Proton (rocket family)

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Proton 8K82K
Proton Zvezda crop.jpg
Launch of a Proton-K rocket
FunctionOrbital launch vehicle
Manufacturer Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center
Country of origin Soviet Union; Russia
Height53 metres (174 ft)
Diameter7.4 metres (24 ft)
Mass693.81 metric tons (1,529,600 lb) (3 stage)
Stages3 or 4
Payload to LEO 22.8 metric tons (50,000 lb) [1]
Payload to
6.3 metric tons (14,000 lb)
Launch history
Launch sites Baikonur, LC-200 & LC-81
Total launches
  • M: 102
  • K: 311
  • Proton: 4
  • M: 92
  • K: 275
  • Proton: 3
  • M: 9
  • K: 24
  • Proton: 1
Partial failures
  • M: 1
  • K: 12
First flightProton: 16 July 1965
Proton-K: 10 March 1967
Proton-M: 7 April 2001
Last flightProton: 6 July 1966
Proton-K: 30 March 2012
Proton-M: 18 April 2018
Notable payloads
First stage
Engines6 RD-275
Thrust10.47 MN (1.9 million pounds)
Burn time126 s
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Second stage
Engines3 RD-0210 & 1 RD-0211
Thrust2.399 MN (539,000 lbf) [2]
Specific impulse 327 s
Burn time208 s
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Third stage
Engines1 RD-0212
Thrust630 kN (140,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 325 s
Burn time238 s
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Fourth stage - Blok-D/DM
Engines RD-58M
Thrust83.4 kN (18,700 lbf)
Specific impulse 349 s
Burn time770 s
Fuel LOX/RP-1

Proton (Russian: Протон) (formal designation: UR-500 ) is an expendable launch system used for both commercial and Russian government space launches. The first Proton rocket was launched in 1965. Modern versions of the launch system are still in use as of 2018, making it one of the most successful heavy boosters in the history of spaceflight. All Protons are built at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center factory in Moscow, transported to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, brought to the launch pad horizontally, and raised into vertical position for launch. [3] [4]

The Universal Rocket or UR family of missiles and carrier rockets is a Russian, previously Soviet rocket family. Intended to allow the same technology to be used in all Soviet rockets, the UR is produced by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. Several variants were originally planned, of which only three flew, and only two of which entered service. In addition, the cancelled UR-500 ICBM formed the basis for the Proton carrier rocket.

Expendable launch system launch system that uses an expendable launch vehicle

An expendable launch vehicle (ELV) is a launch system or launch vehicle stage that is used only once to carry a payload into space. Historically, satellites and human spacecraft were launched mainly using expendable launchers. ELV advantages include cost savings through mass production, and a greater payload fraction.

Rocket missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine

A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle that obtains thrust from a rocket engine. Rocket engine exhaust is formed entirely from propellant carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction and push rockets forward simply by expelling their exhaust in the opposite direction at high speed, and can therefore work in the vacuum of space.


As with many Soviet rockets, the names of recurring payloads became associated with the Proton. The moniker "Proton" originates from a series of similarly named scientific satellites, which were among the rocket's first payloads. During the Cold War, it was designated the D-1/D-1e or SL-12/SL-13 by Western intelligence agencies.

Proton satellite Soviet satellite model

The Proton was a model of Soviet Earth observation satellites. The maximum mass was about 17 tonnes. Four Proton satellites were launched between 1965 and 1968. The satellite was developed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya. The aim of the project was to study high and ultra-high energy particles.

Launch capacity to low Earth orbit is about 22.8 tonne s (50,000 lb). [1] Geostationary transfer capacity is about 6.3 tonnes (14,000 lb). [5] Commercial launches are marketed by International Launch Services (ILS). [6] The rocket is intended to be retired before 2030. [7]

Low Earth orbit Orbit around Earth with an altitude between 160 kilometers and 2,000 kilometers

A Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is an Earth-centered orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km (1,200 mi) or less, or with at least 11.25 periods per day and an eccentricity less than 0.25. Most of the manmade objects in space are in LEO. A histogram of the mean motion of the cataloged objects shows that the number of objects drops significantly beyond 11.25.

