In the realm of space, you can't be a little pregnant. The authorities must decide whether they are ready to fully compete in the world space arena with the United States, China, Russia, European countries? It may be more honest to admit that Ukraine does not have enough money to participate in this race and that the country's space greatness is a thing of the past.
Is 570 million USD enough?
Last week, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the National Target Scientific and Technical Space Program for 2021-2025, which determines the priority space projects for the next five years and funding for their implementation. In the near future, the document will be submitted for approval by the Verkhovna Rada. The new space program involves the allocation of 570 million USD from the state budget with total funding of 1,5 billion USD "from sources not prohibited by law."
"This is a record amount of funds provided. Under the program, which operated until 2017, only UAH 152 million was allocated," independent expert of the space industry Andriy Kolesnik told.
For the sake of fairness, it should be said that it was not possible to scrape together such a volume of funds in the budget. The predecessor program of the current one, like the earlier ones, was not fully funded: only a third of the required amount.
The Nationwide Space Program has always been a lifeline to keep state-owned enterprises afloat, whose activities are related to space. In particular, the Dnieper industrial cluster, represented by the giants Yuzhnoye State Design Office and Yuzhmash. For them, its adoption means clarity regarding the volume and specific projects of the state order. Since the space program has not been approved in the country for the last four years, the financial situation of enterprises has deteriorated significantly: they survive only through foreign orders, most of which they find on their own.
In connection with the adoption of the new program, however, an unpleasant innovation awaits them. For the first time, the authorities are planning not to distribute orders and funding between specific plants, but to find contractors through tenders for Prozorro. Yuzhnoye State Design Office, Yuzhmash, and other Ukrainian enterprises specializing in the space sector will participate in them on a general basis.
“Unlike previous programs, which clearly defined the executor of the project, the new program envisages tenders for Prozorro, in which, in theory, private companies working in the field of space will be able to participate. Minister for Strategic Industries. I do not rule out that foreign companies will also be able to take part in tenders, but on condition that they are satisfied with the amount of payment,” says Kolesnik.
Ukraine’s space projects
The space program for 2021-2025 provides for three main priority areas.
Satellites. Within three years, Ukraine wants to create and launch six high-resolution satellites into Earth orbit, as well as finance a complex related to Earth observation from space.
"A constellation of satellites is a new approach to observing the Earth from space. If one satellite can photograph a given point on the earth's surface once a week (for example, a situation on the contact line), then a constellation of satellites, flying in orbit, may end up over this place Thus if six satellites are launched into orbit, you can receive information at least every day. Through dense clouds, the satellite's optics cannot break through and photograph the area of interest. and it will be possible to get an image," Andriy Kolesnik explained.
For ten years now, Ukraine has not had its own earth remote sensing satellite at all. The authorities plan to launch the Sich-2-30 spacecraft, which has been developed by the Yuzhnoye State Design Office since 2013 and is hopelessly outdated in terms of its characteristics. As reported, President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered to put this satellite into low-earth orbit by the end of 2021. But it looks like the timing will be slightly adjusted. According to Urusky, this will happen at the end of 2021 – early next year.
Moon development. It is planned to create its own lunar module.
Rocket and space direction. As part of the program, it is planned to create a mini-copy of the Sea Launch - a floating platform from which a light modification of the Zenit rocket will be launched. This is the prototype of Sea Launch, a large-scale international space project in which Ukraine participated together with Russia. He is still remembered with nostalgia by the veterans of the Yuzhnoye State Design Office and Yuzhmash.
Within the framework of the Land Launch project, Ukraine supplied Zenit-2SL and Zenit-2SLB launch vehicles to be launched from the sea launch platform and from the Baikonur cosmodrome, which brought millions in profits to the country's budget. In general, within the framework of the Sea Launch project, 36 launches of Zenit-3SL missiles were carried out, 33 of which were successful. The last launch took place on May 26, 2014. The last ground launch of the launch vehicle took place in 2017 from the Baikonur cosmodrome.
