Another question asks why Spirit and Opportunity weren't launched together. My gut response was that multiple-payload launches were less common then than they are today, but I don't actually know if that's true.

What was the first single launch to put two or more independent payloads into Earth orbit?

What was the first time, if ever, that a single launcher put two independent spacecraft on trajectories leaving Earth's sphere of influence?

Not included: multiple-warhead military applications, or balloons deployed from Mercury spacecraft or Gemini's "rendezvous evaluation pod"; the payloads have to go into different orbits, or at least phased substantially in the same orbit.

  • $\begingroup$ Related, but not the same (doesn't deal with the historical part). 1978 - Pioneer is pretty old though :). Does it have to separate in Earth orbit? Or be a set of duplicate probes which are redundant to each other? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn May 20 '19 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ Oh wow, I didn't know about that one! I'll at least throw an upvote at it if you make it an answer. I didn't specify where or how they separated, and they were on different trajectories for weeks between separation and Venus arrival. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove May 20 '19 at 23:36

I can't be sure this is the first attempt, but it might be the strangest-looking: GRAB + ELINT. However it was unsuccessful, and in a very big way.

Taken from this answer:

The item on top is called GRAB 1 for Galactic Radiation and Background. However that's a cover:

Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) was the covername for Project Dyno ELINT intelligence satellites operated by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) shortly after the Cold War U-2 incident of 1960. The satellites carried two sets of instruments: an unclassified experiment (called Solrad) and a then-classified payload to collect electronic intelligence (ELINT) (called Tattletale). Of five attempted launches, two missions were successful. The program is also known by the later codeword Canes.

Reading further:


During the second launch attempt, the Thor booster shut down 12 seconds early, and the flight was subsequently terminated by Range safety. As fragments fell on Cuba, subsequent launches from Cape Canaveral flew a dogleg trajectory to reach 70 degree inclination.

I'm not yet sure if this is the origin of doglegging to orbit, so I've asked Which launch was the first to use a dogleg maneuver?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ That thing looks mighty goofy (in a cool way)-- I have to wonder if the spiral was performing something, may ask after I look around a bit and link here. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn May 21 '19 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn search "spiral" and my user name. You could consider adding the antenna tag to your search by including [antenna] in your search string, unless of course someone has thoughtfully deleted the tag from my question(!) as well ;-) $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 21 '19 at 23:44

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