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I know multiple-payload launches are routine these days, and everyone seems to have their own reignitable kick-stage. But who were the first to start doing that?

This is similar to this question, but that was answered with the first attempt at a multiple-payload launch, which was a failure. Who was the first to do it routinely as part of their business model? I know the Ariane V was designed specifically for that, but I don't know that it was the first.

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I believe it was Atlas-Agena. Multiple launches had several payloads manifested, and it was a workhorse for the USAF.

Now, I'm not sure if this will satisfy your question, as many of those primary payloads relied on the Agena to operate on-orbit, but I believe the model of "main payload uses Agena as a bus" and "secondary payload separates & continues on" is close enough to your questions stipulation of "designed specifically for [deploying dual payloads]" so I'll leave this answer here for you to decide. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ And in some cases three or even four payloads, it would seem. So they did it back in the 60s, and more than once. I didn't think they did that so early. I guess that answers my question! $\endgroup$ – Greg May 24 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Technically, the most common Atlas configuration produced was multiple-payload but not intended to reach orbit... $\endgroup$ – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- May 25 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic- you referring to MIRVs ? $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft May 26 at 12:39

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