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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. It is intermediate between a four-stage-to-orbit launcher and a two-stage-to-orbit launcher.


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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Ariane 4 Rocket

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Delta (rocket family) Rocket family

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Delta IV active expendable launch system in the Delta rocket family

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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

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