The Russian Cold War Rocket That Still Does Heavy Lifting

Illustration for article titled The Russian Cold War Rocket That Still Does Heavy Lifting

Click to viewThis Russian Proton rocket, looking like something out of a 60s sci-fi novel, launched yesterday from Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying one of the largest satellites ever built. Arguably the best heavy boost rocket in the world, the Proton is a Cold War relic that's still a workhorse (despite some recent failures) more than forty years after the first one was launched. How did this rocket, one of the deadliest weapons ever created, end up helping North Americans watch European football matches via satellite?The first Proton was launched in 1965. It was originally designed as one huge freaking Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, with a massive range and terrifying nuclear payload. Since the East coast of the U.S. is not currently a smoking radioactive crater, you can be sure it was never actually used this way. Instead, it was put to work hauling satellites into orbit, as well as chunks of the Mir space station. Despite some recent mission failures, Protons are still regularly contracted out by international companies who need to get something heavy into space. In this case, British company Inmarsat hired a Proton to put their 6-ton Inmarsat-4 (I4-F3) telecommunications satellite into orbit. By the time you read this, we'll know if it was deployed successfully. This photo by Flickr user alexpgp shows a Proton being lifted into launch position at Baikonur.

Illustration for article titled The Russian Cold War Rocket That Still Does Heavy Lifting

If you head over to his Baikonur Campaigns page, you can see a huge gallery of cool insider photos taken inside Baikonur as engineers prepare for various launch missions (apparently alexpgp is an engineer with one of the companies that hires Proton rockets). Top image by: BBC News. Proton rocket in return to flight. [BBC News]

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@CmdrHunt: So, the Shuttle and ISS don't count for anything because they operate in LEO?

The Moon is the only valid destination for spacecraft?

Actually, the hard vacuum in LEO is just as hostile as it is on the Moon, but without all the irritating dust and gravity.

You can hold a 600 lb component effortlessly in your fingertips (on the Moon it'd still weigh 100 lbs (more than my weak back can handle)) with your eyes & sinuses clear and your spacesuit spotless!


Yep, I'd take a space station over a Moonbase any day.

As well as a spacecraft that can glide me down to a nice smooth landing at the exact place & time it was supposed to.

Splashdowns suck... 'cause I get seasick.