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Kyiv Polytechnic Institute launches aerospace technologies program: Would Ukraine get its own Elon Musk?

Author : Olena Holubeva

Institute of Aerospace Technologies was created at the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute
14:02, 13 September 2019

After the unexpected liquidation of the Faculty of Aviation and Space Systems (FASS), the Institute of Aerospace Technologies was created at the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI). This academic year, the university began to train student, covering the specialties of FASS: aviation and rocket and space technology and avionics. The new institution would use modern approaches to education, and all the negative phenomena that caused FASS students to drop it without completing a diploma have been eliminated, KPI representatives assure. Even if they fulfill this promise, the demand for graduates with aerospace specialties in Ukraine will depend on whether the Ukrainian authorities can implement the declared large-scale projects in the aircraft industry and defense complex, experts say. If this does not happen, the new Institute risks either withering away, or it will become a forge of personnel for technical departments of Boeing, Airbus, and also companies from third world countries that are now actively developing rocket -cosmic direction.

NASA

Labs assignments on floppy disks

The news that KPI has liquidated Faculty of Aviation and Space Systems (FASS) last year, which trained specialists for the rocket and space industry in Ukraine, caused a huge public outcry.

At the same time, the university assures that the FASS is not liquidated, but reformed. Students of rocket and space technology and avionics departments continued their studies at the Mechanical Engineering Institute (part of the university), and metrology and information-measuring equipment department – at the Faculty of Instrumentation.

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This year, the first student enrollment took place at the Institute of Aerospace Technologies, created at the initiative of KPI rector, Academician Mykhailo Zgurovsky. “I want to emphasize: IAT (Institute of Aerospace Technologies) was not revived but created,” said Professor Ivan Korobko, director of the new Institute, in an interview with 112.ua. The university conducted a set of students in the field of aviation and rocket and space technology and avionics and also accepted students studying at FASS and MMI (Mechanical Engineering Institute). Metrology remained part of the Instrument Engineering Faculty.

Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute

Many dropped out of the university, as they were promised to study prestigious majors for the aerospace field, without even reaching the fourth year of the bachelor’s program. Most of the students were outraged that in fact, the FASS used the old programs, unclaimed in the modern world.

Even several years ago, students were required to submit their laboratory assignments on floppy disks or CDs, the department refused to obtain them on memory sticks or by e-mail. A former FASS student wrote in one of the private student forums: “Only some of the KPI teaching staff might tech is something useful. Actually, why should I attend Java lectures if I am an Android developer? It would be a waste of time." A former student writes that, in protest against the approaches prevailing at the faculty, some students, in response to teachers' demands to submit works on discs, handed them over with home video instead of the assignments.

Modern education and prestigious employment

“Ukraine needs to strengthen the training of specialists for the aerospace industry. The Institute of Aerospace Technologies will provide training in the field of aviation, rocket and space technology and avionics. For the first time, the Department of Space Engineering is being created on the basis of the institute, which will exclusively develop the rocket and space technologies direction. A specialty in aviation and rocket and space technology is launching a pilot project for some foreigners. As part of it, their study will be carried out exclusively in English," Ivan Korobko said.

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According to the professor, the new Institute will be updated related to information technology, programming, and automation of discipline. The teaching staff has also been updated; almost 80% of them speak English. Korobko also assured that electronic textbooks will be involved, and the work can be handed over on a memory stick or sent by e-mail. The goal is for a bachelor's program graduate to reach b2 level in English, as well as obtain skills in design and modeling.

Strong English skills are a prerequisite for education (in the aerospace direction) to be practically applicable, Yevgen Rokytsky, head of the board of the Dnipro space cluster, assures: “When preparing specialists in the aerospace field, training should be integrated into the process of creating aviation and space technology. Students should be pretty tech-savvy not only in theory but also take part in innovative projects, including the creation of aeronautical instruments, satellites. That is why the universities should establish cooperation in the relevant regional clusters."

Korobko states that the practical implementation of the knowledge gained by students will be carried out. According to him, in cooperation with the “Association Noosphere” Public Association, “Space and Technologies” Research Center with a dual education system is being created. "Our students have already designed an unmanned aircraft, which was developed from scratch, including avionics. It is currently undergoing pre-flight training at the airfield. Our graduate student is completing work on the solar-powered long-range aircraft. Students create robotic systems, quadrocopters, rockets," he said. Korobko notes that the IAT has modern engineering circles, in which schoolchildren study together with students.

