Tag Archives: Ukraine

Russia considers using Ukrainian rocket

For the first time since it annexed Crimea, Russia has opened negotiations with a Ukrainian company to possibly use its Zenit rocket to launch a Russian satellite.

RKK Energia of Korolev, Russia, entered negotiations with KB Yuzhnoe of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, on a potential deal to launch a satellite for Angola on a Ukrainian-built Zenit rocket. Under the proposed plan, the Angosat-1 satellite would ride the last fully assembled Zenit rocket still remaining in Baikonur. The mission is seen by industry insiders as the first step in the resumption of Zenit missions, which if successful, will eventually shift from Baikonur to the Sea Launch ocean-going platform based in Long Beach, California.

The situation here is beyond complicated. Russia remains in many ways in a state of war with Ukraine. Yet, the Sea Launch platform, recently purchased by a Russian airline company, needs the Ukrainian Zenit rocket. It appears that this need is forcing the Russians to once again buy from the Ukraine. At the same time, Sea Launch remains parked in the U.S., and will likely not be available until Sea Launch and Russia settle the lawsuit Boeing has filed against the company. Meanwhile, the Zenit rocket in question however needs refurbishing and was originally built to launch a different satellite, which will have to agree to fly on a different launch vehicle.

Ukraine’s aerospace industry in collapse

The Russian government’s takeover of its entire aerospace industry, plus its war in the Ukraine, has caused an 80% crash in Ukraine’s aerospace industry.

The two largest enterprises are the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and the PA Yuzhmash manufacturing company, which work closely together on Ukrainian launch vehicles. Yuzhmash produces the first stages of the Zenit and Antares boosters and a fourth stage for Europe’s Vega launch vehicle. The company is also involved in the conversion of retired ballistic missiles into Dnepr satellite launchers as part of a joint program with Russia.

However, Russia is phasing out use of the Zenit and Dnepr launchers. Russia is shifting over to using Angara and Soyuz-2.1v, newer rockets the nation produces domestically. Russia is also switching to domestic manufacturers for space components to reduce their dependence on foreign suppliers.

This destruction by Russia of its neighbor’s aerospace industry doesn’t necessarily bode well for Russia’s own aerospace industry. Consolidated as it is into one giant entity, with no competition, it is very likely it will not produce much that is very innovative or creative at a reasonable cost. Russia was better off with the competition.

Roscomos puts the squeeze on Ukraine

Two more stories this week provide additional evidence that Roscosmos, the new Russian government-run space corporation that controls Russia’s entire space industry, intends to eliminate its dependence on any foreign contributions, even if that contribution comes from the former Soviet province of Ukraine.

In the first story, Roscosmos ends the commercial use of the Dnepr anti-ballistic missile, built originally in the Ukraine. In the second story Roscosmos makes it very clear that it will focus on using its Russia-made Angara rocket rather than depend on the Ukrainian Zenit, even though Zenit is what the Roscosmos-owned Sea Launch platform was designed to use and Angara is far from operational.

The main result of these decisions will be the bankrupt many Ukrainian space companies. Whether it will bring more business to Angara, however, remains to be seen. Angara has only had one orbital launch, and has hardly tested its many different configurations. At this stage it is highly unlikely that the commercial customers who have depended on Dnepr and Zenit will flock to it, especially since they now have other competitive options available in the west.

Ukrainian space workers protest lack of pay

Ukrainian space workers rallied this week in protest over lack of pay and work in the past year.

The workers build Zenit and Cyclone-4 boosters as well as the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch vehicle and the fourth stage for Europe’s Vega rocket. They are also involved in Dnepr, a decommissioned ballistic missile that has been converted into a satellite launcher. The report indicates that since last July, employees have been working only three days per week and are pay $200 to $300 only once or twice per month. There’s also been a lack of new orders for their products.

The lack of new orders is mostly because Russia has been putting the squeeze on Ukrainian space businesses. Rather than continuing to use them, Russia has been focusing on replacing them with companies inside Russia.

A Russia/Brazil partnership for Sea Launch?

The competition heats up: Russia is negotiating a partnership with Brazil to operate Sea Launch.

The Sea Launch rocket is built by Ukraine, which presently has hostile relations with Russia, to say the least. The platform, built with Boeing money, is presently docked on the the U.S. west coast, which is also not what Russia wants. Moving it to Brazil and adapting it for use with a Brazilian rocket solves both problems, though the usability of Brazil’s rocket is at this moment quite questionable.

The Russian takeover of Crimea once again threatens American access to space

A decision by the Russians to possibly shift astronaut training back to a base in the Crimea, now under their control, could lock American astronauts from future Soyuz flights.

Shifting the survival training to Russian-occupied Crimea will require foreign cosmonauts to accept travel there without Ukrainian visas, an explicit acquiescence to the new diplomatic status of the province. Refusal to attend survival training is equivalent to failing the training, which by existing training regulations is an automatic disqualification for flight certification. No Crimea trip, no space trip.

The Russians have not yet made this shift official, so it is possible it will not become a problem. However, the article outlines many reasons why it makes good sense for the Russians to do it.

