The Ukrainian rocket Zenit-3SL is operated as a part the a space-rocket complex of the Sea Launch international consortium.
Ukraine can rightly be regarded as an space power, despite the fact that, since its independence from the Soviet Union, it has endured significant economic challenges, and its space industry is under the patronage of the state. The country has a full cycle of the infrastructure needed for creating rockets, the necessary base of scientific and engineering knowledge, and a successful track record of implementing international space projects.
Ukraine boasts many distinguished experts and young scientists who are capable of creating world-class projects, and even has its own astronaut.
1. Ukrainian astronaut Kadeniuk
Leonid Kadeniuk became the first astronaut with a Ukrainian passport. He flew on the US space shuttle Columbia from 19 November 1997 to 5 December 1997 as a payload specialist. Among the other members of the team were four astronauts from the US (Kevin Kregel, Stephen Lindsay, Winston Scott and Kalpana Chawla) and one from Japan (Takao Doi). The team spent 15 days and 16 hours in space and completed a successful return landing at Kennedy Space Center. The purpose of the flight was to put into orbit a scientific satellite, SPARTAN-201-4, and successfully return the satellite to Earth.
Typically payload specialists are scientists or experts in specific technical matters. For each mission, payload specialists are chosen separately and then put through special training. Although they do not necessarily have to be US citizens, payload specialists in 36 of 60 flights have been American citizens. Ukrainian Leonid Kadeniuk has been one of the few foreign citizens on board an American spaceship.
2. Ukraine is world’s fourth best developed space power
Ukraine is one of the few countries in the world that has full cycle rocket manufacturing capability, from production of rocket fuel to rocket launchers to spacecraft. The lion’s share of space equipment production is accounted for by state-owned enterprises, which are under the control of a special authorized body – the State Space Agency of Ukraine. Ukraine produces the following space equipment:
- engines, parts and units for rocket launchers
- space craft
- spacecraft systems
- rocket space complexes
- rocket launch vehicles
The Ukrainian space sector portfolio includes three types of launch vehicles that are used on four launching platforms around the world. The flagship of the county’s space industry is a state-owned design enterprise, Pivdenne, located in the City of Dnipro. The profits of Pivdenne from international projects exceed, year after year, the amount of state funding. Along with Pivdenne is another Dnipro’s enterprise – the factory Pivdenmash. Pivdenmash is not always as consistent with its budgeting and profitability, but it is integrally linked with Pivdenne, as Pivdenmash manufactures what Pivdenne designs. Another important member of the chain is the Pavlograd Chemical Plant – an enterprise that is engaged in the production of solid fuel (unfortunately, it also struggles financially as Pivdenmash does). Pivdenne collaborates with about 120 enterprises in Ukraine.
Since its declaration of independence in 1991, Ukraine has launched 148 rockets. Those rockets were launched from several different space platforms: Plesetsk, Baikonur, Wallops, and Sea Launch. During this time Ukraine launched almost 300 satellites, fulfilling contracts with multiple countries around the world. Over the years Ukrainian launch vehicles accounted for 3.1% to 12.9% of all rocket launches worldwide. The most active years were its first four years of independence, and the greatest demand was for the carrier rocket Cyclone-3.
3. The rise of private investment in space projects
While a number of public space companies are currently going through hard times, Ukrainian businesses are ready to invest in the development of space projects. About a year ago, a Business Incubator Space Hub was developed in the City of Dnipro.
The International Company Noosphere actively invests in space projects in Ukraine and elsewhere. The company has a number of joint projects with Pivdenne in the development of space modules, rocket engines, space exploration, and big data. Among the projects in which Noosphere has invested is a new satellite platform, based on the CubeSat. Such satellites can be created for different tasks in the shortest time.
EOS Data Analytics is a cloud service that automatically analyzes data for geo-information systems based on satellite imagery, behavioral factors, geospatial data and information on the client’s work processes. The company SETS is developing high-performance electric motors for spacecraft. The staff for international projects financed by Noosphere includes Ukrainians, mostly, for research and development.