Tonne metric unit of mass

The tonne, commonly referred to as the metric ton in the United States and Canada, is a non-SI metric unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms or one megagram. It is equivalent to approximately 2,204.6 pounds, 1.102 short tons (US) or 0.984 long tons (UK). Although not part of the SI, the tonne is accepted for use with SI units and prefixes by the International Committee for Weights and Measures.

Private spaceflight spaceflight that is conducted and paid for by an entity other than a government agency

Private spaceflight is flight beyond the Kármán line —or the development of new spaceflight technology—that is conducted and paid for by an entity other than a government agency.

As of June 2018, production on the Proton rocket is ceasing as the new Angara launch vehicle comes on line and becomes operational. No new launch service contracts for Proton are likely to be signed. [8]

Angara (rocket family) family of space-launch vehicles

The Angara rocket family is a family of space-launch vehicles being developed by the Moscow-based Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. The rockets are to put between 3,800 and 24,500 kg into low Earth orbit and are intended, along with Soyuz-2 variants, to replace several existing launch vehicles.


Proton [9] initially started its life as a "super heavy ICBM". It was designed to launch a 100-megaton (or larger) thermonuclear weapon over a distance of 13,000 km. It was hugely oversized for an ICBM and was never deployed in such a capacity. It was eventually used as a space launch vehicle. It was the brainchild of Vladimir Chelomei's design bureau as a foil to Sergei Korolev's N1 rocket, whose purpose was to send a two-man Zond spacecraft around the Moon; Korolev openly opposed Proton and Chelomei's other designs for their use of toxic propellants. The unusual appearance of the first stage results from the need to transport components by rail. The central oxidizer tank is the maximum width for the loading gauge of the track. The six tanks surrounding it carry fuel and serve as the attachment points for the engines. Despite resembling strap-on boosters, they are not designed to separate from the central oxidizer tank. The first and second stages are connected by a lattice structure. The second stage engine ignites shortly before separation of the first stage and the lattice allows the exhaust to escape. [10]

Heavy ICBM missile characterized by a heavy throw-weight of 5 to 9 metric tons, capable of delivering a large number of warheads

Heavy ICBM is a term that was created in the 1970s to describe a class of Soviet and Russian ICBMs. They were characterized by a heavy throw-weight of 5 to 9 metric tons, several times that of an LGM-30 Minuteman, and a length of over 35 meters, and were thus capable of delivering a large number of warheads in a single MIRV missile.

TNT equivalent is a convention for expressing energy, typically used to describe the energy released in an explosion. The "ton of TNT" is a unit of energy defined by that convention to be 4.184 gigajoules, which is the approximate energy released in the detonation of a metric ton of TNT. In other words, for each gram of TNT exploded, 4,184 joules of energy are released.

Thermonuclear weapon 2-stage nuclear fission weapon

A thermonuclear weapon, or fusion weapon, is a second-generation nuclear weapon design which affords vastly greater destructive power than first-generation atomic bombs. Modern fusion weapons consist essentially of two main components: a nuclear fission primary stage and a separate nuclear fusion secondary stage containing thermonuclear fuel: the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, or in modern weapons lithium deuteride. For this reason, thermonuclear weapons are often colloquially called hydrogen bombs or H-bombs.

A rushed development program led to dozens of failures between 1965 and 1972. Proton did not complete its State Trials until 1977, at which point it was judged to have a higher than 90% reliability.

Proton's design was kept secret until 1986, with the public being only shown the upper stages in film clips and photographs, and the first time the complete vehicle was shown to the outside world happened during the televised launch of Mir.