Sea Launch has suspended all operations until 2015

Russian competition cools down: The mostly Russian-owned rocket company Sea Launch has suspended all operations until mid-2015.

I suspect that the Russian government, now in control of almost all Russian aerospace efforts, is not interested in building this company up as the rocket it uses is partly made in Ukraine and is a competitor to Russia’s new Angara rocket. Everything the Russian government has done for the past year has indicated a desire to shut down all cooperative efforts with other countries and focus everything towards all-Russian efforts.

Thus, Sea Launch dies.

Ukraine tensions disrupt more U.S.-Russian science

It appears that several U.S. scientists have been forced to cancel their appearances at science conferences in Russia because of the increased tension between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.

The disruptions seem to be almost random and are not being applied across the board, as the story also notes that many other programs are not being affected at all.

Russia to phase out use of Ukrainian-built Soyuz rockets

As part of a major upgrade of its Soyuz rocket family, Russia is also ending its partnership with Ukraine in building those rockets.

The older Soyuz rockets rely on a Ukrainian control system — a relic of the rocket family’s Soviet heritage that in the aftermath of Russia seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in March looks like a threat to Russia’s space program. The rockets are based on the same core design that launched Sputnik and Yury Gagarin into space at the dawn of the space age. “The Soyuz-U and Soyuz-FG control systems are analog [systems] made in Ukraine,” Alexander Kirilin, CEO of the Progress Rocket and Space Center in the Volga city of Samara told Interfax on Monday.

However, the Soyuz 2 rockets use a Russian-made digital control system. Aside from further moving Russia’s space industry away from its reliance on Ukrainian components, the digital control system allows the rockets to handle a wider variety of payloads — making the tried-and-tested Russian rocket more versatile than ever before.

It is Russia’s plan to complete the transition to the new wholly Russian Soyuz 2 rockets for ISS missions within the next three years.

Russia abandons Sea Launch

Running from competition: The Russian space agency Roskosmos has decided not to spend the money necessary to buy Sea Launch and make it part of its consolidated United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC).

Part of the reason the Russians are abandoning Sea Launch is that the rocket the ocean-going platform uses is the Ukrainian-built Zenit rocket, and Russia wants URSC to a wholly Russian operation. Rather than partner with Ukraine for profit, they will let the business die.

Russia begins its withdrawal from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

With the impending first test launch of its new Angara rocket and the construction of its new spaceport in Vostochny on-going, Russia has begun its withdrawal from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

Zenit-M rocket launching complex will become Kazakhstan’s property on January 1, 2015, Tengrinews correspondent reported from yesterday’s government meeting in the lower chamber of the Parliament. The announcement was made by the Chairman of the National Space Agency KazCosmos Talgat Mussabayev. “We have already approved the list of facilities of Zenit-M launching site that will be excluded from the lease agreement with Russia, and have obtained the technical and administrative documents from Russia that Kazakhstan needs to operate Baiterek complex. Withdrawal of Zenit-M facilities from the Russian lease agreement and their transfer to Kazakhstan is scheduled for January 2015,” Musabayev said.

In order to ensure proper transfer of the facilities and continue their operation afterword, 49 Kazakh experts are undergoing a practical training in maintenance and operation of Zenit-M site facilities. Their training will be completed before the end of the year.

Originally financed and built as an Angara launchpad in a partnership between Russia and Kazakhstan, the Russians backed out, deciding instead to keep Angara launches entirely in Russia at Vostochny while ceasing its participation in the Ukrainian-built Zenit rocket. Moreover, when Angara goes into operation, both the story above as well as this story suggest they will then cease Proton launches at Baikonur as well.

Russia has moved today to exclude access by the U.S. military to any GPS stations in its territory.

Russia has moved today to exclude access by the U.S. military to any GPS stations in its territory.

It appears the Russians have has much empty bluster as the Obama administration. When they first said they were going to block access to these stations, they made it sound like they were going to cut-off all access. Instead we learn that it is only limited to U.S. military authorities. Since the stations are mostly used by scientists for geological research, Russia is therefore not really cutting anyone off from anything.

Reminds me of the Obama administrations sanctions against Russia. A big announcement, but then they exclude everything of importance from the sanctions when it appears those sanctions might actually be irritating to either side.

Obama administration officials from three departments have asked a federal judge to lift her injunction against Lockheed Martin’s use of Russian engines in its Atlas 5 rocket.

Obama administration officials from three departments have asked a federal judge to lift her injunction against Lockheed Martin’s use of Russian engines in its Atlas 5 rocket.

Not much teeth in these sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, is there? They exempt ISS, which is the bulk of NASA’s effort with the Russians. Now they wish to exempt the Atlas 5. Pretty soon I expect them to exempt almost everything else.

Putin and the Russians are certainly watching this story unfold, and will use what happens here to help gauge how much they can get away with in the Ukraine. And based on some fascinating information conveyed by a caller to my appearance last night on the Space Show, the Russians are definitely going to have to grab more of the Ukraine to make their capture of the Crimea stick. Expect that situation to remain very hot for the near future.

