to achieve orbital velocity.


Examples of three stage to orbit systems

Examples of two stages with boosters

Other designs (in fact, most modern medium- to heavy-lift designs) do not have all three stages inline on the main stack, instead having strap-on boosters for the "stage-0" with two core stages. In these designs, the boosters and first stage fire simultaneously instead of consecutively, providing extra initial thrust to lift the full launcher weight and overcome gravity losses and atmospheric drag. The boosters are jettisoned a few minutes into flight to reduce weight.

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Solid-propellant rocket Rocket with a motor that uses solid propellants

A solid-propellant rocket or solid rocket is a rocket with a rocket engine that uses solid propellants (fuel/oxidizer). The earliest rockets were solid-fuel rockets powered by gunpowder; they were used in warfare by the Chinese, Indians, Mongols and Persians, as early as the 13th century.

Titan (rocket family) rocket family

Titan was a family of United States expendable rockets used between 1959 and 2005. Titan I and Titan II were part of the US Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile fleet until 1987. The space launch vehicle versions contributed the majority of the 368 Titan launches, including all the Project Gemini crewed flights of the mid-1960s. Titan vehicles were also used to lift US military payloads as well as civilian agency intelligence-gathering satellites and to send highly successful interplanetary scientific probes throughout the Solar System.

Ariane 4 Rocket

The Ariane 4 was an expendable space launch system, developed by the Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES), the French space agency, for the European Space Agency (ESA). It was manufactured by ArianeGroup and marketed by Arianespace. Since its first flight on 15 June 1988 until the final flight on 15 February 2003, it attained 113 successful launches out of 116 total launches.

Proton (rocket family) Soviet rocket family

Proton is an expendable launch system used for both commercial and Russian government space launches. The first Proton rocket was launched in 1965. Modern versions of the launch system are still in use as of 2019, making it one of the most successful heavy boosters in the history of spaceflight. All Protons are built at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center factory in Moscow and Chemical Automatics Design Bureau in Voronezh, transported to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, brought to the launch pad horizontally, and raised into vertical position for launch.

Booster (rocketry) Rocket used to augment the thrust of a larger rocket

A booster rocket is either the first stage of a multistage launch vehicle, or else a shorter-burning rocket used in parallel with longer-burning sustainer rockets to augment the space vehicle's takeoff thrust and payload capability. Boosters are traditionally necessary to launch spacecraft into low Earth orbit, and are especially important for a space vehicle to go beyond Earth orbit. The booster is dropped to fall back to Earth once its fuel is expended, a point known as booster engine cut-off (BECO).

Delta II American space launch system

Delta II was an expendable launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas. Delta II was part of the Delta rocket family and entered service in 1989. Delta II vehicles included the Delta 6000, and the two later Delta 7000 variants. The rocket flew its final mission ICESat-2 on 15 September 2018, earning the launch vehicle a streak of 100 successful missions in a row, with the last failure being GPS IIR-1 in 1997.

Delta IV active expendable launch system in the Delta rocket family

Delta IV is a group of five expendable launch systems in the Delta rocket family introduced in the early 2000s. Originally designed by Boeing's Defense, Space & Security division for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, the Delta IV became a United Launch Alliance (ULA) product in 2006. The Delta IV is primarily a launch vehicle for United States Air Force military payloads, but has also been used to launch a number of U.S. government non-military payloads and a single commercial satellite.

The Saturn I was a rocket designed as the United States' first medium lift launch vehicle for up to 20,000-pound (9,100 kg) low Earth orbit payloads. The rocket's first stage was built as a cluster of propellant tanks engineered from older rocket tank designs, leading critics to jokingly refer to it as "Cluster's Last Stand". Originally intended as a near-universal military booster for use in the 1960s, its development was taken over from the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1958 by the newly-formed civilian NASA. Its design proved sound and flexible. It was successful in initiating the development of liquid hydrogen-fueled rocket propulsion, launching the Pegasus satellites, and flight verification of the Apollo command and service module launch phase aerodynamics. Ten Saturn I rockets were flown before it was replaced by the heavy lift derivative Saturn IB, which used a larger, higher total impulse second stage and an improved guidance and control system. It also led the way to development of the super-heavy lift Saturn V which carried the first men to landings on the Moon in the Apollo program.

Titan IIIC

The Titan IIIC was an expendable launch system used by the United States Air Force from 1965 until 1982. It was the first Titan booster to feature large solid rocket motors and was planned to be used as a launcher for the Dyna-Soar, though the spaceplane was cancelled before it could fly. The majority of the launcher's payloads were DoD satellites, for military communications and early warning, though one flight (ATS-6) was performed by NASA. The Titan IIIC was launched exclusively from Cape Canaveral while its sibling, the Titan IIID, was launched only from Vandenberg AFB.