<i>Mir</i> Soviet/Russian space station that operated in Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001

Mir was a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, operated by the Soviet Union and later by Russia. Mir was the first modular space station and was assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. It had a greater mass than any previous spacecraft. At the time it was the largest artificial satellite in orbit, succeeded by the International Space Station (ISS) after Mir's orbit decayed. The station served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and spacecraft systems with a goal of developing technologies required for permanent occupation of space.

Proton launched the unmanned Soviet circumlunar flights and was intended to have launched the first manned Soviet circumlunar spaceflights, before the United States flew the Apollo 8 mission. Proton launched the Salyut space stations, the Mir core segment and expansion modules, and both the Zarya and Zvezda modules of the ISS.

Proton also launches commercial satellites, most of them being managed by International Launch Services. The first ILS Proton launch was on 9 April 1996 with the launch of the SES Astra 1F communications satellite. [11]

Between 1994 and mid-2010, Proton revenues were $4.3 billion, and were projected to grow to $6 billion by 2011. [12]

In January 2017, the Proton was temporarily grounded due to the manufacturer, Voronezh Mechanical Plant, having substituted a heat-resistant alloy in the engines with a cheaper metal. [13] [14]

In June 2018, the state corporation Roscosmos announced that the Proton rocket would cease production as the new Angara launch vehicle comes on line and becomes operational. No new launch service contracts for Proton are likely to be signed. [8]

Proton 8K82K

The (GRAU index) 8K82K version is now usually called "Proton K". It is fuelled by very toxic unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. [15] These are hypergolic fuels which ignite on contact, avoiding the need for an ignition system, and can be stored at ambient temperatures. This avoids the need for components that are tolerant of low temperatures, and allows the rocket to remain on the pad indefinitely (other launchers with such capability include the U.S. Titan II, Titan III, and Titan IV, the Chinese Long March 2 rocket family and Long March 4 rocket family, the Soviet/Ukrainian Tsyklon launchers, the Soviet/Russian Kosmos-3 and Kosmos-3M launchers and the European Ariane 1 to Ariane 4 launchers). In contrast, cryogenic fuels need periodic replenishment as they boil off.

The fourth stage has multiple variants, depending on the mission. The simplest, Blok D, was used for interplanetary missions. Blok D had no guidance module, depending on the probe to control flight. Three different Blok DM versions (DM, DM2, and DM-2M) were for high Earth orbits. The Blok D/DM were unusual in that the fuel was stored in a toroidal tank, around the engine and behind the oxidizer tank.

The initial Proton tests in 1965–66 only used the first two stages of the booster, the complete four-stage vehicle being flown for the first time in 1967. When the Soviet space station program began in 1971, Protons began being flown with the Blok D removed for use as a heavy-lift LEO launcher.

Proton-K payloads included all of the Soviet Union's Salyut space stations, almost all Mir modules (with the exception of the Docking Module, which was launched on the United States Space Shuttle), and the Zarya and Zvezda modules of the International Space Station. It was intended to launch the manned TKS spacecraft, prior to the cancellation of that programme, although a few non-manned flights of spacecraft was fulfilled. Also it was intended for proposed in the 1970s LKS spaceplane that never realised.[ citation needed ]


Proton-M, part being rotated to vertical. In the background the mobile service tower can be observed Launch Vehicle "Verticalization", Proton-M.jpg
Proton-M, part being rotated to vertical. In the background the mobile service tower can be observed

The initial version of Proton M, could launch 3–3.2 tonnes (6,600–7,100 lb) into geostationary orbit or 5.5 tonnes (12,000 lb) into a geostationary transfer orbit. It could place up to 22 tonnes (49,000 lb) in low Earth orbit with a 51.6-degree inclination, the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS).

The Proton M's improvements included lower stage modifications to reduce structural mass, increase thrust, and fully use propellants. Generally a Briz-M (Russian : Бриз meaning Breeze) storable propellant upper stage is used instead of the Blok D or Blok DM stage, removing the need for multiple fuel supplies and oxygen top-off due to boiling; the Proton-M also flew with a Blok-DM upper stage. Efforts were also made to reduce dependency on foreign (usually Ukrainian) component suppliers.

