During Soviet times, Ukraine was famous for its rocket and space industry. After gaining independence, the country has retained the prestigious status of space power, but economic problems led to the fact that Ukraine began to move away from developing space industry. The enterprises of the space-rocket complex remained in state ownership, but the state does not finance them. And this is despite the fact that one dollar of investment in this industry brings 13-14 dollars of profit. As a result, the unique enterprises of Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash design offices are forced to look for sources of financing, orders for their products in other countries. It’s a paradox, but Ukraine still has advanced technologies in the space industry, while not having a single satellite in orbit. And if everything remains in the same position, the technologies will soon become obsolete. While space is being explored by private “monsters” like SpaceX and Blue Origin, Ukrainian enterprises are stuck in the state captivity –no money and no particular prospects.
Glorious cosmic past
A significant part of the rocket-space complex of the former Soviet Union was deployed in Ukraine, and after its collapse, about a third of the entire scientific, technical and production potential in the field of rocket and space technologies remained. In particular, this is one of the best design bureaus in the world – Yuzhnoye and the Southern Machine-Building Plant (Dnipro) rocket-building enterprise, specializing in the production of intercontinental ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles and spacecraft. In 1990, Yuzhmash produced about 100 missiles a year: both combat and civilian. The Yuzhnoye design office was engaged in the construction of launch vehicles and spacecraft. Over the years, the design bureau created and launched into space more than 400 spacecraft, among them Earth remote sensing satellites, scientific satellites, Eduard Kuznetsov, an adviser to the chairman of the State Space Agency of Ukraine states.
Also Ukraine had a group of enterprises, engaged in control systems: Khartron enterprise (Kharkiv) - development of control systems for launch vehicles, intercontinental ballistic missiles and spacecraft; Kommunar enterprise (Kharkiv) - manufacture of equipment for automated troop control systems and control systems for launch vehicles and intercontinental ballistic missiles; Kurs enterprise (Kyiv) - development of control systems for launch vehicles; Kyivpribor enterprise - engaged in the production of the onboard control system of Soyuz spacecraft; Kyiv Radio Plant enterprise - production of complex aircraft control systems; CheZaRa enterprise (Chernihiv) - onboard equipment of communications spacecraft and onboard telemetric systems of carrier rockets. Even until recently, Ukrainian missiles flew from 6 cosmodromes of the world. Ukraine was in fifth place among the countries with the space industry. Our state accounted for about 10% of the total share of missile launches in the world. Ukraine was a member of the Global Star satellite launch project in 1994-1995. "Over the past 27 years, 160 launch vehicles have been commissioned, completed with the participation of Ukrainian enterprises of the rocket and space industry. More than 380 space vehicles were commissioned by order from 24 countries. This brought millions of revenues to the Ukrainian budget," Kuznetsov says.
The main part of Ukraine’s space activities — launches of space launch vehicles — was carried out within the framework of joint projects, including with Russia, said Valeriy Borovyk, head of the board of the New Energy Alliance of Ukraine, founded in 2006 to implement innovative technologies in the energy, space and defense sectors (in 2008 the Alliance created the first non-state Laboratory of promising engines in Ukraine for the practical implementation of space and defense projects, and in 2015 the Ukrainian it produced in the laboratory was equipped with a Singapore satellite).
Joint projects with the Russian Federation:
- Sea Launch - Ukraine supplied the Zenit-2SL and Zenit-2SLB launch vehicles for to be launched from the naval launch platform and from the Baikonur cosmodrome. For the assembly of the launch vehicle, Russian enterprises supplied 1st stage propulsion engines, 2nd stage engine components, a complete control system, construction materials for the manufacture of a launch vehicle (aluminum), sensors;
- Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 projects - included the operation of regular rocket space complexes from the Baikonur (Cyclone-2) and Plesetsk (Cyclone-3) space centers. All launch vehicles were developed at Yuzhnoye design office and manufactured at Yuzhmash production association.
- launch of Soyuz and Proton launch vehicles. The missiles were equipped with control systems manufactured at Kommunar enterprise;
- the Dnipro project was based on the conversion use of the intercontinental ballistic missile 15A18 Satan (SS-18) for launching spacecraft into a low near-earth orbit from the Baikonur cosmodrome and the Yasny launch base. All rockets were manufactured at the Yuzhmash during Soviet times. The control system was developed by Hartron;
- Rokot project - a project of conversion use of intercontinental ballistic missiles 25А35 for launching spacecraft into a low near-earth orbit from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. Hartron was developer management system;
- ensuring the operation of the International Space Station; - equipping spacecraft of the Soyuz type (for the crew) and Progres (transport spacecraft) with automatic docking systems and onboard equipment control systems.
