Probably we will see new medium sized version of Proton rocket operated by International Launch Services sooner then it could be predicted.
As we informed on June 28, 2016 (read here), Russian space industry was interested in continuing development of Proton rocket. Russian “Izviestia” quoted first deputy director at Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center (manufacturer of the Proton-M rocket) Alexander Medvedev who claimed, that smaller version of Proton-M could easily compete with SpaceX Falcon-9 while operating from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Two days ago, on September 13, 2016, Roscosmos announced on press conference about starting early phase of development smaller version of Proton-M with first possible flight in 2018. Rocket will be able to provide payload space under 4 m wide payload fairing and will be manufactured by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. Company is one of the main shareholders of International Launch Services, so it is obviously that ILS will be main customer for new Proton and will operate with rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was announced, that rocket will be developed simultaneously in two variants: light and medium. First will be able to deliver to LEO up to 1.45 t of payload, while medium sized configuration will be delivering up to 2.2 t of cargo. It is 1.1 t less then present variant Proton-M is lifting today. Due the fact, that rocket will be based on components used for Proton-M, process of development will be less time consuming and less expensive (also due the lack of test launches). Main difference between Proton-M and new versions is number of stages and propulsion. Medium version will be still equipped with six engines, but number of stages will be reduced to two. Light proton will be powered by four engines (medium will be still using six engines in the first stage) and also will rely on two-stage construction. Probably for reducing costs propulsion will be virtually unchanged with proven RD-275M engines liquid fueled with N2O4/UDMH. It is also worth to remind that new Proton rockets will operate from Baikonur, which in 2020 will be controlled by Baiterek JV (after Roscosmos will transfer ownership of Cosmodrome), company established by Russia and Kazakhstan. Due the fact, that main shareholders of Baiterek are Kazakhstan’s State Property and Privatization Committee and Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, ILS in the beginning of next decade will operate with own launch vehicles manufactured by one of its main shareholders and launched from Baikonur owned by same company.