Will Ukraine be deeper involved in the world’s space industry?

In July representatives of Ukrainian space industry will take part in US-Ukraine Business Forum in Washington, D.C, and meeting with colleagues from the European Space Agency (ESA) in ESTEC center, the Netherlands. Will those events mean start of a new era for the country’s space sector?

Ukrainian space industry is primarily famous for Zenit, Dnepr and Cyclone rocket families, made by Yuzhnoye Design Office and Yuzhmash plant (both located in Dnipropetrovsk). Fewer people know about Ukrainian contribution in Orbital ATK's Antares rocket (first stage) and European Vega launcher (upper stage engine). And very few people are familiar with Ukrainian achievements in the areas of satellite technology (Sich series of Earth observation spacecraft), Earth and space science, control systems, astronomy, etc.

Recently, complicated political and economic environment within and around Ukraine is getting not favorable for many of the existing Ukrainian international space projects. In the midst of this situation, it is interesting to evaluate what space products Ukraine is offering to the world's market and which areas of cooperation may be potentially beneficial for the country and its partners worldwide.

Ukrainian space pavilion at the Paris Air Show 2015. Credit: SpaceDigest
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During the International Paris Air Show, held on June 15-21, 2015, in Le Bourget, Chief of State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) Oleg Uruskyi met with his colleagues from France, Germany, Kazakhstan, some other countries and organizations. Parties expressed general interest, informed each other on present concerns and challenges, and emphasized an important role of July 8 meeting between representatives of SSAU and ESA in European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where it is planned to determine list of European space projects, which Ukraine may be involved in.

It is to remind that the first stage of Ukraine's involvement was signing of a Cooperation Agreement with ESA on January 25, 2008. In an interview to Ukrinform, Oleg Uruskyi told that currently SSAU and Government of Ukraine are working to enter the European Cooperating State (ECS) Agreement, which will make it eligible for participation in ESA procurements. The whole process of becoming the ESA full member state expected to be completed by early 2020s.

General Designer of Yuzhnoye State Design Office (SDO) Alexander Degtyarev in an interview to Interfax admitted that his company currently works with European partners under Vega upper stage liquid rocket engine and some R&D projects within the Seventh Framework and Horizon 2020 programs. In particular, these projects include development of thermal protection for reusable vehicles, space debris removal means, and new carbon-based materials studies.

However, according to Degtyarev, Yuzhnoye plans to deepen its cooperation in Europe in the areas, currently under discussions with partners, such as propulsion systems, SmallSat launcher technologies, in-orbit servicing means, etc. He also focused on prospects of creation of a manufacturing facility for carbon rocket components in Ukraine, and development of 3D-printing cooperation.

“EU market, from one side, is one of the largest in the world. From the other side it is one of the most closed for Ukrainian space-related enterprises… Participation of Ukraine in European space programs directly depends on joining the European Space Agency.” Alexander Degtyarev, General Designer of Yuzhnoye State Design Office

Meanwhile, Ukraine builds even more fundamental plans in view of cooperation with the US companies. Alexander Degtyarev told that Yuzhnoye had conducted deep research into the US market and decided to initiate development of a powerful 250 metric tons thrust liquid rocket engine, as well as whole propulsion system with a thrust of 500+ metric tons, consisted on two such engines.

Range of new LOx-kerosene first stage engines, to be developed by Yuzhnoye SDO. Credit: Yuzhnoye SDO
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Apparently, Degtyarev meant GU series of engines, which were promoted in Yuzhnoye brochures during the Paris Air Show. These LOx-kerosene engines, designed for US-based manufacturing, have throttling and reusability capabilities. They are seen as a so-much-desired replacement for Russian-made RD-180 engines, used to power ULA's Atlas V 'workhorse'. GU series of engines may be used on a future Ukrainian family of Mayak launchers as well.

“Currently we are in discussions with a number of possible customers and investors, interested in implementation of this [rocket engine] initiative. We estimate to complete development and tests of such engine by 2019.” Alexander Degtyarev, General Designer of Yuzhnoye State Design Office

It is known that Aerojet Rocketdyne currently develops and tests AR-1 first stage main engine, targeting its exploitation within Atlas V or a future American rocket. ULA, though, involved Blue Origin with its BE-4 LOx-methane engine (under development) to be used on the next-generation Vulcan rocket that is viewed to replace Atlas V and Delta rocket families. Orbital ATK is also reportedly developing both liquid and solid rocket engines to replace RD-180s.

Vulcan, next-generation American rocket by ULA. Credit: ULA
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Oleg Uruskyi from SSAU told that his agency was preparing for the visit of official NASA delegation to Ukraine. The date of such visit is to be defined yet, though. Currently Ukrainian companies work with NASA under the International Space Station program, where the former make some equipment, i.e. docking systems, and the latter coordinates that work.

Chairman of SSAU again, after the Conference “Space Technologies: Present and Future”, held on May 19-21 in Dnipropetrovsk, expressed hope for establishment of a project to use modified Cyclone-4 rockets from the American soil. It is expected that, following the visit of NASA delegation, this initiative will be clearer (or, vice versa, be dropped off).

In terms of program for Cyclone-4 launcher exploitation in Brazil, there is no change of its status after our latest overview. Oleg Uruskyi confirmed Ukraine's intention to continue the project and requested Brazilian party to inform about its official position with regards to this issue. According to him, an official note was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, however, no answer followed as yet.

“Presently we [Ukraine and Brazil] have funded Alcantara Cyclone Space equally. The amount is near $235 million [from each Party]. Brazil has made direct investment into the project, whereas we took a sovereign loan; and now Ukraine covers it with interest on that loan from the state budget funds.” Oleg Uruskyi, Chairman of State Space Agency of Ukraine

Notably, there are many speculations around Brazilian space vector. Some sources suggest closer cooperation with Russia, including re-dislocation of Sea Launch project from the US to Brazilian coast, other saying that Brazil may be turning now to the USA. Last two weeks Chairman of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) José Raimundo Braga Coelho visited Moscow, where discussed cooperation with Skolkovo Innovation Center, and then NASA, where signed with his colleague, Charles Bolden, agreements to further research into heliophysics and space weather, as well as to enhance educational opportunities.

José Raimundo Braga Coelho, President of AEB (left), and Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator (right). Credit: NASA
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It is to make clear that almost all Ukrainian space initiatives are implemented on a commercial basis or, at least not under the funding from the State Space Program. All, except for satellite applications. Until 2020 it is planned that Ukraine will launch two Earth observation spacecraft, Sich 2-1 and Sich-2M, scientific satellite Ionosat-Micro, and a follow-on communications satellite Lybid-2 (Lybid-1 still expected to be launched by the end of 2015 from Baikonur atop a Zenit booster).

Information retrieved from Interfax, Ukrinform, and SSAU.

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