Space, Ukrainian-style: Through Crisis to Revival
by Volodymyr Vasiliev
Kiev, Ukraine (SPX) Jan 31, 2017
148 successful launches, 300 space vehicles placed in orbit and a number of high-profile international projects - this is just a partial list of Ukraine's investments in global space exploration. Ukraine is one of 10 countries with full-cycle rocket production capabilities, and in the years before the crisis of 2014 its aerospace companies earned over $600 million for the government annually.
With a strong engineering base and manufacturing facilities, Ukraine could have claimed to be an industry leader in this field, yet just a few years ago its aerospace industry almost ended up on the reserves bench.
2014 presented Ukraine with a geopolitical conflict and the loss of its key sales market. Together with the holiday resorts of Crimea, the country lost its National Centre for Space Facilities Control and Testing (NCSFCT), which incorporated the National Satellites Flight Control Centres, and the Lybid communications satellite control station, as well as space tracking facilities.
Ukraine's space industry flagships - the Yuzhnoye design office, the Yuzhny engineering plant and a number of leading aerospace companies in Kharkiv - ended up in direct proximity to the war zone.
In 2015, all defence contracts with Russia were suspended and the percentage of civilian projects in the overall portfolio of orders became negligibly small. Production of the Dnipro and Dnipro-1 rockets (modifications of the world-famous "Satan") was frozen. The launch of the Lybid telecoms satellite was postponed indefinitely and the satellite itself is still under lock and key at the M.F.Reshetnev company in the city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Under the pressure of the new political realities, in 2015 Ukraine lost two international contracts at once: Sea Launch and the joint Ukrainian-Brazilian Alcantara project. According to preliminary estimates by the IMF, the industry's losses from the loss of the Russian market and joint international contracts with Russia could amount to 2 billion hryvnas annually (80% of the industry's entire income).
We've Hit Rock Bottom. Now Coming Up
Ukraine still has its ERS and Navigation Field Data Receiving Centre. Dniprocosmos, the Dnipro branch of NCSFCT is also still operating, developing software for the flight control centres and ERS data processing, as is the Zahidny Radar Servicing Centre for the space tracking station.
The industry was in need of a complete "reset" and actively mobilized in search of new sales markets and opportunities for business diversification. And they found them. Ukrainian companies have begun manufacturing the first stage of the Antares carrier-rocket for the US company Orbital ATK.
Jointly with the European and Italian space agencies the Yuzhnoye design office is working on the RD-843 main propulsion systems for the fourth stage of the Vega carrier-rocket. And in 2016, a new 5-year collaboration plan was signed with China, in which Ukraine's share in joint projects increased by 40% compared to the previous year.
Negotiations are underway with Poland and Lithuania as well. These countries do not yet have a serious aerospace background, but in conjunction with Ukraine they aim to make substantial progress in this area. Next up is cooperation with South Korea, India, China and Spain. The industry's proactive stance has already produced results, with production and product sales up 47% and 40%, respectively, in the first half of 2016, compared to the same period of 2015 (data from the State Space Agency of Ukraine).
The Ukrainian aerospace sector's immediate plans include a reorientation towards the European markets and membership of the European Space Agency.
Focus On Innovation
Nor has the global trend of private companies becoming involved in space exploration passed our country by. Last year saw the launch in Dnipro of Space Hub, the first Ukrainian aerospace business incubator and brainchild of entrepreneurs Maxim Tkachenko and Vyacheslav Mayakin.
Following Space Hub, a second local space hackathon - Spacer - was launched in May 2016 and has already attracted more than 200 participants.
EOS Data Analytics, founded by Ukrainian Maxim Polyakov, recently presented its innovative Land Viewer, which enables researchers, student and journalists to upload and view from anywhere in the world thousands of terabytes of photo materials from the US Landsat 8 and European Sentinel 2A satellites. According to the designers, the software has been and will remain absolutely free. A nice information bonus for the country's space researchers.
The potential of Ukrainian developers is attracting strong interest from global aerospace leaders. In April 2016, for the first time, Ukraine hosted the NASA Space Apps Challenge hackathon. One of its winners was the Ukrainian Mars rover Mars Hopper, while Asterion-CYA - another Ukrainian project - was amongst the five finalists.
In addition to specialized aerospace companies, the international company Noosphere is also an active investor in Ukrainian space projects. Its portfolio includes a range of joint projects with the Pivdenne design office on engine and module developments and data analytics. The list of Noosphere's investments also includes development of the innovative CubeSat satellite platform.
Inspired by the achievements of young Ukrainian designers, the State Space Agency of Ukraine plans to begin providing government support to Ukrainian projects at the government level as early as next year. Designers and innovators will be given access to the resources of major state-owned corporations - in other words, to the facilities and equipment they need to test their inventions.
Naturally, the fact that the Ukrainian space industry was heavily dependent on Russian orders has taken its toll. But who knows? Perhaps this crisis will lend fresh impetus to the industry and help Ukraine to turn itself into a launchpad for future successes.
Ukraine Space Agency
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