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The professor said that with the participation of masters, the Institute of Aerospace Technologies will implement a training program for specialists with Firefly Aerospase LLC, under which graduate students will be able to get a dual education: study at the institute in the morning, and work at the enterprise in the evening, receiving a salary to cover the housing. Given the fact that the Firefly Aerospace manufacturing enterprise is located in Dnipro, the KPI signed an agreement with the physicist of the Dnipro University, where students would study according to agreed curricula. This year will be the first year of work with Firefly Aerospace. Until recently, the KPI has been practicing the dual education system with the Boeing supplier by the Ukrainian company Progresstech-Ukraine.

Negotiations on a similar project are now underway with Airbus: “I can’t disclose you any details yet. We know that helicopters are being purchased now and that Airbus wants to create a technical base for servicing this project in Ukraine,” Korobko said.

In July 2018, Ukraine and France signed a contract for the purchase of 55 Airbus Helicopters for the Ukrainian state aviation safety and security system. The agreement provides for the purchase of H125, H145, and H225 helicopters from Airbus for 555 million euros. “There is a serious question concerning the negotiations between the Institute of Aerospace Technologies and Airbus on cooperation in the framework of the dual education project. KPI might face a dilemma of further cooperation with them by stop working with Boeing, or continue to cooperate with Boeing," Rokytsky noted.

Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute

Antonov State Company (Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing and services company) also plans to establish a training center on the basis of the new Institute. Korobko states that there would be negotiations about the dual education project for IAT and MMI Masters with Antonov State Company.

Related: Perspectives of Ukraine's space sector

Perspectives of the work

Unlike the prestigious Airbus and Boeing, working at Antonov is unlikely to be highly demanded among young specialists. As reported, in the absence of serial orders (the last Antonov plane was handed over to customers in 2015), the enterprise is losing specialists, including engineering personnel. At the end of 2018, Antonov lost about 200 engineering and technical personnel and the same number of working specialties employees. Some of them went to work in the Czech Republic and Poland. Another part got a job at the Ukrainian Artem, Luch, and Progresstech-Ukraine enterprises, where salaries are higher (up to 800 USD), taking into account the increased needs of the defense complex.

Currently, there are almost 1 thousand vacancies at the enterprise. The average salary at Antonov is 600 USD.

As for Firefly Aerospace, then, according to experts, this enterprise will have prospects if it implements the declared large-scale projects in space and rocket sphere. Maksym Polyakov, the founder of the company, is known for implementing projects in the IT field; he began to work in space only four years ago. “The prospects for Firefly Aerospace for the next few years are rather vague. The company announced the launch of its rocket in the USA in 2019, now the deadlines have been adjusted for 2020. I have met with Max Polyakov once, and the companies he created were known for educational projects in the fields of IT, remote sensing and rocket science. At the same time, a practically implemented project in the field of rocket and space technologies is only the recent launch of a student rocket at a test site in the Dnipropetrovsk region," Rokytsky notes.

Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute

The head of the board of the Dnipro Space Cluster stressed that the prospects of graduates of the new aerospace institute, as well as other specialized universities, will depend on the development of Ukraine’s space industry. And in this sense, it is important whether the state decides to allow private companies to take part in space projects (building rockets, exporting satellites), which, of course, will give a strong impetus to entering powerful companies in the industry and attracting investments. Recently, a draft law was introduced in the parliament “On Amending Certain Laws of Ukraine regarding the Promotion of the Development of Space Activities and Attraction of Investments in the Space Industry of Ukraine”, which opens up access to space for private companies. The draft law was prepared by a group of MPs from the Servant of the People factions. All previous initiatives were previously rejected, and activities related to the testing, production, and operation of launch vehicles and dual-use satellites are a state monopoly.

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It is also important how the defense complex develops in Ukraine since graduates of the Institute would be able to realize their knowledge in the teams of the defense industry enterprises. "If there are no systemic changes in the country in these areas, Ukrainian specialists will move abroad: they would be demanded by many countries, including the third world countries, which, unlike Ukraine, are actively developing the space sector and the rocket industry," Rokytsky notes.

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