GSLV Mark III Indian medium-lift launch vehicle

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, also referred to as the Launch Vehicle Mark 3 (LVM3), is a three-stage medium-lift launch vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Primarily designed to launch communication satellites into geostationary orbit, it is also identified as launch vehicle for crewed missions under the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme and dedicated science missions like Chandrayaan-2. The GSLV Mk III has a higher payload capacity than the similarly named GSLV Mk II.

Atlas (rocket family) Family of American missiles and space launch vehicles

Atlas is a family of US missiles and space launch vehicles that originated with the SM-65 Atlas. The Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program was initiated in the late 1950s under the Convair Division of General Dynamics. Atlas was a liquid propellant rocket burning RP-1 fuel with liquid oxygen in three engines configured in an unusual "stage-and-a-half" or "parallel staging" design: two outboard booster engines were jettisoned along with supporting structures during ascent, while the center sustainer engine, propellant tanks and other structural elements remained connected through propellant depletion and engine shutdown.

Delta IV Heavy variant of the Delta IV space launch vehicle

The Delta IV Heavy is an expendable heavy-lift launch vehicle, the largest type of the Delta IV family and the world's second highest-capacity rocket in operation, behind SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. It is manufactured by United Launch Alliance and was first launched in 2004.

This is the comparison of orbital launch systems page. It contains two lists of conventional orbital launch systems, separated by operational status. For the simple list of all conventional launcher families, see: Comparison of orbital launchers families. For the list of predominantly solid-fueled orbital launch systems, see: Comparison of solid-fueled orbital launch systems.

A launch service provider (LSP) is a type of company which specialises in launching spacecraft. It is responsible for the ordering, conversion or construction of the carrier rocket, assembly and stacking, payload integration, and ultimately conducting the launch itself. Some of these tasks may be delegated or sub-contracted to other companies. For example, United Launch Alliance has formally subcontracted the production of GEM solid rocket motors for their Delta II and Delta IV rockets to Alliant Techsystems, both vehicles are now retired. An LSP does not necessarily build all the rockets it launches.

Heavy-lift launch vehicle Launch vehicle capable of lifting between 20,000 to 50,000 kg into low Earth orbit

A heavy-lift launch vehicle, HLV or HLLV, is an orbital launch vehicle capable of lifting between 20,000 to 50,000 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO). As of 2019, operational heavy-lift launch vehicles include the Ariane 5, the Long March 5, the Proton-M and the Delta IV Heavy. In addition, the Angara A5, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust, and the Falcon Heavy are designed to provide heavy-lift capabilities in at least some configurations but have not yet been proven to carry a 20-tonne payload into LEO. Several other heavy-lift rockets are in development. An HLV is between medium-lift launch vehicles and super heavy-lift launch vehicles.

This list contains a comparison of orbital launcher families. To see the lists of all launch systems separated by current operational status, see Comparison of orbital launch systems.

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems American aerospace and defense company

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) was a sector of Northrop Grumman from 2018 to 2020. It was formed as Orbital ATK Inc. in 2015 from the merger of Orbital Sciences Corporation and parts of Alliant Techsystems, and it was purchased by Northrop Grumman in 2018. Innovation Systems designed, built, and delivered space, defense, and aviation-related systems to customers around the world both as a prime contractor and as a merchant supplier. It had a workforce of approximately 12,000 employees dedicated to aerospace and defense including about 4,000 engineers and scientists; 7,000 manufacturing and operations specialists; and 1,000 management and administration personnel. With Northrop Grumman's reorganization of its divisions effective 1 January 2020, NGIS was split, with most of the sector merging with other Northrop Grumman businesses into a new Space Systems sector.

The Unified Launch Vehicle (ULV) is a development project by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) whose core objective is to design a modular architecture that could eventually replace the PSLV, GSLV Mk I/II and GSLV Mk III with a single family of launchers. The design may include a heavy-lift variant dubbed HLV, consisting of the SC-160 stage and two solid rocket boosters, as well as a super heavy-lift variant called SHLV with a cluster stage of five SCE-200 engines. As SCE-200 will only fly after the successful completion of the Gaganyaan program, the launcher will not fly before 2022.

A medium-lift launch vehicle (MLV) is a rocket launch vehicle that is capable of lifting between 2,000 to 20,000 kg of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). An MLV is between small-lift launch vehicles and heavy-lift launch vehicles.