08:59 GMT +322 January 2019
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    Russia and Ukraine: joining forces in space or going their separate ways?

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    MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) Space cooperation between Russia and Ukraine is one of the key aspects of the two countries' bilateral relations.

    It runs along common scientific and technological lines and is based on close production links established back in the Soviet era, when space rockets were first developed and operated.

    The scientific, design and production schools of the two countries, set up in the second half of the last century by many outstanding names in rocketry and aerospace, are closely interconnected.

    Sergei Korolyov and Valentin Glushko were born in Ukraine, but spent practically all their careers in Russia. On the other hand, Mikhail Yangel and Vladimir Utkin were born in Russia, but most of their achievements are associated with Ukrainian design and production organizations. Yangel, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the founder of Ukrainian rocket building, came to head OKB-586 (today the Dnepropetrovsk State Design Bureau Yuzhnoye) when it was formed in 1954 and remained its unchallenged leader and chief designer for 17 years until his death. Utkin, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, succeeded him as chief designer. Tasked with developing combat missiles, they purposefully took their teams from one product to another more advanced one: from their first design, the land-based R-12 missile, to modifications of the still unsurpassed RS-20 strategic intercontinental missile, better known as the Satan (SS-18), which was fired from an underground silo. Combat missiles developed at Yuzhnoye have given rise to launch vehicles still used to orbit spacecraft, including some as part of international programs.

    It is interesting to note that more than 900 plants and enterprises, over 700 of them in Russia, contributed to the development of the Zenit rocket system, which is undoubtedly Yuzhnoye's most distinctive achievement.

    Its first-stage engine was developed under Glushko's direction at the Energomash Research and Production Association in Khimki outside Moscow; its control system, at the Moscow Research and Production Center of Automatic Devices and Instrument Making under Nikolai Pilyugin, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The engine is still considered the world's best in its class. The control system places spacecraft in preset orbits with pinpoint accuracy. (Glushko once joked that if a stick were fitted out with his engine and Pilyugin's control system, it would reach the Moon). A ground-based launch system developed at the Moscow Design Bureau of Transport Engineering ensures that the Zenit can be prepared and launched fully automatically, in the unassisted mode. This feature, an unassisted launch, is the reason this environmentally clean vehicle was chosen for one of the largest international space projects at the turn of the century - Sea Launch.

    Another reason why the Zenit makes up the core of the project is that it is fitted out with an advanced booster (actually, a third stage) developed at the Korolyov Energia Rocket and Space Corporation. Between March 1999 and now, 22 successful launches have taken place under the Sea Launch program, including four in 2006. Soon, upgraded Zenits will lift off from the Baikonur space center as part of a joint Russian-Ukrainian project. All in all, Ukraine, with the help of its Russian partners, has developed seven types of launch vehicles (from the Cosmos to the Zenit), which have orbited over 1,100 spacecraft.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian side, in addition to maintaining its traditional ties with the Ukrainian space industry, also sought to broaden them. Ukrainian firms remained full-fledged participants in the preparation and launching of Russian spacecraft, and bore full responsibility for the parts they installed. The Ukrainian side is interested in active cooperation no less than Russia. Zenit rockets manufactured by Yuzhmash have 72% of their components delivered from Russia. Moreover, Ukraine lacks its own space center, and practically all rockets and spaceware made in the country must be launched with Russian participation.

    Still, a measure of disunity between the two countries' space industries could not be avoided. Sudden independence upset years of production cooperation between the plants, which found themselves on the opposite sides of the border. Experts believe that the curtailment and freezing of joint projects is costing the Ukrainian side tens of millions of dollars annually. There is now little if any demand for products made in Ukraine. There are also financial problems with government orders. In other words, the only past source of financing is gone.

    It would be wrong, however, to say that the Ukrainian leadership has not tried to improve things. It drew up and implemented several national space programs. The optimal sharing of even meager funds has helped most of the industry survive. This came about thanks to the direct support given to the Ukrainian space industry by a former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, through personal arrangements with Vladimir Putin, including liberalization of customs rules for countertrade deliveries by space equipment manufacturers.

    But bad practices are pervasive, and so are the views supporting them. Following the Orange revolution, the new Ukrainian leadership promoted "European values" not only in politics but also in economics. This fate also befell the space industry, which was told to seek cooperation with Western companies.

    The issue, however, is not what Ukraine wants to get from cooperation with the Western powers, but what it can give them. And it has nothing to give: Ukraine, unlike China or India, lacks a full-fledged space industry, and the emergence of one in the next few years is unrealistic because there are just no resources for it. Ukraine is in a position to pursue a more or less credible space effort only in cooperation with Russia. Some progress has already been reported.

    In the summer of 2006, Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos), and Yury Alekseyev, the general director of the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NKAU), signed an agreement on Russian-Ukrainian cooperation in the exploration and utilization of space in 2007-2011. It provides for the modernization of launch facilities, rendering launch services, conducting fundamental and applied space research, and much else. Ukraine is a participant in the Russian Koronas-Photon project, which wants to find links between solar activity and physical and chemical processes in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

    A number of Ukrainian plants are developing instruments and ground equipment for Russian astrophysical observatories of the Spektr series. One of the projects is to upgrade the RT-70 antenna in Evpatoria. Close cooperation is expected in the early forecasting of earthquakes from space. The Ukrainian program, "Ionosats," is intended to study the ionosphere's responses to all kinds of seismic effects. In its philosophy it is close to the Russian Kampas, Vulkan and Arina projects.

    Another advantageous area of cooperation is the Chibis automatic micro-satellite platform and experiments aboard the International Space Station, or more precisely, on its Russian segment. Serious efforts in this direction were started back in 1999-2000 and continue to this day. In recent years Russia has come to play a markedly greater role in the ISS project and this will affect the extent of Ukrainian participation in the station's activities. It is not unlikely that a Ukrainian cosmonaut researcher will carry out joint experiments on the station. Oleg Fyodorov, head of space programs at NKAU, said that although Ukraine has no cosmonaut team of its own, it has young scientists who in the late 1990s were screened and participated in an American shuttle flight, and are ready to go aloft again.

    Russian-Ukrainian space cooperation could gain a lot from Ukraine joining the common economic space. The pluses are obvious for both countries and the move would not infringe on the sovereignty of either Ukraine or Russia. Nevertheless, so far the Ukrainian leadership is still considering the question, wanting to make "carefully weighed decisions."

    Yury Zaitsev is an analyst with the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute.

    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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