WARSAW, Poland — The day after Russian missiles struck an airport near where Promin Aerospace has been developing a smallsat launcher, the startup’s 11 Dnipro-based engineers came into office. 

During the day, they are working on the Kyiv-headquartered startup’s lightweight solid-fuel rocket. But after hours, Promin employees volunteer to protect their homes and families as territorial defense members and humanitarian aid coordinators.

“The engineering team stays in Dnipro and continues its work on developing a rocket. If we feel any danger for their lives, they will immediately move to the west part of Ukraine. The team from Kyiv has already moved to another city in our country. Also, we try to volunteer as … [it] has become a part of our daily routine,” Volodymyr Kravchuk, the head of communications at Promin Aerospace, told SpaceNews.

Despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has forced local space companies to adapt their activities to the realities of war, Promin plans to hold a suborbital trial launch this November, and a commercial suborbital launch in early 2023, according to Kravchuk. An orbital trial launch is scheduled for 2024, and in mid-2025, Promin Aerospace aims to perform an orbital rocket launch.

Staffers juggle research, defense efforts

With an ongoing armed conflict outside their offices and R&D facilities, Promin Aerospace’s staff in Kyiv and Dnipro have taken up new functions to protect their cities, the communications head said.

Volodymyr Kravchuk, the head of communications at Promin Aerospace, serves in Ukraine’s territorial defense forces. Credit: Promin Aerospace Credit: Promin Aerospace

“Some are strengthening the city defenses; some are helping the Ukrainian army with medicines, ammunition, and food. Our engineering team has decided to continue its technical development work along with additional daily responsibilities to protect their families,” according to Kravchuk.

Among others, Vlady Berezina, the head of the company’s business development, is collecting humanitarian aid, including warm clothes and blankets. Meanwhile, Promin Aerospace’s lawyer Lisa Bordun coordinates aid supplies to Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. 

On his part, Kravchuk takes part in patrols as part of Ukraine’s territorial defense and prevents looting. Not everyone has a firearm, so he says he protects himself with an ordinary ax.

Volodymyr Usov, the co-founder of Ukrainian space industry startup Kurs Orbital and the former head of Ukraine’s space agency, told SpaceNews that major state-run space companies that include spacecraft and components producer Yuzhmash, space technology design office Yuzhnoe, and Kyiv Radio Plant have so far not been damaged by the invaders. This could be because the Kremlin still hopes to acquire control over these high-profile facilities despite Russia’s military setbacks, he said.

Cooperation with foreign partners

Misha Rudominski, the CEO and co-founder of Promin Aerospace, collects products for humanitarian aid. Credit: Promin Aerospace Credit: Promin Aerospace

Co-founded by Ukrainian engineers Misha Rudominski and Vitaliy Yemets, Promin Aerospace closely cooperates with the state-run space industry giants. As part of its international expansion plans, the startup has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Atlantic Spaceport Consortium to carry out a launch from the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean and has prepared a memorandum with the UK’s Spaceport 1 to launch from Scotland.

“Our autophagic rocket engines will enable efficient, cost-friendly suborbital and later orbital launches,” he said, adding that the company’s launch vehicle will weigh 100 kilograms, making it one of the world’s lightest orbital rockets.

The startup’s “new round of investments will be used to expand the team further and develop suborbital rockets. The first step is to re-test the technology by independent contractors such as Yuzhmash to identify possible flaws,” Kravchuk said. 

In the meantime, he says that research and development work continues at Promin Aerospace alongside wartime struggle.

“Our engineering team has decided to continue its technical development work along with additional daily responsibilities to protect their families,” according to Kravchuk.

Jarosław Adamowski is a Warsaw, Poland-based correspondent for SpaceNews. He has written for Defense News, the Guardian, the Independent, the Jerusalem Post, and the Prague Post.