Since 2014 Noosphere Ventures has held a competition among engineering startups, called Vernadsky Challenge, which among other domains focuses on space technology. As part of an educational project, the Noosphere Engineering School, which has been in operation since March 2014, is planning in the near future to launch a laboratory for space research and technology. The main objective of the project is to deepen cooperation with Dnipro University and attract more scientists.
According to Tetyana Snopko, communications director of Noosphere, “interest in space technologies is growing. But a jump in the number of projects is expected only in the next three years. To sustain this growth a supportive ecosystem is essential. Sensational Ukrainian start-up Mars Hopper participated in a recent NASA competition. The more such competitions occur, the more start-ups will be created in the field of space technology.”
4. Satellites for monitoring environmental and atmospheric conditions: Sich-1, Sich-1M, Sich-2
During its years of independence, Ukraine has developed, manufactured and launched into space three satellites, Sich-1, Sich-1M, Sich-2, for monitoring environmental and atmospheric conditions on Earth and its atmosphere.
Sich-1 was launched in 1995 from the Russian space platform Plesetsk. The satellite’s tasks included monitoring soil conditions, vegetation, ice covering, water bodies, and studying the ionosphere and the magnetosphere. The satellite was decommissioned in 2001. Sich-1M was launched in 2004, also from Plesetsk. However, due to the deviation of the movement of the launch vehicle during launch of the satellite, problems with the orientation of the device in space occurred and devise served only until April 2006.
Sich-2 was designed for monitoring conditions in the visible and mid-infrared range. Also Sich-2 carried equipment for the study of charged and neutral particles and electric and magnetic fields at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. The satellite was launched in August 2011, but in December 2012 communication was lost because the satellite’s battery went out of order. During the time that Sich-2 was in orbit, it managed to produce and send the first images to Earth.
Now the State Space Agency of Ukraine plans to build satellite Sich-2-1, Sich-2M, Sich-3-O, and Sich-3-P, which are expected to be ready by 2017 and 2018, respectively. Currently, the satellite ‘Mikrosat’ is in production. By 2022 Ukraine plans to launch six satellites.
5. Ukrainian components in rockets of other countries
Ukraine has developed and manufactured the first stage for the US rocket Antares and the engine for the European rocket launcher Vega.
Antares is a middle class booster, intended to send into space cargo weighing up to 7 tons. During its development American engineers, with insufficient experience in dealing with the liquid and cryogenic stages of the components, decided to engage Pivdenne, the Ukrainian design enterprise, which had already successfully designed its own rockets. The main part of the Ukrainian work was the fuel system. Production was done by the company Pivdenmash. A long-term contract for the production of the first stage for the Antares was signed in 2008 and runs until 2019. In 2013, from NASA base Wallops, the rocket was used for a successful launch into orbit of Cygnus, with a cargo of scientific equipment.
Vega is a booster of light class that uses the Ukrainian engine RD-843. It was designed to launch into orbit cargo weighing 300-1500 kg. It is deployed at the Kourou space platform in Guiana Space Centre.
Design enterprise Pivdenne has been engaged with this project since 2004, as part of a contract with an Italian company, Avio. Six years later, the first qualification test was passed, and the project was implemented. Currently European engineers are planning to replace the Ukrainian engine by a more environmentally friendly solution that runs on methane propellant.
Vega is a competitor to a Ukrainian rocket, Dnipro, and the not-yet finished Cyclone-4, as well as the US launch vehicle Antares, for which Ukraine produces the first stage.
6. Rocket Dnipro
Satan class missiles were developed in Soviet times and became available for service in the Soviet Army starting in 1975. They are slated for elimination in accordance with a Russian-American agreement. An alternative to liquidation is retrofitting the boosters. To do that, a Russian-Ukrainian organization was founded, which included several companies, including Pivdenne, which had originally developed the missile back in Soviet times. The missile RS-20 to this day remains the most powerful in its class. Now there are two modifications, Dnipro-1 and Dnipro-M. The development of this booster produced 22 start-ups. Dnipro is launched from Baikonur and Yasnyi, both located in Russia.
