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The Ukrainian space industry’s prospects

The successful launch of an upgraded American rocket Antares has confirmed the unique potential of our designers
20 October, 2016 - 11:25
REUTERS photo

An upgraded Antares rocket, using Ukrainian components, was successfully launched in the US. According to the Public Relations Center of the State Enterprise Yangel Pivdenne Design Bureau (DB), a cargo spacecraft was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) at 2:46 a.m. Kyiv time on October 18 from the Wallops Island Spaceport in Virginia. The Antares launcher put into an Earth orbit a Cygnus cargo spacecraft. It will deliver 2,425 kilograms of cargo, including supplies, food, and scientific equipment to the ISS, and remove waste from the station. This is the first launch of the rocket’s latest modification, called Antares 230.

The previous modification of the rocket was withdrawn from use after an accident happened on October 28, 2014. Experts found that the accident stemmed from malfunctioning of the AJ26 engines (a modification of the Russian NK-33 engine). Following that, Orbital ATK Inc. decided to replace the main engine of the first stage. After the tender, the new version of Antares’s first stage was re-engined with the RD-181 Russian-made oxygen-kerosene engines (the export version of the RD-191 engines), which are produced by NPO Energomash. Fire tests for the upgraded first stage of the Antares launcher were successfully carried out at the Center for Space Flight at Wallops Island on June 1, 2016. To make it happen, Ukrainian rocket engineers resolved a unique problem by adapting a new engine to a rocket which had been designed for a completely different engine, and they did it in the shortest possible time and with a possible minimum of modifications to their product. Pivdenne and its suppliers coped successfully with that difficult technical problem.

Pivdenne reports that after getting into the orbit, the Cygnus spacecraft will make a flight maneuver moving it from a low parking orbit to the ISS orbit in order to dock with the station. After completion of its mission, the Cygnus will fire up its engines for an entry maneuver which will bring it into the dense layers of the atmosphere and allow it to safely self-destroy over the Pacific Ocean. For Orbital ATK, it is the sixth cargo delivery mission to the ISS to be successfully carried out by the company under a contract with NASA. Five more launches are planned between now and the end of 2018, while six more are slated between 2019 and 2024. The primary designer of the Antares launch vehicle is Orbital Science Corporation. The first-stage structure was designed by Pivdenne’s engineers and is produced by Yuzhmash in cooperation with Ukrainian enterprises Hartron-Arkos (Kharkiv), Kyivprylad (Kyiv), Hartron-Ucom (Zaporizhia), Chezara, and Rapid (both from Chernihiv).

Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Hroisman congratulated Ukrainian designers on the success. “Congratulations to Dnipro colleagues. This night, the Antares spacecraft, its first stage Ukrainian-made, successfully delivered cargo to the ISS,” he tweeted. Ambassador of Ukraine to the US Valerii Chalyi declared that the launch of the Antares rocket with components of Ukrainian origin testified to deepening relations between the US and Ukraine in the field of space exploration. He also believes that Ukraine needs to enter the market sectors in the industry which are being vacated by Russia. He stated this at the Wallops Island Spaceport where he was present for the launch. “It really is a landmark event. Obviously, space launches crown the major work done by our Pivdenne DB and Yuzhmash plant as well as the Americans, so, of course, it is a special day,” the Ukrainian ambassador noted. He stressed that cooperation between the US and Ukraine in the field of space exploration was deepening. “What we can do is to enter for real the market sectors which are now being vacated by Russia for some reason,” Chalyi remarked. He explained that the circumstances worked that way, in particular, as a result of the sanctions against Russia. According to the diplomat, in order to move in this direction, Ukraine should not only offer the political support, which has actually already been done, but also to provide adequate funding and get production running. “Past year, acting on the instructions of the president and the minister of foreign affairs, we have done a lot to resolve all the political issues relating to the development of space cooperation. The remaining issues have to do with our producers and project financing,” Chalyi noted. According to him, the space program should be a priority for the Ukrainian government, including in terms of resource allocation. “It is also associated with the military-technical cooperation,” the ambassador said. He believes that the US market “is very interesting, and it offers a huge potential for cooperation with the US.” Responding to a question about the opportunities for Ukrainian astronauts to participate in American projects, the diplomat said that the work on this continued. “I think that we will take certain steps to get such an application filed. But such flights are booked in advance for many years, and, frankly, it is not possible next month or next year. But we are working on it,” the Ukrainian ambassador to the US summed up.

Earlier, the management of Pivdenne DB discussed with the Americans possible areas of cooperation. For example, the designers are developing a new rocket engine which is labeled RD-815 and has thrust of 250 tons. It can replace the Russian engines. “Performance-wise, it is not inferior to foreign analogues, such as the Russian-made RD-191, while a ring made of four RD-815 engines offers better performance than the Russian RD-171,” head of Pivdenne’s Public Relations Center Anatolii Karmanov said. According to him, the new engine will be produced at Yuzhmash plant in Dnipro. All design work and testing should be completed by 2019.

By Vadym RYZHKOV, The Day, Dnipro