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On the launch pad.jpg
Proton-M rocket on the launchpad
Function Heavy lift launch vehicle
Manufacturer Khrunichev
Country of origin Russia
Height 58.2 m (191 ft)[1]
Diameter 7.4 m (24 ft)
Mass 705,000 kg (1,554,000 lb)[1]
Stages 3 or 4
Payload to LEO[lower-alpha 1] 23,000 kg (51,000 lb)[2]
Payload to GTO 1800 m/s[lower-alpha 2] 6,920 kg (15,260 lb)[2]
Payload to GTO 1500 m/s[lower-alpha 3] 6,150 kg (13,560 lb)[2]
Payload to GSO[lower-alpha 4] 3,250 kg (7,170 lb)[2]
Associated rockets
Family Universal Rocket
Launch history
Status Active
Launch sites
Total launches 128
Successes 117
Failures 8
Partial failures 3
First flight 7 April 2001[3]
First stage - 8S810K
Length 21.18 m (69.5 ft)[4]
Diameter 7.4 m (24 ft)[4]
Empty mass 30,600 kg (67,500 lb)[4]
Propellant mass 428,300 kg (944,200 lb)[4]
Engines 6 RD-275M
Thrust 10,532 kN (2,368,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 285 sec
Burn time 108 sec
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Second stage - 8S811K
Length 17.05 m (55.9 ft)[4]
Diameter 4.1 m (13 ft)[4]
Empty mass 11,000 kg (24,000 lb)[4]
Propellant mass 157,300 kg (346,800 lb)[4]
Engines 4 RD-0210
Thrust 2,399 kN (539,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 327 sec
Burn time 206 sec
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Third stage - 8S812
Length 4.11 m (13.5 ft)[5]
Diameter 4.1 m (13 ft)[5]
Empty mass 3,500 kg (7,700 lb)[5]
Propellant mass 46,562 kg (102,652 lb)[5]
Engines 1 RD-0212
Thrust 613.8 kN (138,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 325 sec
Burn time 238 sec
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Fourth stage (optional) - Briz-M
Length 2.61 m (8 ft 7 in)[6]
Diameter 4.0 m (13.1 ft)[6]
Empty mass 2,370 kg (5,220 lb)[6]
Propellant mass 19,800 kg (43,700 lb)[6]
Engines 1 S5.98M
Thrust 19.62 kN (4,410 lbf)[6]
Specific impulse 326 sec
Burn time 3000 sec
Fuel N2O4/UDMH
Fourth stage (optional) - Blok DM-2
Engines 1 RD-58M
Thrust 85 kN (19,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 352 sec
Fuel RP-1/LOX
Fourth stage (optional) - Blok DM-03
Engines 1 RD-58M/RD-58MF
Fuel RP-1/LOX

The Proton-M, (Протон-М) GRAU index 8K82M or 8K82KM, is a Russian heavy lift launch vehicle derived from the Soviet-developed Proton. It is built by Khrunichev, and launched from sites 81 and 200 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Commercial launches are marketed by International Launch Services (ILS), and generally use Site 200/39. The first Proton-M launch occurred on 7 April 2001.[7]

Vehicle description

The Proton-M launch vehicle consists of 3 stages; all of them powered by liquid fueled engines using the hypergolic propellant combination of dinitrogen tetroxide as the oxidizer, and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine for fuel (see infobox).

The first stage is unique in that it consists of a central cylindrical oxidizer tank with the same diameter as the other 2 stages with 6 fuel tanks attached to its circumference, each carrying an engine. The engines in this stage can swivel tangentially up to 7° from the neutral position, providing full thrust vector control. The rationale for this design is logistics: the diameter of the oxidizer tanks and the 2 following stages is the maximum that can be delivered by railroad to Baikonur. However, within Baikonur the fully assembled stack is transported again by rail, as it has enough clearance.

The second stage uses a conventional cylindrical design. It is powered by 3 RD-0210 engine and 1 RD-0211 engine. The RD-0211 is a modified version of the RD-0210 used to pressurize the propellant tanks. The second stage is joined to the first stage through a net instead of a closed inter-stage, to allow the exhaust to escape because the second stage begins firing seconds before separation. Thrust vector control is provided by engine gimballing.

