The director general of Russian space agency Roscosmos has confirmed that the production of country’s legendary spaceflight workhorse, the Proton rocket, will soon be stopped.

In an interview with state news outlet RIA Novosti, Dmitry Rogozin stated that the Proton family has earned respect and authority by successfully handling commercial and government missions for more than half a century, but now it’s time to close the project and transfer the mantle to the new Angara rockets.

He stressed that a model involving the production of both old as well as new launch vehicles is economically flawed. It could lead to a financial collapse, which is exactly why it is important to make the shift and focus specifically on the systematized production of the Angara rockets in all weight categories including the next-gen heavyweight class.

The move will mark a major change in the spaceflight segment, especially considering the fact that Proton rockets have delivered more than 400 payloads into the orbit since their inception in the 1960s, with most of those missions being successful.

Proton rocket Russia planning to retire historic Proton rocket family. Pictured, the Proton rocket that launched ExoMars 2016 spacecraft to Mars. Photo: Stephane Corvaja/ESA via Getty Images

Apart from confirming that Roscosmos is planning to make the shift, Rogozin didn’t provide any other details, not even the timeline indicating when the production of the historical rocket might be stopped. However, he did mention that the contracts already assigned to the legendary rocket will not be canceled.

In order to ensure a smooth transition from Proton to the Angara, Roscosmos will first conclude the business associated with the former. It will produce Proton rockets according to the assigned contracts and will shutter the production once that’s done.

“The sooner we make this transition, the more effectively we will have the economy of this enterprise and the more we will have opportunities for Russia's free access to outer space,” the director general told the news agency, adding that further details will be revealed when the manufacturer of Proton, Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, has determined how much time will be needed to transfer full production capacity to the Angara.

History of Proton

At its current configuration, Proton stands as much as 174 feet tall. According to a report in Space.com, the launch vehicle was initially conceived as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) but later transformed into a vehicle for space launches. It currently features two to four stages and can carry up to 50,000 pounds of payload into low-earth and 14,000 pounds to a geostationary transfer orbit. Though this nearly matches the capacity of current “full thrust” version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, unlike Musk's rocket, Proton was used as a reusable launch system. 

However, despite being expendable, the launch vehicle has been great at its job. It launched modules for Russia’s Mir space station and the International Space Station, posited a plethora of satellites into orbit, and delivered space probes and orbiters to Mars and Venus.