When Russia violated all possible international laws by invading Ukraine in February 2022, the European community quickly responded with severe economic sanctions. This put an end to many joint programs, including collaboration in space. It also means that the European Space Agency (ESA) is now looking for partners that can fully replace Russian technology.
Fortunately for the ESA, there are quality substitutes for Russian rockets and even more alternatives for other spacecraft and equipment. For example, Ukraine, with its internationally-known space entrepreneurs like Max Polyakov, has a lot to offer to the ESA and its partners.
ExoMars Mission: Which Rockets Could Launch the European Rover?
ESA announced the ending of its ExoMars cooperation with Roscosmos on July 13, 2022. The original plan implied that the European-built Mars rover would launch on a Russian Proton rocket. Besides, Russia was supposed to provide some landing and navigational equipment.
As Josef Aschbacher, Director General at the ESA, stated, the decision to sever ties with Russia was difficult but necessary to make sure the European Space Agency stays true to respecting international laws and borders.
Proton was not the only Russian launcher employed by the ESA. Launches of two French satellites for the Galileo navigational constellation were scheduled to happen onboard Soyuz ST-B. Now, all European launches involving the Soyuz rocket series are postponed indefinitely.
Still, it does not mean that the ESA does not have any alternatives to launch its payloads. Two options are already in consideration — Ariane 6 and Vega-C. The first launcher started testing this year, and once there are enough results to analyze, the ESA will decide on contracting this rocket.
Vega-C is an even more probable replacement because all European countries, including Ukraine, are involved in its production cycle. This is fully independent, 100% European tech, meaning there should be no difficulty manufacturing its modules and components. Ukraine, too, is actively engaged in launcher development, and its impressive scientific base, along with previous rocket-building experience, can become a valuable asset for the ESA.
Besides Ukraine has also to offer world-class space entrepreneurs like Max Polyakov. Today, Polyakov has already established a line of successful businesses, and most of his recent enterprises are in the space segment. One company is providing SAR and optical satellite imagery to commercial customers, simplifying the process of Earth monitoring and data analysis in agriculture, forestry, construction, and many other industries. Another enterprise is building rockets and space exploration tech. Next year, we should see the results of the Artemis mission collaboration between NASA and company founded by Max Polyakov. And, while most of Maxym Polyakov’s businesses operate internationally, employing the best talent in the USA and Europe, many engineers work in Ukrainian R&D centers.
ESA Lunar Program Won’t Suffer Without Roscosmos
ESA is working on four lunar missions, too — Lunar Resurs, Heracles, Orion spacecraft, and ISRU. Heracles and Lunar Resurs are scientific initiatives; the first one implies the extraction of lunar soil, while the second one — for studying the surface under it.
Until recently, Roscomos participated in ESA’s Resurs mission. The Russian agency was contracted to provide a lunar landing module, and the engineers were already set to work. More specifically, work on the Luna-25 module began fifty years ago because Roscosmos intended to upgrade a lunar lander design made in the 1970s. The original Soviet development would be equipped with a new navigation system, PILOT, and PROSPECT lunar drill. The lander would also carry a ProSPA chemistry lab and a set of batteries to power the whole assembly.
Ironically, the original lunar landing technology Roscosmos was going to update was designed and developed in today’s Ukraine. And, differently from Russia, the Ukrainian space industry has not stood still in the last fifty years. Its primary hub, Dnipro, still has a strong tech and human resources, so the Ukrainian space capital actually has some 21st-century developments to offer.
Ukraine Space Industry Offers New Technologies
A few years back, the State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) made some updates to its Space Programs, which resulted in numerous new projects and initiatives in modern spacecraft development.
The private space sector in Ukraine is moving forward even quicker. Recently, one Ukrainian company introduced a new kind of ion engine for orbiters and satellites. The main benefit of an ion engine is its low power consumption which also maintains the same efficiency parameters. This, in turn, makes satellites smaller and more lightweight, saving their owners' money.
Further Perspectives for ESA Ukraine cooperation
The Ukrainian space industry already offers some great concepts, but its future potential is even more promising. This potential is not about products per se, but about skilful and determined engineers behind those products. Plus, visionaries like Max Polyakov, an ardent advocate of the New Space concept, already have experience developing projects on an international scale.
Most importantly, the ESA is actively searching for new partners to replace all Russian technologies. As already covered, Ukraine has what it takes not only to match Russian tech but surpass it.
Finally, the path for ESA Ukraine cooperation has already been laid. Since 2014, partnerships have been steadily increasing, and many ESA programs today already involve Ukraine’s government and private companies. Ukrainian private companies work with NASA, too, contributing their share to the Artemis mission. For the ESA, the reasons for working with its close European neighbor are even more obvious because Ukraine can add thousands of quailed experts to ESA’s talent pool.
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