Proton Makes Successful Return to Flight

Proton launches EchoStar XXI satellite. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Russia’s workhorse Proton booster made a successful return to flight early Thursday after being grounded for one day short of a year.

A Proton rocket roared off the pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome with the EchoStar XXI communications satellite. Officials say the spacecraft was delivered to its proper orbit and is functioning as designed.

Proton has been grounded since June 9, 2016. While launching the Intelsat 31 communications satellite, the Proton’s second stage under performed. The third stage fired longer than planned to get the spacecraft to its intended orbit.

An investigation found that lower quality materials had been substituted during engine production. The manufacturing problem also affected engines made for Soyuz boosters.

The quality control problems have lowered Russia’s launch rate. The Proton flight was only the sixth launch as we approach the mid-point of 2017. That figure includes two Soyuz rockets launched from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana.

Russian officials said this week there are four additional Proton launches planned this year, two for commercial customers and two for the Russian government.



  • Congrats to the Proton team for a successful return to flight, and for lifting your heaviest payload yet!

  • 868686

    This rocket is amazing!

    It’s a shame that it uses toxics propelant and oxidizer.

  • Proton is back to form and with a monster payload delivered. Welcome back..C:

  • It certainly is amazing. The fact they are able to keep squeezing more performance out of it is impressive too. Those hypergols certainly are throwbacks to an earlier age. It’s interesting to think that 2 out of the 3 major launch systems that Glushko worked on are still in service! (Energia, not so much)

  • Douglas Messier

    A real shame they can’t squeeze more reliability out of it. Some version of Proton has been flying since 1965. The Soyuz booster is of the same vintage. And yet there’s been a string of failures going back to 2009 with them and other boosters.

  • Yeah, they lost the secret formula there for a while. I think the year long standdown is actually a good sign though. They stooddown after successful launches, which may showthey might be getting back the culture that makes spaceflight successful.

  • Mike Richards

    Terrific photo at the top of this article as well.

  • publiusr

    R-7 and proton are great–it’s the people with a don’t-care attitude you have to watch. That they launch even without the chief designers guiding them proves how good their design was.

  • Agreed, by now you should have all the original design issues resolved. Now it should just be problems with new features and quality control.