February 7, 2014:
On December 28, 2013 Russia successfully launched a new version of its Soyuz rocket and put a scientific satellite into orbit. This version (Soyuz 2.1v) uses a new engine and digital guidance system. This launch was delayed several times by one problem or another. Soyuz is a popular launcher for putting satellites into orbit and has survived and thrived because of constant upgrades like this.
The Russian commercial satellite launching company ILS (International Launch Services) uses R-7 (Soyuz) and Proton rockets for launching satellites. Soyuz, which has launched over 1,700 times, is the most frequently used rocket. The Soyuz is a much smaller than the Proton and can only put 6.4 tons into low orbit. The most notable Soyuz use is to supply the international space station (ISS). The Soyuz/Progress space vehicle weighs about seven tons and can deliver 2.7 tons of cargo and also serve as a rescue craft to get people back to earth. The Soyuz spacecraft consists of three parts and the middle one is the reentry vehicle for three people.
In 2008 the European Union (EU) agreed to buy ten Russian Soyuz satellite launchers, for about $35 million each. These were launched from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch facility in South America (Kourou, French Guiana). This complex is close to the equator, and thus can put more weight in orbit than the same launcher operating at higher latitudes. The ESA spent some $400 million to build a launch pad for the Soyuz. This expansion was caused by the ESA facility having more work than it could handle. The Russian Soyuz, while old, is reliable and cheaper (by about 25 percent) than any of the Western launch vehicles ESA has used. There are 3-4 Soyuz launches a year from Kourou. France built this launch facility in the late 1960s, and began sharing it with the ESA. Since then, there have been over 200 launches from this site.
Proton rockets are for putting heavy satellites into high orbits. So far Proton has launched 390 times. The Proton entered service in the 1960s and in the last two decades Protons have earned Russia over $6 billion putting foreign satellites into orbit, especially high orbits. While the Proton isn’t perfect, it is competitive when it comes to price and reliability.