Spaceflight Insider

Proton rocket can compete with Falcon 9, says Russian space corporation

Photo Credit: Ria Novosti / Roscosmos

Russia’s Proton rockets can compete with American SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicles in terms of commercial launch costs. So says United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) Deputy Director-General Pavel Popov. Popov made his statements on Thursday, bringing to light the deepening competition between international launch service providers.

“If SpaceX offers on the market the prices and quality it is talking about and if it can put its Falcon 9 into a geostationary transfer orbit for $55.5 million, then they will be targeting a segment of satellites lighter than 4.5 tons, which is quite big. We can also achieve this level of costs, slightly higher,” he said.

A Proton rocket with the Zvezda portion of the International Space Station lifts of from Baikonur. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

A Proton rocket with the Zvezda portion of the International Space Station lifts of from Baikonur. Photo Credit: Roscosmos

If the $81 million Falcon Heavy rocket proves successful as well, “we will see a new price format on the market”, Popov said. “Will we be able to compete with this price? I think we will, but we will have to invest in development,” the official added.

The corporation and the Khrunichev Space Center have been offering their Proton heavy lift launch vehicle services at prices exceeding $100 million as all key players such as Ariane-5 and Atlas have raised their prices for different reasons. “If we look at them, the fair price of a launch will be above $105 million, and we think it will keep growing,” Popov said.

URSC Director-General Igor Komarov said Khrunichev would create two “highly effective and compact” plants in Moscow and Omsk. The Moscow plant will reduce its range of products to three, including Proton-M rockets. Angara launch vehicles will be assembled in Omsk. Its plant will make five Angara heavy lift launch vehicles a year in ten years.

A super-heavy lift launch vehicle will be able to carry a payload of 80 tons to low-earth orbits. In the future, its capacity can be increased to 160 tons and more.

Angara will allow Russia to launch all kinds of spacecraft to any orbit. Now Russia can launch heavy satellites only aboard Proton rockets from Baikonur, which it leases from Kazakhstan for about $115 million a year.
Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

According to Khrunichev, a big advantage of the new rocket carrier is that “it is a universal space rocket system” capable of taking three types of rockets into space: light with a payload of up to 3.5 tons, medium with a payload of up to 14.6 tons, and heavy with a payload of up to 24.5 tons.

Medium lift and heavy lift launch vehicles can take payloads to the geostationary orbit as well.

The lightweight Angara-1.2PP rocket successfully blasted off from the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region on July 9. Twenty-one minutes after the liftoff the test weight reached the designated area at the Kura range in Kamchatka, 5,700km from the launch site.

Khrunichev is planning to invest $1.49 billion in its programs until 2025 and sign long-term contracts for the production of Proton-M and two versions of Angara rockets, and Briz-M boosters in 2016-2025. The center is not planning to assemble modules for the International Space Station.

International Launch Services (ILS), a subsidiary of Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center will continue the marketing of the Proton launch vehicles in the United States, Europe and Latin America, Andrey Kalinovsky, new Director General of Khrunichev Space Center said Thursday.

ILS, headquartered in Virginia, provides a range of launch services for satellite operators, from contract signing to mission management and on-orbit delivery. The company has exclusive rights to market Proton launch services for commercial and civil satellite programs.

ILS was founded in 1995 and has launched more than 80 commercial Proton rockets since then. Khrunichev has direct oversight and controls as much as 70 percent of all Proton rocket manufacturing, including all engine systems.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40. Photo Credit: SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40. Photo Credit: SpaceX

This article originally appeared on Astro Watch and can be viewed here: Proton
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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski’s generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

Reader Comments

I have no doubts that the Russian Proton managers can lower the price to compete with the SpaceX Falcon. Where the Proton can truly excel is in launch failures…

Yeah the proton is cheap at 10% chance of spectacular failure. If the falcon 9 can maintain its present perfect record for primary contractors that going to be a great selling point.

The final image showing the Falcon 9 liftoff is not from Florida, but is the first Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex 4 East, in California.

Don’t the Proton get Russian Gov subsidies? How about the U.S. give SpaceX Gov subsidies? We could see F9 prices at35 mil & F9 Heavy prices at 50 mil.

No a better idea is to let the Russians drive themselves to bankruptcy trying to match the free market price SpaceX is providing. If SpaceX starts sucking from the Government teat the innovation dries up.

No, Proton doesn’t get govt subsidies. It gets govt contracts just like SpaceX.
Proton doesn’t need to compensate huge R&D costs, it’s already mature system.

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