I will again be discussing this subject in depth tonight on Coast to Coast with George Noory.

Russia responds to new U.S. sanctions by threatening U.S. astronauts on ISS.

Uh-oh: Russia responds to new U.S. sanctions by threatening U.S. astronauts on ISS.

Moscow reacted with fury to the inclusion in the sanctions of high-tech exports to Russia and threatened reprisals. “If their aim is to deliver a blow to Russia’s rocket-building sector, then by default, they would be exposing their astronauts on the ISS,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said, according to the Interfax news agency.

“Sanctions are always a boomerang which come back and painfully hit those who launched them,” added Rogozin on a visit to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March. [emphasis mine]

Was Rogozin actually hinting that Russia might strand U.S. astronauts on ISS?

ULA has accelerated delivery of its required Russian rocket engines in anticipation of worsening relations with Russia and with members of Congress.

The competition heats up: ULA has accelerated delivery of its required Russian rocket engines in anticipation of worsening relations with Russia and with members of Congress.

ULA presently is the only company the Air Force uses to launch its military satellites, and members of Congress are questioning this monopoly in the context of the situation in the Ukraine as well as SpaceX’s lawsuit challenging it.

According to the deputy head of Russia’s space agency, they are not planning any retaliatory sanctions against NASA.

According to the deputy head of Russia’s space agency, they are not planning any retaliatory sanctions against NASA.

Whew! That’s a relief.

Seriously, I never expected them to do anything, as the sanctions NASA has imposed, excluding ISS, are so minor that they mean nothing to Russia. The only people NASA really hopes will react to these sanctions are Congressmen and Senators when they realize how dependent we are on the Russians to get to space.

NASA’s short statement, in connection to the Obama administration’s decision to suspend all non-ISS related activities with Russia, is almost entirely a demand for more funding for its commercial space program.

NASA’s short statement, in connection to the Obama administration’s decision to suspend all non-ISS related activities with Russia, is almost entirely a demand for more funding for its commercial space program.

To quote:

NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Though I agree with them about accelerating manned commercial space, I can’t help wondering if this suspension of activities was actually instigated to generate this lobbying effort. ISS comprises the bulk of the U.S.’s cooperative effort with Russia, and by exempting that from this suspension the Obama administration essentially exempts practically everything, making the suspension somewhat meaningless.

What the suspension does do, however, is highlight our fragile dependency on Russia, just as Congress begins debate on the 2015 budget.

“What happens if Russia refuses to fly U.S. astronauts?”

“What happens if Russia refuses to fly U.S. astronauts?”

The problem: the situation in the Ukraine. If tension between the U.S. and Russia worsens then Russia might suspend carrying American astronauts to and from ISS.

The fault here belongs with Congress and George Bush, who decided in the 2000s to let the shuttle retire before its replacement was ready. In addition we can blame Congress in the 2010s for forcing NASA to spend billions on the unaffordable Space Launch System rather than focus on getting humans into space cheaply and quickly.

Victory in the Ukraine for its protesting citizenry with the ouster of that country’s corrupt and tyrannical government.

Some good news: Victory in the Ukraine for its protesting citizenry with the ouster of that country’s corrupt and tyrannical government.

The ousted President had won an election under suspicious circumstances, then arrested his opponent and put her in jail, then made numerous deals that brought him enormous wealth. He is now gone, and his opponent is free.

An investigation of the Sea Launch launch failure on February 2 has pinpointed the failure to faulty parts made in the Ukraine.

An investigation of the Sea Launch launch failure on February 2 has pinpointed the failure to faulty parts made in the Ukraine.

The article is interesting in that it seems to reveal some friction between Russia and Ukraine, with the investigators making it a point to blame the Ukrainian components while specifically saying that “there was nothing wrong with the Russian-made equipment.”

Kseniya Simonova – sand art

An evening pause: From Ukraine’s Got Talent, an amazing performance by Kseniya Simonova, telling the story of World War II from the Ukrainian perspective, all with sand. From the youtube webpage:

What she depicts is love and the chaos of war, it is set amidst the turmoil of the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa (Nazi invasion of USSR during World War II) and the impact it had on a Ukrainian couple, the husband is drafted into the Soviet military and never came back home, years later his wife grows old and visits a war memorial to mourn him. The last picture is her younger self and her baby saying farewell to him… with the quote, “You are always with us.”

Russia is considering ending its joint commercial program with the Ukraine and Kazakhstan to launch satellites using its Dnepr rocket.

Russia is considering ending its joint commercial program with the Ukraine and Kazakhstan to launch satellites using its Dnepr rocket.

There are several reasons this decision might happen. One, the Russian government under Putin might now be shifting away from capitalism after two decades of financial success. And if so, that will be to the United States’ advantage. Two, they might have decided that the Dnepr system can’t compete on the market, and it is wiser not to throw good money after bad.

Either way, the abandonment of Dnepr will be bad for Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, and suggests that when the Russians finally get their Vostochny spaceport operational, on their own soil, they will abandon Baikonur in Kazakhstan forever.