As you can see, there were a lot of projects. And Ukraine has still not been able to completely part with Russia. “In 2014, when relations with the Russian Federation were destroyed, Petro Poroshenko prepared a decree that the restrictions should not concern international space projects. If there were no such document, it could have a negative impact on many projects, in particular, transportation of cargo and the stay of cosmonauts on the ISS would have been impossible," Kuznetsov noted.
Now Ukraine is making efforts to maintain cooperation with Russia in the Sea Launch project, which can actually provide work for Yuzhmash and load its production facilities.
Sea Launch, the hope of Yuzhmash enterprise
Sea Launch has been operating since 1999. In 2009, this space project at the International Congress in South Korea was recognized as a scientific and technical breakthrough of the year. The project involves launching the Zenit 3SL launch vehicle using environmentally friendly fuel from the Odyssey offshore platform.
According to the New Energy of Ukraine Alliance presentation, the production of Zenit launch vehicles is most beneficial for Yuzhmash. According to the data cited therein, the sale price of a single rocket is $ 32 million. For comparison, the price of a Cyclone-4 rocket (for the Alcantara-Cyclone-Space project, a joint project with Brazil) was $ 27 million the steps for the American Antares rocket (without the RD-181 engine, which is manufactured in Russia at Energomash) were only $ 10 million.
“Elon Musk characterized the Ukrainian Zenit rocket as one of the best in the world in terms of price/quality ratio. There are Mercedes-class cars in the world, and there is no less demanded Skoda with its reliable working qualities," Valeriy Borovyk, Head of the New Energy of Ukraine Alliance, founded in 2006 with the goal of implementing innovative technologies in the energy, space and defense sectors, said.
In general, within the framework of the Sea Launch project, 36 Zenit-3SL missiles were launched, 33 of them were successful. The last launch took place on May 26, 2014.
Initially, the founders of the project were the American Boeing Commercial Space Company (received the largest share in the project - 40%), the Russian Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (25%), the Norwegian Aker Solutions (responsible for issues related to the ship, 20%), Ukrainian Yuzhmash (10%) and Yuzhnoye (5%). The Boeing project was needed to ensure the launch of its own vehicles: the company owned a subsidiary that produced satellites for telecommunications companies but did not have missiles to launch its vehicles.
In 2009, Sea Launch Company, the company-owner of the project, declared bankruptcy. Its debt (funding was raised under the guarantee of Boeing) was $ 1 billion (total funding, according to various estimates, was $ 2-3.5 billion). One of the reasons that led to bankruptcy was the fact that the technical capabilities of the project did not allow for more launches than were done - 3-4 per year. However, back in 2006, Boeing together with Lockheed Martin created the United Launch Alliance, which displayed satellites for the US Department of Defense and NASA from the launch sites of the US Air Force. Sea Launch wasn’t necessary anymore.
The trial, in this case, lasted until 2017. As a result, the parties signed a settlement agreement. According to the Russian RBC news agency, Boeing received free seats for American astronauts on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as compensation for the debt: two seats in 2017 and 2018, and three more in 2019. NASA bought them from Boeing for $ 373 million.
In 2010, the reorganization was carried out, as a result of which the subsidiary of the Russian Energia, Energia Overseas Ltd, received a 95% share in the Sea Launch project, Boeing lost 3%, and Norwegian Aker 2%. After three successful launches in 2011-2012. The project suffered a major setback. On February 1, 2013, a Zenit 3SL launch vehicle with an American satellite, Intelsat-27, with an insurance cost of $ 406 million, crashed engines and fell into the ocean.
After the incident, Sea Launch began to experience difficulty finding orders. In addition, at this time, the market began to aggressively explore the American SpaceX, which offered prices an order of magnitude lower than competitors suggested. The launch price of a satellite weighing 5-6 tons on average in the market ranged from 85 to 110 million dollars. SpaceX offered a price of 60-65 million dollars. There was also a political component. Since the project was Russian-Ukrainian-American, against the background of Donbas war, the annexation of Crimea, the rupture of economic ties between Russia and Ukraine, the imposition of sanctions against the Russian Federation), potential customers had great doubts about the smooth operation of the project.
The salvation for the project was its sale to a private Russian S7 Group (the main asset of which is S7 Airlines). According to Russian media, the company acquired a floating cosmodrome in 2016 for $ 160 million. In 2017, S7 Sea Launch Limited signed a contract with the Ukrainian Yuzhmash for the manufacture of 12 Zenit launch vehicles.
This is the first part of our long read. The next parts would come soon.