Proton launch vehicles and Briz-M upper stages are designed and built by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center (Khrunichev) in Moscow, the majority owner of International Launch Services (ILS). The Center is home to all engineering, assembly and test functions of Proton production. With the recent consolidation of the Russian space enterprises, Khrunichev has direct oversight and control of up to 70% of all Proton manufacturing from suppliers to manufacturers. The consolidation directly supports Khrunichev’s ongoing efforts for vertical integration of Proton production. [16]

An enhanced variant, the Phase III Proton-M/Briz-M launch vehicle, was flight proven on the Russian Federal dual mission of Express AM-44 and Express MD-1 in February 2009 and performed its first commercial launch in March 2010 with the Echostar XIV satellite. The Proton-M/Briz-M phase III configuration provides 6150 kg of GTO performance, an increase of 1150 kg over the original Proton-M Briz-M, while maintaining the fundamental design configuration.

On 6 August 2012, the Russian Federal Space Agency lost a Russian and an Indonesian communications satellite in an attempt to launch them into orbit on a Proton-M due to technical difficulties with the last stage. [17] On 2 July 2013, a Proton-M launching three GLONASS navigation satellites experienced a failure reminiscent of the 1960s disasters shortly after liftoff when the booster crashed near LC-39 at Baikonour, ending a 30-year unbroken stretch without a first stage failure; all future Proton flights were suspended pending investigation. [18] The accident was eventually determined to be caused by the rate gyro package having been installed upside-down. Due to the difficulty of installing the package incorrectly, it was widely suspected that it had been done deliberately by a disgruntled or drunk worker at the Khrunichev plant.

On 15 May 2014, a Proton-M/Briz-M carrying an Ekspress satellite suffered a third stage failure from a bad turbopump bearing. Debris fell in Manchuria. On 21 October, another Ekspress satellite was left in a useless orbit when the Briz stage cut off 24 seconds too early.

On 16 May 2015, a MEXSAT communications satellite failed to orbit due to another third stage malfunction, the eighth Proton failure since 2010.

Khrunichev has initiated development of a set of phase IV enhancements in order to keep pace with market demands and the mass growth trends of commercial satellites. The implementation of Phase IV Proton Briz-M enhancements were completed in 2016. The payload mass performance for phase IV has been increased to 6320 kg to a reference GTO orbit with 1500 m/s of residual delta V to GSO. [19]


Future developments

Significant upgrades were temporarily put on hold following announcement of the new Angara launch vehicle. The single largest upgrade was the KVRB stage. This cryogenic stage would have greatly increased capacity. The engine was developed successfully, and the stage as a whole had progressed to hardware. However, as KVRB is noticeably larger than Blok D, the vehicle's aerodynamics, flight control, software, and possibly electronics would have to be reevaluated. In addition, the launch pad can supply existing Protons with common hypergolic fuels from single sources. The upper stages, in particular, are fed by common loading pipes running along the rocket. Switching to a stage with different fuels requires the addition of extra support articles; switching to cryogens requires that such support articles top off the stage periodically.[ citation needed ]

Heavy variants of Angara will be simpler and cheaper than Proton (and like the Atlas V rocket, will not use hypergolic fuels; instead, it will use the same RP-1 fuel as that used on the Soyuz rocket). They will also be designed from the start to accept a KVTK stage, and will already have a LOX supply at the pad; only a hydrogen supply will be called upon.[ citation needed ]

See also

Similar launch systems

Related Research Articles

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International Launch Services company

International Launch Services (ILS) is a joint venture with exclusive rights to the worldwide sale of commercial Angara and Proton rocket launch services. Proton launches take place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan while Angara is planned to launch from the Plesetsk and Vostochny Cosmodromes in Russia.

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Blok D an upper stage used on Soviet and later Russian expendable launch systems, including the N1, Proton-K and Zenit

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