Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center | News Releases


Proton K has successfully completed its farewell mission having inserted a Russian satellite into orbit for the Russian Defense Ministry.

This last Proton K lift-off to orbit a spacecraft with a Block DM-2 took place at the Baikonur launch base at 09h 45 min, March 30. .As per mission design, at 16h 27 min Moscow time on March 30 the spacecraft separated from the upper stage.

This was the 310th mission of the legendary launch vehicle over the 45 years of its flights.  The first-ever launch of a Proton K took place on 10 March 1967 with the Kosmos 146 spacecraft onboard.

The Proton K farewell mission was the third lift-off of a Proton ILV in 2012 and a 375th one in the flight history of the Proton family.

The Proton launch vehicle was designed and put on a production line by the state-owned Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center FGUP (a Federal State Unitary Enterprise).

Since 1965, Protons have been widely used to ascend payloads to low Earth orbits or escape trajectories under federal projects or (since 1996) commercial programs.

Today Proton is one of the most cost-effective, reliable and refined heavy-lift boosters. Proton M, a modified launcher with a better navigation system, a higher performance and improved environmental properties, has been in use since 2001.  The icorporation of the Breeze M upper stage in the Proton M integrated launch vehicle has significantly widened the range of achievable orbits making this ILV a strong competitor of foreign launch vehicles.

Since the years it was put in operation, the Proton Launch System of the Baikonur Cosmodrome has been upgraded to be able to support launches of spacecraft of any world-known designer.  As many as three launch pads are employed to launch Protons, which makes it possible to maintain a dense launch manifest.


The heavy-lift Proton K booster was developed and designed by Affiliation 1 of the Machine Building Central Design Bureau (today the Salyut Design Bureau, a Khrunichev Space Center company) under the leadership of V. Chalomey, a full member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, on the basis of the UR 500 two-stage booster.

A first-ever two-stage launch took place on 16 July 1965 resulting in placement of the Proton research satellite on a LEO and giving the satellite’s name to the entire launch vehicle family.  After several initial launches of the two-stage version of Proton a decision was made to bring up the lift-off mass to 700 metric tons.

Launches of three- or four-stage modifications of this family of launch vehicles began in 1967. UR 500K, the first three-stage rocket with a Block D upper stage, lifted off on 10 March 1967 with the Kosmos 146 spacecraft onboard and it is this date that is considered to be the birthday of Proton K.  Three-stage Proton Ks would launch LEO payloads while four-stage boosters used to place spacecraft on high-energy orbits including geo-transfer, geo-synchronous and escape ones.

Proton K in combination with the respective Processing Facility and the Launch Complex was approved for regular missions in 1978.  Hundreds of enterprises and manufacturers were involved in building this Proton Launch System.

Beginning with 1967 Proton Ks have launched about 50 types of spacecraft.  These include the Kosmos family, the Ekran family, the Raduga (‘Rainbow’) family, the Gorizont family, and the Luna, Mars, Venus and Halley’s comet probes.

Placed on orbits by Proton Ks were Salyut 1, a first-ever long-term orbiting station (197?),  and all later stations of this family, the Almaz (‘Diamond’) long-term orbiting station, all modules for the first Mir space station, the Russian-made Zarya (‘Daybreak’) and Zvezda (‘Star’) modules for the International Space Station as well as heavy-lift communication satellites.The spacecraft launched by Proton Ks have implemented a wide range of programs for the benefit of the national economy, scientific research and/or defense tasks.  The Unified Satellite Communication System has been deployed on the basis of the Raduga (‘Rainbow’), Ekran (‘Screen’), Gorizont (‘Horizon’) and Express spacecraft.

It were Proton Ks that were widely used to launch GLONASS Global Navigation Satellite System spacecraft.

Proton K became the first Russian launch vehicle that draw foreign customers’ attention for its unique performance, high reliability and cost effectiveness.

A first-ever commercial mission of a Proton K with Astra 1F, a European geosynchronous communication satellite, took place on 9 April 1966.  A total of 32 commercial launches have been performed by Proton Ks.  The last Proton Ks commercial mission with the AMC 9 spacecraft onboard took place on 6 June 2003.

International Launch Services Inc. (ILS), a Russian-American joint venture established in 1995, offers Proton launch services to operators of commercial satellite systems worldwide.  As many as 71 commercial Proton missions have been carried out under contracts concluded by ILS.

As a whole, as many as 375 launches of different modifications of the Proton LV have been performed since 1965.  These include 310 launches of Proton Ks, 62 launches of Proton Ms, and 3 launches of two-stage UR 500s.

A first launch of a Proton M rocket took place on 7 April 2001.  This modified Proton version has testified, over the 10 years of practical use, to its high reliability combined with high performance, which made this vehicle the main heavy-lift launcher.

Proton M has passed through several enhancement phases since being put in operation in 2001.  Phase 4 of the enhancement project is under way and is planned to be completed by mid-2013.

Credit: Krunichev [ LINK ]

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