The third stage is also of a conventional cylindrical design. It contains the avionics system that controls the first 3 stages. It uses 1 RD-0213 which is a fixed (non-gimballed) version of the RD-0210, and 1 RD-0214 which is a 4 nozzle vernier engine used for thrust vector control. The nozzles of the RD-0214 can turn up to 45°; they are placed around (with some separation), and moderately above the nozzle of the RD-0213.

The Proton-M features modifications to the lower stages to reduce structural mass, increase thrust, and utilise more propellant (less of it remains unused in the tanks). A closed-loop guidance system is used on the first stage, which allows more complete consumption of propellant. This increases the rocket's performance slightly compared to previous variants, and reduces the amount of toxic chemicals remaining in the stage when it impacts downrange. It can place up to 21 tonnes (46,000 lb) into low Earth orbit. With an upper stage, it can place a 3 tonne payload into geosynchronous orbit, or a 5.5 tonne payload into geosynchronous transfer orbit. Efforts were also made to reduce dependency on foreign component suppliers.

Upper stage

Most Proton-M launches have used a Briz-M upper stage to propel the spacecraft into a higher orbit. Launches have also been made with Blok-DM upper stages: six launches were made with the Blok DM-2 upper stage carrying GLONASS spacecraft, while two further GLONASS launches have used the Blok DM-03.[8] The DM-03 will be used for a total of five launches; a further GLONASS launch is planned along with two launches of Ekspress satellites. As of 2013, no Proton-M launches have been made without an upper stage. However, this configuration is manifested to launch the Multipurpose Laboratory Module and European Robotic Arm of the International Space Station, currently scheduled to be launched together in 2017.

Payload fairing

Commercial launches conducted by ILS use two kinds of fairings:[9][10]

  • PLF-BR-13305 short faring.
  • PLF-BR-15255 long faring.

Both fairings have a diameter of 4.35 m.

Proton-M Enhanced

On 7 July 2007, International Launch Services launched the first Proton-M Enhanced rocket, which carried the DirecTV-10 satellite into orbit. This was the 326th launch of a Proton, the 16th Proton-M/Briz-M launch, and the 41st Proton launch to be conducted by ILS.[11] It features more efficient first stage engines, updated avionics, lighter fuel tanks and more powerful vernier engines on the Briz-M upper stage, and mass reduction throughout the rocket, including thinner fuel tank walls on the first stage, and use of composite materials on all other stages. The second launch of this variant occurred on 18 August 2008, and was used to place Inmarsat 4 F3 into orbit. The baseline Proton-M was retired in November 2007, in favour of the Enhanced variant.

Frank McKenna, CEO of ILS, has indicated that in 2010 the Phase III Proton design would become the standard ILS configuration, with the ability to lift 6.15 tonnes to GTO.[12]

19 October 2011 Viasat-1 weighing 6.740 tonnes has been lifted into geostationary transfer orbit by the Proton-M/Briz-M Phase III.[13]

Launch profile

In a typical mission, a Proton-M is accompanied by a Briz-M upper stage. The Proton-M launches the orbital unit (that is: the payload, the payload adapter and the Briz-M) into a slightly suborbital trajectory. The first and second stages and the payload fairing crash into designated crash sites; the third stage crashes into the ocean. After the third stage separates, the orbital unit coasts for a brief period, then Briz-M performs its first firing to achieve orbital injection into a parking orbit with 51.5° inclination, at 170 km to 230 km altitude (the Mission Planner's Guide also mentions 64.8° and 72.6° as standard inclinations for the parking orbit). Subsequently the Briz-M performs orbital maneuvers to place the payload into either its final orbit or a transfer orbit. If a transfer orbit is used the final maneuver(s) are performed by the payload on its own propulsion system.


As of May 2015 more than 100 Proton-M launches have occurred, of which 10 have failed. Three of these failures were the results of problems with the Proton-M itself, six were caused by the Briz-M upper stage malfunctioning and leaving cargo in a useless orbit, and one was the result of a Blok DM-03 upper stage being incorrectly fuelled, leaving the Proton too heavy to achieve orbit.

