Roscosmos officials made announcements this week that they would be suspending a joint program with Ukraine to launch Dnepr rockets and were no longer interested in buying Ukrainian Zenit boosters, deepening problems for that embattled nation’s space program and its struggling Yuzhmash factory.
Dneprs are converted SS-18 ballistic missiles that are converted into satellite launchers by Ukraine’s Yuzhmash launch vehicle manufacturer. The boosters are launched by the Moscow-based Moscow-based Kosmotras International Space Company, which is Russian-Ukrainian joint venture.
Russian media report three Dnepr launches scheduled this year will be carried out. However, The Moscow Timesreports the future of the venture remains cloudy. It is possible the program will end, or Russia will convert the missiles to satellite launchers without Ukrainian participation.
Interfax-Ukraine reports that workers at the A.M. Makarov Southern Machine-Building Plant (PA Yuzhmash) in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine held a rally to protest the lack of pay and work.
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 company owes about $150 million in back salaries and other payments, according to the story.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, whose country is responsible for much of Ukraine’s misery, Tweeted the following:
BUDAPEST, Hungary June 4 2014 (SpaceMETA PR) — SpaceMETA (www.spacemeta.com) and Alcantara Cyclone Space (www.alcantaracyclonespace.com) are proud to announce the signature of a MOU – Memorandum of Understanding (MOU No 2014-1-1 SM-ACS) for the launch of the SPACEMETA-LUMEM – Lunar Micro Explore Mission as part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
SpaceMETA, an official team competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE (www.googlelunarxprize.org), a race to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, has just concluded the final phase of the signatures of the MOU with the binational company Alcantara Cyclone Space (ACS) for the launch of SpaceMETA mission. According to the MOU, ACS delivers the SpaceMETA payload, called “SOLITAIRE”, into the basic orbit for subsequent translunar orbit injection using the payload’s own propulsion. The spacecraft, which has been designed in Brazil, will have the capability to detect water-ice thought to be present in regions under the lunar surface.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russian Federation was left with some key installations and capabilities in newly-independent nations. Kazakhstan had authority over the main launch facility at Baikonur, while Ukraine found itself in control of ballistic missile producer Yuzhmash, the Yuzhnoye bureau that designs Yuzhmash’s rockets, and a host of other defense companies.
Today, more than 50 Ukrainian arms factories turn out technologies that are vital for the nation’s tottering economy and the Russian military that now threatens to invade it. The factories are located in the southern and eastern portions of Ukraine, where Moscow-based separatists have wrestled control away from local authorities.
With the fate of these regions and companies still very much up for grabs, the outcome is of concern far beyond eastern Ukraine. Launch providers in the United States, Europe and Brazil are looking on with great concern and trepidation.