The end of a “Proton era”
Roscosmos, Russia’s State Corporation responsible for its Space Program, reported that the legendary Proton rocket will be retiring. Four Proton launch vehicles will be built in the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center this year, after which their production will be stopped. The announcement made by Roscosmos officials in January has been reiterated this month. In 2022, the Proton will be no more.
This will mark the end of a nearly 60-year “Proton” era with the first launch dating back to 1965 – six decades ago. Over the years, the Proton rockets went into space about 430 times, and the number of failed launches was less than 10%. This makes it the most reliable component of Soviet, and later Russian cosmonautics.
With a payload capacity of almost 24 tons, the Protons were involved in the creation of the Salyut-6 and 7 space stations, the ISS in orbit, Mir as well as in numerous launches of foreign satellites.
Angara stands in line to the throne
However, after accidents and failed launches in 2010 and 2013, demand for Proton services has dropped significantly, which was also facilitated by the appearance of stronger and more reliable competitors – for example, the Falcon-9 launch vehicles of Space X, which offered a better launch price of less than $30 million. These competitive alternatives are considered more reusable and reliable compared to the Russian counterparts.
The Angara-5 heavy lift launch vehicle is supposed to replace the Protons, and Russia is going to seek to regain its lost leadership on the space transportation market with their use. In December of last year, the test launch of the Angara was marred by upper stage failure. However, in January upon its second test flight, it reentered successfully.
In such a manner, and in order to stay competitive on the market, Roscosmos will have to decrease cost of launching the rocket from $100 million to $57 million within the next two years.