The chairman of Ukraine’s space agency, Yuri Radchenko. said last week his nation is seeking membership in the European Space Agency (ESA).
“Today, we held talks with the Head of the European Space Agency on this matter,” he explained. “The strategy and the tactics on the matter have been worked out. It is required to fulfill a number of conditions to become a member of the European Space Agency.”
He said the membership could be secured within “a reasonable” timeframe.
ESA Director General Jan Dietrich Woerner said that formal talks with Ukraine about membership had not begun yet.
“We have several countries asking for being a member of European Space Agency. To become a member is a rather complicated issue,” Woerner said, adding that the process has not been started for Ukraine. “I think it our necessity as humans on earth to cooperate worldwide. But concerning Ukraine, I cannot give you any answer at this time.”
ESA has 22 full member nations and Canada as an associate member. The space agency also has signed formal agreements to cooperate at various levels with 10 other nations.
ESA has a three-step process for nations to become full members. Ukraine took the first step in 2008 when it signed a cooperation agreement with ESA that allowed for limited collaboration with a low funding level on Ukraine’s part.
Ukraine and ESA have not progressed to the second step, which is a European Cooperating State (ECS) agreement. Ukraine’s financial commitment would increase, but it would be lower than that of a member state. Ukraine would be able to participate in almost all ESA programs, and Ukrainian companies would be eligible to bid on procurement contracts.
The third step is the Plan For European Cooperating State (PECS). This five-year program would be aimed at improving Ukraine’s space industry.
At the end of the PECS agreement, Ukraine could begin negotiations for full membership or sign another PECS agreement.
A focus on obtaining ESA membership makes sense given turmoil that has engulfed Ukraine’s space sector. Ukraine has a considerable space industrial base left over from the Soviet Union. However, in recent years, the industry has been under strain due to tensions with Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of eastern Ukraine.
Russia has ended a joint program under which Soviet-era ballistic missiles were converted into the Dnepr satellite launch vehicles. Russia has also said it is no longer interested in purchasing Zenit boosters, which is one of Ukraine’s major space products.