Ukraine’s 2013 Year in Space Review

Zenit launch from Baikonur

Ukraine had a mixed record in space in 2013. While the Dnepr rocket returned to service with a pair of successful launches after a two-year gap, one of two Zenit boosters ended up in a watery grave after it failed shortly after launch.

Ukrainian companies had better luck as a components supplier. Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares — which boasts a Ukrainian-supplied first stage — racked up two flawless flights. Meanwhile, the European Vega booster made a second successful flight with a Ukrainian fourth stage on board.

Meanwhile, a joint partnership with Brazil to launch the Cylcone-4 rocket from South America made progress even as it suffered additional schedule delays that have pushed back the maiden flight into 2015.

Ukraine’s 2013 Launch Record

Ukraine was directly involved in four rocket launches in 2013 while supplying major components for three others.

Rockets Launched
NumberDateLaunch VehicleLaunch SitePartner(s)Payload(s)Result
102/01/13Zenit 3SLOdyssey platform, Pacific OceanEnergiaIntelsat 27Failure
208/22/13DneprDombarovskRussiaKOMPSAT 5Success
308/31/13Zenit 3SLBBaikonurRussia, KazakhstanAmos 4Success
411/21/13DneprDombarovskyRussiaDubaiSat 2, STSAT 3, SkySat 1 & 29 other payloadsSuccess
Components Supplied
NumberDateLaunch VehicleLaunch SitePartner(s)Payload(s)Result
104/21/13AntaresMARSOrbital Sciences CorporationCygnus Mass Simulator, CubeSatsSuccess
205/06/13VegaKourouEuropeProba-V & VNREDSat 1ASuccess
309/18/13AntaresMARSOrbital Sciences CorporationCygnus 1Success

The year got off to a poor start on Feb. 1 when a Sea Launch Zenit 3SL booster fell into the Pacific Ocean shortly after launch. The accident, which destroyed the Intelsat 27 communications satellite, was blamed on the malfunction of a hydraulic power supply unit in the first stage.

The accident was of major setback for Sea Launch, which is designed to be a commercial venture that can stand on its own without government subsidies. The company, which went through bankruptcy and is now 95 percent owned by the Russian company Energia, needs at least three launches per year to be profitable.

Sea Launch’s flight record makes achieving that goal difficult. The February launch failure was the third in 35 flights for the company. Sea Launch also suffered a partial failure in 2004 when a Zenit upper stage shut down early. The Telstar 18 was able to reach its intended orbit using its own on board propellant.

Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)
Dnepr launch vehicle. (Credit: ISC Kosmotras)

Land Launch had better with a Zenit in 2013. It successfully orbited the Amos 4 satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in August. Land Launch is a perfect six-for-six in launching Zenits on a commercial basis from the Kazahk spaceport.

The Dnepr launch vehicle returned to service in 2013 after a two year gap with a successful launch in August. Dnepr is a joint program with Russia that involves converting decommissioned SS-18 Satan missiles into launch vehicles. The program was suspended while Russia and Ukraine negotiated how to pay for the conversions.

A second Dnepr launch successfully orbited a record 32 satellite in November.  The flight broke a record of 29 satellite launched by an American Minotaur I rocket less than two days earlier.

Dnepr has launched 19 times with one failure. A total of 150 SS-18 missiles are available for conversion to launch vehicles through 2020.

Components Supplier

The Ukrainian company Yuzhnoye SDO scored a major success when the first Antares booster successfully lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia on April 21. The inaugural flight of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s new rocket was followed up by a second flawless launch in September, which sent the first Cygnus freighter to the International Space Station.

Antares lifts off with a Cygnus freighter. (Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)
Antares lifts off with a Cygnus freighter. (Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation)

Yuzhnoye supplies the first stage of Antares, which is based on Zenit technology. The stage is powered by a pair of AJ26 engines left over from the Soviet Union’s manned lunar program of the early 1970’s.

Yuzhnoye also supplies the fourth stage for Europe’s Vega small launch vehicle. Vega made its second flight in May, successfully orbiting a pair of satellites.

Ukraine's Cyclone rocket
Ukraine’s Cyclone rocket

Cyclone-4 Moves Forward

The joint Cyclone 4 program with Brazil moved forward in 2013, with the construction of launch facilities at Brazil’s equatorial Alcantara Launch Center and development of flight hardware in Ukraine. Progress at Alcantara was marred by a work stoppage caused by rainy weather and a funding shortfall.

Officials are now predicting an early 2015 test flight for the launch vehicle, which will be capable of delivery up to 5.3 metric tons (5.84 tons) into low Earth orbit or 1.8 metric tons (1.98 tons) to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The two countries have jointly committed $1.5 million split evenly over a three-year period to complete the project and begin flights. They are hoping to capture a large part of a growing South American satellite launch market.

Ukrainian officials are hoping to convince Orbital Sciences Corporation to use Cyclone 4’s upper stage on its Antares booster. Antares uses upper stages supplied by the American company ATK.

Cooperative Efforts Pursued

Throughout the year, Ukraine made major efforts to deepen cooperation with the United States, Russia, China and other countries. Yuriy Boyko, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for Ecology, Natural Resources, Energy and Space, described these efforts in an interview with Space News. Highlights include:

  • Boyko completed consultations with NASA and U.S. commercial space companies concerning cooperative programs, with the two governments establishing a framework for further cooperation;
  • There are no specific cooperative programs to announce yet between Ukraine and American government and private entities;
  • Ukraine would like to become involved in the International Space Station program;
  • Boyko says that Ukrainian specialists have extensive experience with radiation shielding technology, which could help the United States with human Mars and deep space missions;
  • Ukraine is consulting with China, which is very interested in developing large propulsion systems.

Looking Ahead to 2014

Antares is set to launch its first commercial Cygnus freighter to the International Space Station no earlier than Jan. 7. Two additional Antares launches to the station are scheduled for May and October.

Sea Launch is expected to return to action in April, with a Zenit 3SL set to launch the Eutelsat 3B satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit. Europe is also planning a pair of Vega launches in April and October.