7. The project Sea Launch
In 1995, the enterprise Sea Launch was created by a US-Russian-Norwegian-Ukrainian team, the purpose of which was to construct an offshore platform for space launches near the equator. The equator is the best place to launch, since it allows the most efficient use of the Earth’s rotation. Consequently sending cargo into space is less resource-intensive.
This project involves the construction of a rocket-launch platform, consisting of marine and rocket segments, as well as spacecraft.
The role of Pivdenne and Pivdenmash was to create the launch vehicle. Such a launch vehicle became a rocket of the Zenith series – a modification of the three-stage Zenith-3SL. Block payload for the missile was created by Boeing, and the third stage – the upper stage DM-SL – was developed by the Russian company Energy. Ukrainianians designed and produced the rest of the rocket. Twenty-eight launches were made from a floating launch platform, most of them successful.
In 2009, the project filed for bankruptcy and now its fate is unclear. However, the Ukrainian launch vehicle that was used for this project has established itself well.
8. The Land Launch
Ukraine and Russia concluded that, if the Zenith rocket carries a cargo of less than four tons, it was most efficient to launch it from the Baikonur platform. To implement this strategy, a Russian-Ukrainian enterprise, Space International Services, was formed in 1999, the same year an agreement was signed between Kazakhstan and the USA for launching spacecraft from the Baikonur platform. However, in 2015 Russia refused to use Ukrainian missiles, including the Zenith (as well as Rokot and Dnipro).
9. The Alcantara Project
The implementation of Alcantara has been postponed several times, and is now in limbo. However, as part of that project Ukraine has done work that deserves mention. Alcantara is a Brazilian space center on the Atlantic coast, from which the Ukrainian carrier rockets Cyclone-4 were supposed to be launched. Cyclone-4 is a modified version of the rocket Cyclone-3. Besides the Cyclone, there were also plans to launch from Alcantara the Israeli rocket, Shavit. A contract was signed with Ukraine in 2003. Alcantara is an attractive site because it is close to the equator, on the water, but close to the mainland – therefore it is easy to get to. Furthermore, in a sparsely populated area, launches are potentially less hazardous.
The project has repeatedly experienced problems with financing. The first launch was expected to take place in 2014, but the launch site has not yet been completed. In May 2015 it was announced that all work was frozen. The fate of the spaceport Alcantara and launches from it are still unknown. Several years ago there was a plan to use the Cyclone-4 for launching a Brazilian spacecraft to the moon, to explore whether there is water or ice there.
10. Mars Hopper – winner of NASA Space Apps Challenge
In addition to its mature infrastructure and established expertise for building rockets and satellites, Ukraine also possesses young enthusiasts who generate many new ideas.
In 2016, a team of young Ukrainians won the NASA Space Apps Challenge award, in the category Audience Choice, for their project Mars Hopper. They proposed an alternative motion technology for use on Mars. Mars has a thin atmosphere and weaker gravity than Earth. The project team proposed the development of a vehicle that, following a Mars landing, would collect ice and turn it into a gas. Released energy would then create jet thrust for rotation of its propellers and the next segment of its mission. The vehicle would be moving across the planet like a jumping insect.
In the near term, the team is planning to create two prototypes of this vehicle. Let’s hope that the project will reach the implementation phase, and sooner or later the Mars hopper will jump on the Red Planet.
The reliance of the Ukrainian space industry on Russia since 2014 has created significant challenges. But any industry at different times experiences ups and downs. And it is likely that in Ukraine the space industry will take off in the coming years. First, because the interest in space exploration is growing worldwide and plans to conquer at least our solar system inspire both the state-owned and private companies. Ukraine owns the infrastructure necessary to participate in the development of spacecraft for new launches and new achievements. Second, Ukrainian missile and rocket parts are used not only in joint ventures with Russia, but also with the US and Europe, and Ukraine intends to become a member of the European Space Agency. Third, there is an interest and willingness to finance space projects by the private businesses in Ukraine, which are not as financially constrained as the State. They are interested in supporting not only commercial projects but also events like the World Cup in Rocket Modeling held in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on August 23-28 2016.