Decoupler and separator

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Decouplers and separators are parts that allow detachment of one vehicle section from another. Sometimes "decoupler" is used as a generic term for both types of staging devices, decouplers and separators, because both behave in a similar manner.

Mode of operation

Decouplers remain attached to one section of the vehicle when staged. This asymmetric detachment is the distinguishing feature of decouplers when compared to stack separators, which detach from both sections symmetrically. On many models, the attachment affinity of the decoupler can be determined by an arrow decal which points towards the explosive end of the decoupler. The momentum it imparts is defined by the name ejection force which is given in multiples of 10 Ns.

By default, neither decouplers nor separators provide automatic crossfeed, and thus isolate fuel consumption within the respective stages. But both crossfeed and and staging properties can be tweaked - and these can be usefull at emergency decoupling options or when additional fuel is necessary, for example upon unplanned disassembly.

  • Force Percent - bar for tweaking the ejection force
  • Decoupler: Disable/Enable Staging
  • Enable/Disable Crossfeed


All actions in the same stage as the decoupler or separator are executed simultaneously, including those on the detached section, even if that section is isolated from all command modules by the decoupling event itself.


Decouplers exist in both inline and radial designs.

The symmetry selector in the VAB

Radial decouplers, such as the TT-38K Radial Decoupler, attach to the sides of a rocket and eject stages horizontally. Among the uses for these are boosters and asparagus staging. As the ejection force may not be enough to prevent collision afterwards, the Sepratron I can be used to push detached stages away. Radial decouplers and booster or asparagus stages are generally used with symmetry applied in the VAB to ensure the center of mass and center of thrust remain on the rocket's main axis.

Separators, such as the TS-12 Stack Separator, are a special type of vertical decouplers, which separate from both sides, leaving three craft: both sides of the separator and the separator itself. Separators' mass and cost are slightly more than the similarly sized decouplers.

The TT18-A Launch Stability Enhancer also decouples from parts and plays a similar sound effect, but it is categorized as a strut and is fixed to the ground.

Application notes

Post firing concerns

Care should be taken to ensure that jettisoned engines on radial stages have finished burning before detachment, as there is the risk that they will collide with the rest of the rocket. The main reason for that is, that the decouplers are usually placed below the center of mass of decoupled stages, which means that on separation they induce torque pointing the stage inward. If the engines are shut down, this is usually not a large problem because the rocket can clear it fast enough, but if they are running they will push the stage inward.

Also, the decoupler normally stays on the spent stage the center of mass is closer to the rocket than the center of thrust. This will also induce torque pointing inwards, but this torque is only induced by running engines. If they are stopped they won't induce torque this way. Almost empty booster stages are also relatively light causing a higher acceleration and overtaking the rocket. Both effects cause jettisoned stages which are still running to crash into the rocket in most cases.

Leaving stacked decouplers attached to an engine renders that engine ineffectual. Although the engine will ignite, it will provide no thrust because it's blocked by a part. Jettisoning a stacked decoupler shortly to soon is not a large problem as long as the rocket doesn't rotate.

Synthesized separators

Synthesized Stack Separator using 2 TR-18A Stack Decouplers. (Note the opposing orientation)

It is possible to create a separator out of 2 properly oriented decouplers (at the small expense of additional weight and cost over a bonafide separator). It may be helpful to include both decouplers in the same launch stage.

Explosive decoupling

At the start of Career Mode, no decouplers or separators are available, so normal staging is not possible until enough science has been earned to research these parts. However, there is an art of staging by placing solid fuel boosters next to each other, either connected at the side or arranged vertically so the exhaust of the upper booster fires onto the lower (they don't have to be directly joined). The idea is to build up heat through contact and rocket exhaust to cause overheating resulting in an explosion, decoupling the segments below it approximately when desired, like normal staging.

KSP YouTuber Scott Manley exploited explosive decoupling for a technique he calls "rocket surgery," describing it as more an art form than a science. Using this he was able to go all the way to Minmus and return with only Start technology in his video "Kerbal Space Program - 0.22! Lets Do Science! Lots Of Science".

Although explosive decoupling is possible with other engines, decouplers are more flexible and reliable for staging, and the first decoupler can be researched after a simple first launch collects a small amount of science. So explosive decoupling is less useful except as a gimmick to show what is possible from the start.

As a means of propulsion

Because decouplers and separators exert force on the separated parts, it is possible, though rarely productive, to use them as a means of propulsion. These are called “separator cannons” or “staging cannons.” The more the explosive force and the less payload mass in this “decoupler rocket”, the more altitude or speed will be gained from the separation. The extra-large radial size decoupler and separator have the highest ejection impulse.[1]


Image Part Radial size Cost
Max. Temp.
Ejection impulse
(kgF∙s)[Note 1]
TT-38K Radial Decoupler Radial mounted 600 0.025 2 000 8 50 250
TT-70 Radial Decoupler Radial mounted 700 0.05 2 000 8 50 260
TT38K flat.png
Hydraulic Detachment Manifold Radial mounted 770 0.4 2 000 8 50 450
TD-06 Decoupler Tiny 150 0.01 2 000 6 150 50
TD-12 Decoupler Small 200 0.04 2 000 6 150 100
TD-25 Decoupler Large 300 0.16 2 000 6 150 150
TD-37 Decoupler Extra large 375 0.36 2 000 6 150 200
TS-06 Stack Separator Tiny 215 0.01 2 000 6 150 50
TS-12 Stack Separator Small 275 0.05 2 000 6 150 100
TS-25 Stack Separator Large 400 0.21 2 000 6 150 150
TS-37 Stack Separator Extra large 500 0.48 2 000 6 150 200
  1. In the game the values are without unit, but by the physics their "missing unit" is equal with 1 kgF∙s.


  1. Kerbal Space Program - Decoupler Launching Guide” on YouTube by Stun_gravy