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The Energia rocket could loft a massive 100 tons into orbit. It could also shoot about 32 tons to a trans-lunar injection. It did not have any upper stage. So, could it really go to orbit and even further, the moon? It is the only orbital class rocket that I know without an upper stage.

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The "upper stage" was strapped to the side of the booster - it was incorporated into the payload.

The Buran had its own orbital maneuvering engines as did Energia's only other payload (Polyus).

Problems with the insertion burn on Polyus resulted in the loss of the mission.

However, Energia (or its payload) "could really go to orbit" - Buran did so.

Any Energia-lofted lunar payload would have had to provide similar arrangements.

The US space shuttle similarly had no 2nd stage as such.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyus_(spacecraft)

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buran_(spacecraft)

The launch vehicle had two functionally different operational variants: Energia-Polyus, the initial test configuration, in which the Polyus system was used as a final stage intended to put the payload into orbit, and Energia-Buran, in which the Buran orbiter was the payload and the source of the orbit insertion impulse.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energia_(rocket)

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    $\begingroup$ I should have looked up sources first! It was all right in the Energia article. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2023 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't that similar to the Shuttle, where the separate OMS engines are used for orbital insertion? The fundamental difference being you're hanging on to your non-functional SSMEs instead of expending them with the fuel tank. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Dec 7, 2023 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 yes, as I stated in the answer "The US space shuttle similarly had no 2nd stage as such." $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2023 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ I see, I read that statement differently as in the Space Shuttle had no 2nd stage like the Buran. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Dec 7, 2023 at 19:49

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