For many years, experts from Dnipro have tried to independently negotiate with their Russian counterparts to continue joint missile launches, but to no avail. These undertakings, of course, did not have any support from the authorities. The hope for the resumption of the Sea Launch project remained until 2018, but it is no longer there, Director General of Yuzhnoye State Design Office Oleksandr Kushnariov states.
According to him, after the reshuffle with the owners of Sea Launch, S7 took everything into its own hands and tried to organize the process. Commercial launches of "Zenith" wanted to conduct from Baikonur. Subsequently, these plans were abandoned. This dealt a crushing blow to Yuzhmash, which was carrying out orders for the manufacture of missiles. They even had to allocate money from the budget to pay off the salary arrears by the enterprise.
Best space achievements - in cooperation with the Russian Federation
It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian space projects were implemented by Ukraine jointly with the Russian Federation. In addition to Sea Launch, these were the Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 projects. The project included the operation of standard rocket space complexes from the Baikonur (Cyclone-2) and Plesetsk (Cyclone-3) cosmodromes. All launch vehicles were developed at the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and manufactured at the Yuzhmash Production Association.
"Dipro". The project was based on the conversion use of the 15A18 Satan (SS-18) intercontinental ballistic missile to launch spacecraft into low-earth orbit from the Baikonur cosmodrome and from the Yasny launch base. All missiles were manufactured at Yuzhmash during the Soviet era. The control system was developed by "Khartron".
"Rokot". Project for the conversion use of 25A35 intercontinental ballistic missiles for launching spacecraft into low-earth orbit from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. The developer of the control system is "Khartron".
Launch of Soyuz and Proton carrier rockets. The missiles were equipped with control systems manufactured at the Kommunar Production Association.
Support for the operation of the International Space Station - equipping spacecraft of the Soyuz type (for the crew) and Progress (transport spacecraft) with automatic docking systems and control systems for onboard equipment.
Having severed relations with Russia, Ukraine still cannot find analogues of materials for the manufacture of its own space technology. A significant list of them was supplied from the Russian Federation. In particular, Ukraine does not have the AMG 6 alloy, which is used for carrier rockets. There are no heat-resistant materials (steels) that were used in combustion chambers of engines and were also purchased in Russia. Certain composites required for structures were also purchased from Russia. In particular, this is polytetrafluoroethylene (fluoroplastic 4) - Teflon, titanium alloys.
Why the program might be underfunded
The worst thing is that Ukraine does not have long-term strategic planning for its role in space and outer space in the country's economy. The five-year program does not allow defining a clear strategic vector and long-term state policy in the field of space, experts say.
“The five-year program is medium-term planning. And by the way, the fact that we are adopting the Space Program for five years is a direct reference to the Soviet five-year plans, a legislative requirement that was somewhat transformed, but in general, remains the legacy of the USSR. Almost all the leading countries have already moved away from this practice long ago and have legislation in the space industry in the modern paradigm. Russia abandoned five-year planning of programs in space at the beginning of the 2000s and is engaged in long-term planning for a decade. China still retains five years. But there is one party with the unchanged course, so this does not pose any problem, unlike the Ukrainian realities,” Andriy Kolesnyk told 112ua.tv.
According to him, for the successful functioning of the industry, it is necessary to adopt a whole package of legislative acts. Servants of the People began work on the formation of legislation in the field of outer space. In turbo mode, a number of breakthrough bills were adopted, in particular on the admission of private enterprises to the space sector. But a number of legislative acts, which regulated the participation of private traders, remained in parliament, like most other documents necessary for the development of the space sector.
And this means nothing more than the absence of guarantees that 570 million USD from the budget provided for by the Space Program will be allocated in a timely manner and in full. All previous programs were financed by Ukraine on a leftover basis, at best by 30-40% of the required volume. For this reason, the domestic space industry does not keep pace with the rapidly updated technologies in the face of intense competition from the leading space powers, which are moving forward by leaps and bounds.
An illustrative example of such a lag is the satellite, which is planned to be launched at the end of the year. With occasional funding, Ukraine has been building the Sich-2-30 with an eight-meter resolution for eight years. Now, at the time of its launch, satellites with a similar resolution account for no more than 2% of all information ordered from space.