Ukraine has a solid foothold in the global space industry and is looking to expand that presence.
Through its Yuzhnoye/Yuzhmash industry flagship, the former Soviet republic is a major supplier of hardware for rockets including the Sea Launch Zenit 3SL, Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares and the Dnepr, a converted ICBM used primarily to launch small satellites. Yuzhnoye/Yuzhmash also is working on the Cyclone 4 rocket, which is slated to begin launching commercial satellites from Brazil’s equatorial Alcantara launch facility in 2015 as part of a joint venture between the Brazilian and Ukrainian governments.
Yuriy Boyko recently led a high-level Ukrainian delegation that traveled to Washington and Houston for space-related discussions with senior U.S. government officials — including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden — and industry representatives. He was accompanied by, among others, Yuriy Alekseyev, head of the Ukrainian space agency.
The primary purpose of the visit, according to Boyko, was to gauge the direction of the U.S. civil space program and explore ways Ukraine might participate. Among the capabilities Ukraine brings to the table, in addition to proven rocket capabilities, is radiation shielding technology developed during the Cold War, Boyko and Alekseyev said.
Ukraine also is shopping its wares to industry. Alekseyev said the RD-861K engine, which was developed for the Cyclone 4’s upper stage and has been fully tested on the ground in Ukraine, might someday be a good fit for Antares.
Boyko spoke with SpaceNews Editor Warren Ferster in between meetings with government officials in Washington.
What is the primary purpose of your visit?
We need to understand the whole policy of NASA because America is the leader of space programs and we want to understand what way our space society will go in the future. And we want to understand the place of Ukraine in this. After that we met with companies who are carrying out these policies in order to understand if it’s possible for us to do business with these companies in order to improve our scientific potential.
Are there any new initiatives or agreements to report?
No, but our dialogue with Mr. Bolden was very positive. We have a framework agreement between the Cabinet of ministers of Ukraine and the government of the United States about our connections in civil space programs. And we are trying to understand the plans of NASA and if it’s possible for us at the government level to be partners in this plan.
Can you give an example of where you see potential?
What I heard from Mr. Bolden that was very interesting was about NASA’s Mars program. It’s a huge and ambitious program for all of mankind. One of the industry representatives at our lunch said such a huge program may be organized by all of the nations with space programs, not only America. We are ready to take our steps toward this program because our specialists have advanced research in radiation protection. This may be an area where Ukraine can contribute its expertise the international consortium that will be behind the NASA Mars effort.
Does Ukraine have any desire to participate in the international space station program?
Of course. We have the desire to be partners on programs which are being realized by NASA. We are realizing several programs I mentioned with American companies, including Antares. We want to continue this.
What are your top priorities in space?
Ukraine is one of the countries that have the full range of space capabilities and it gives us huge potential for being a member of the world space community. Our priority will be to increase our participation international programs. Today huge and ambitious plans for space programs may be realized only by several nations because one nation, no matter how powerful, cannot realize ambitious and difficult projects. So we must be members of this world space society.
How much funding per year is Ukraine allocating to space?
Not so much — it’s approximately between $400 million and $500 million per year. But we have commercial projects that provide much more money for the space industry without government support. Government money is mainly going toward scientific investigations.
How much money is Ukraine drawing annually from its commercial projects such as Sea Launch and Antares?
It’s approximately $600 million per year but that’s not just from America. It’s also connected with Brazil, it’s connected with Russia, so it’s several projects.
How much money is Ukraine allocating per year to the Alcantara launch project with Brazil?
They have a program of approximately $1.5 billion for three years. But it’s both sides — it’s Brazil and Ukraine. So it means that we must put $750 million from our side toward this project.
Your colleague, Mr. Alekseyev, said the program is behind schedule primarily due to weather-related construction delays at Alcantara. Has funding also been an issue?
Today we are bringing new technology and new infrastructure to the project so it became more expensive, but that’s normal. It began in 2006. Since that time the situation changed — it’s more expensive than it was before.
Will the government continue to make this a priority?
Of course. Recently we’ve gotten the decision about government guarantees for the second phase of our financing. So it’s our priority to complete this project because it’s important for Brazil and for us. Brazil is getting a place from which they can send rockets to space and for us it’s a place for newer rockets and newer and newer equipment — it’s one of the dynamic projects for us.
Are you confident of a first launch of the Cyclone 4 from Alcantara in 2015?
We hope that it will be finished by the end of 2014.
Does Ukraine plan to use Alcantara as a launch site for its own scientific projects?
Mainly it will be for commercial projects, but when you have such a huge project with new technologies it will be proposed. But first of all it’s commercial.
There are a lot of commercial launch companies out there. Can you make a business of this given all the competition?
There are many ambitious countries in this region who are ready to pay for this project. Brazil is only the beginning.
So you think other South American countries will flock to this launch site?
I hope so.
There have been some questions about the future availability of the Dnepr rocket. Can you address those?
There were difficult negotiations [with Russia] because there were many technical problems and technical questions, but one rocket was sent to space two months ago and we are continuing this program with another two.
How many more Dnepr rockets are there to be available for future space launches?
Today there are 16.
What is the Ukrainian government prepared to do to ensure a sufficient supply of rocket hardware for the Sea Launch venture?
Sea Launch has sent more than 30 rockets to space and almost all were successful. Of course we consider this program one of the priorities, but it’s a commercial project so it must be viable on its own.
Would the Ukrainian government be willing to offer Sea Launch financial assistance if that’s necessary to keep the company in business?
First of all this is a fully commercial project. The government is out of this process. We must support the companies involved in this project, but I’m not ready to say that the government will pay money to this project because it’s fully separate, it’s profitable and it’s living its own commercial life. But as a government of course we are interested that this project be continued.
You have a fairly diverse portfolio. How much time and effort are you devoting to space-related matters?
It’s not about me — space is a priority for our government. All of the government, including the prime minister, pays attention to the space industry because space draws the most educated people and they raise the scientific and educational levels of several branches of activity.
Ukraine’s space industry is closely intertwined with Russia’s. Do you view Russia mainly as a partner or a competitor in space activity?
First of all we are partners and the accidents which happened in Russia also created pain for our specialists because they’re mainly common projects. We also have competition in our connections but mainly they are partners and we help each other because we have a common history and common specialists as everybody knows from the former Soviet Union. And that’s why we are trying to do business together and we have several good projects and programs.
You also have had some discussions with China. What are the possibilities there?
They have a great interest in big propulsion systems so we’re consulting with them, especially on the larger ballistic capabilities for satellite launchers.