In September 2007, a Proton-M/Briz-M rocket carrying Japan's JCSAT-11 communications satellite failed to achieve orbit, and fell in the Ulytau District of Kazakhstan. An investigation determined that first and second stages of the rocket had failed to separate, due to a damaged pyrotechnic cable.[14]

In July 2013, a Proton-M/DM-03 carrying three GLONASS satellites failed shortly after liftoff.[15] The booster began pitching left and right along the vertical axis within a few seconds of launch. Attempts by the onboard guidance computer to correct the flight trajectory failed and ended up putting it into an unrecoverable pitchover. The upper stages and payload were stripped off 24 seconds after launch due to the forces experienced followed by the first stage breaking apart and erupting in flames. Impact with the ground occurred 30 seconds after liftoff.

The preliminary report of the investigation indicated that three of the first stage angular velocity sensors, responsible for yaw control, were installed in an incorrect orientation. As the error affected the redundant sensors as well as the primary ones, the rocket was left with no yaw control, which resulted in the failure.[16] Telemetry data also indicated that a pad umbilical had detached prematurely, suggesting that the Proton may have launched several tenths of a second early, before the engines reached full thrust.

In May 2014, another Proton-M launch ended in failure, resulting in the loss of an Ekspress telecommunications satellite. Unlike the 2013 disaster, this occurred more than nine minutes into the flight when one of the third stage verniers shut off, causing loss of attitude control. An automatic shutdown and destruct command was issued and the remains of the upper stages and payload landed in northern China. An investigation committee concluded that the failure was most likely due to one of the turbopumps breaking off its mount, rupturing a propellant line and causing the vernier to lose thrust.

In May 2015, a Proton-M with a Mexican telecommunications satellite was lost due to problems with the third stage. Russian sources indicated that the problems had been the same as with the 2014 failure.[17]

Although other Proton-M launches are recorded as failures, these failures have been caused by the upper stages used to allow the rocket to deliver payloads to higher orbits. On 5 December 2010, the upper stage and payloads failed to reach orbital velocity due to overloading of the upper stage with 1.5 tonnes of liquid oxygen, resulting in the loss of three GLONASS satellites it was carrying.[18]

Five launches have succumbed to problems with the Briz-M upper stage; Arabsat 4A in February 2006, AMC-14 in March 2008, Ekspress-AM4 in August 2011, Telkom 3 and Ekspress-MD2 in August 2012[19] and Yamal 402 in December 2012. All of the payloads were unusable except for Yamal 402, which was able to correct its orbit at the expense of several years' operational life, and AMC-14 which was sold to the US Government after SES determined that it couldn't complete its original mission.

Effect on government and industry

As a result of the July 2013 Proton M launch, a major reorganization of the Russian space industry was undertaken. The United Rocket and Space Corporation was formed as a joint-stock corporation by the government in August 2013 to consolidate the Russian space sector. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said "the failure-prone space sector is so troubled that it needs state supervision to overcome its problems."[20] Three days following the failure, the Russian government had announced that "extremely harsh measures" would be taken "and spell the end of the [Russian] space industry as we know it."[21]

Environmental impact

Critics claim that Proton rocket fuel (unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH)) and debris created by Russia's space programme is poisoning areas of Russia and Kazakhstan. Residents claim that acid rain falls after some launches. Anatoly Kuzin, deputy director of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, has however denied these claims, saying: "We did special research into the issue. The level of acidity in the atmosphere is not affected by the rocket launches [and] there is no data to prove any link between the illnesses [in Altai] and the influence of rocket fuel components or space activity of any kind".[22]

See also


  1. 180 km (97 nmi) circular LEO 51.5° inclination from Baikonur
  2. 1,800 m/s (5,900 ft/s) ΔV deficit GTO (with Briz-M from Baikonur)
  3. 1,500 m/s (4,900 ft/s) ΔV deficit GTO (with Briz-M from Baikonur)
  4. GSO (with Briz-M from Baikonur)


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