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The commercial history of Russia’s Proton rocket

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc today published a detailed launch history of Russia’s Proton rocket, outlining its commercial rise beginning in the 1990s and its fall in the 2010s with the arrival of SpaceX.

The fading of Proton reflected strong competition from SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, which captured an increasing percentage of commercial launches with significantly lower prices.

There was also a global shift away from Proton’s bread and butter, the geosynchronous communications satellite, toward large constellations deployed into low and medium Earth orbits.

Proton’s reputation was also damaged by serious quality control problems that affected the entire Russian launch industry. Proton suffered 9 launch failures and one partial failure in the 10 years between 2006 and 2015. The booster was left grounded for as long as a year at a time. Insurance rates for Proton flights soared.

Proton appears to still have six launches on its manifest, but the shift in Russia to its Angara rocket likely means the end of Proton’s long history, begun at the very beginnings of the space age in the 1960s, is in sight.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Jeff Wright

    The last big hypergolic rocket. Sigh. I never liked Angara. Now, I think they should scale up the cluster tank design-and fit plunger like landing leg between the tankage. The harder it comes down-the more propellant is forced out as thrust to cushion said landing with the legs plungering hypergolics out. No cryogenic problems. Musk type landings would be simpler with room temperature liquids.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Hypergolics are highly toxic and have inferior specific impulse compared to cryogenic or partially-cryogenic propellants. They are also quite costly compared to other commonly used liquid propellant combos. We haven’t used them for anything large since Titan 2. The Chinese and Russians have stuck with hypergolics much longer, but both are now also in the process of abandoning them. By the mid-2020s I don’t expect any rockets with hypergolic main or middle stages to still be in use except by India.

  • Jeff Wright

    But they would make for better depots. Temperature doesn’t matter as much.

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