More details about Soyuz anomaly during launch of Glonass-M

Recent problems which appeared during last launch performed from Plesetsk cosmodrome were related with last stage of Soyuz-2.1B.

Anomaly appeared during mission of Soyuz-2.1B/Glonass-M which started on May 29, 2016 at 08:45 GMT from Plesetsk cosmodrome. Mission was planned as part of modernization program of Russian GLONASS (Globalnaya Navigationnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema-Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System) navigation system by adding new generation M satellites to replace first generation of Glonass satellites which are base of system since 1982. Lifted satellite started its lasting 7 years mission after correct separation from Fregat-M upper stage performed on May 29, 2016 at 12:16 GMT.

Just after launch TASS news agency stated that Fregat-M upper stage performed longer burn then it was originally planned. It was confirmed that problems appeared in third stage of Soyuz; RD-0124 engine worked for a shorter period of time, but Fregat upper stage, thanks to its propulsion and load of 5600 kg N204/UDMH propellant, was able to operate its propulsion for prolonged time and deliver Glonass-M to designated parking orbit. On June 2, 2016 it was unveiled that according some sources engine in third stage stopped its RD-0124 engine 5 seconds before planned moment (burn time for third stage of Soyuz is 270 seconds). It caused malfunction alert in Fregat-M upper stage and in consequence necessity of recalculating flight parameters by Fregat-M onboard computer. Fregat-M extended its burn time of S5.92 engine to 150% to compensate insufficient speed achieved by third stage of Soyuz. It was possible mainly due the advanced construction of Fregat-M. It is equipped with independent guidance, navigation, attitude control, tracking and telemetry systems which are monitoring flight parameters in real time. After spotting that any parameter is not correct, flight computer recalculates parameters (like thrust in this case) to help in reaching correct orbit.

Sources:
http://novosti-kosmonavtiki.ru/

GEO-IT-2 launched !

Today from Plesetsk cosmodrome Roscosmos launched geodetic military satellite GEO-IT-2 (GRAU 14F31) on atop of Rokot with Briz-KM, after two years of delay.

Mission was originally postponed from 2014 and finally it was put into flight schedule for 2016. After multiple delays launch was set for June 4, 2016 from Eurockot Pad 3 in Launch Complex 133 in Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Main objective of the mission was delivering GEO-IT-2 12L to circular orbit with following parameters: 1000 km × 1000 km orbit with inclination at 99.4°. It is second satellite from GEO-IT-2 series after first 11L launched on 2011 and 13L planned for 2017.

T-0 was set for 14:00 GMT (17:00 Moscow time) and punctually Rockot launch vehicle operated by Russian-German joint venture Eurockot Launch Services started to rise over Pad 3 in Plesetsk cosmodrome LC-133. First stage separated at T+2’16” and rocket was continuing flight to northwest direction. Rocket jettisoned payload fairing after over three minutes of flight on altitude of 120 km. After T+5’30” second stage separated and Briz-KM upper stage started its engines on altitude of 240 km. It is worth to mention that second stage of Rockot containing N2o4/UDMH fall into waters of Baffin Bay, east of Ellesmere Island, in exclusive Canadian economic zone (it continuously meets with the opposition of people living in this region, who are afraid of toxic hydrazine remaining in tanks of second stage of Rockot to contaminate region). On Northern Canada Briz-KM started its elliptical orbit to reach apogee over Indian Ocean and after engine firing it deployed satellite at 15:55 GMT on 1000 km x 1000 km circular orbit.

Geo-IK-2 12L is geodetic satellite for measuring altitude with high precision (that is why it was placed on circular orbit). Using special altimeter it will measure distance from ocean surface to give precision image of the shape of Earth. Altimeter (“Sadko”) was made by Thales Alenia Space basing on Poseidon-2 device used for Jason-1 satellite. As additional payload, GEO-IT-2 was also equipped with time synchronizer, laser retroreflector, transmitter with antenna operating on Ka band and navigation receivers based on GPS and GLONASS. In spite of civilian purpose, precision data on Earth surface could help in improving accuracy of nuclear warheads in ICBMs for Russian armed forces. Satellite was built by ISS Reshetnev and weighs 1400 kg; it is powered with two deployable solar arrays with onboard battery. It is utilizing 3 axis stabilization system and according some sources it is partially based on Uragan satellite bus.

Rockot light rocket was designed in Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center as a modification of existing ICBM missile UR-100N (SS-19 Stiletto). First flight was performed on 20 November 1990 from Baikonur cosmodrome. Rockot is able to lift on 200 km orbit almost 2 metric tons of payload (1950 kg accurately). It weighs 107000 kg with length of 29 m and diameter at 2.5 m. General design is based on two stages and upper stage which are utilizing toxic N2O4/UDMH. First stage is powered with 3 RD-0233 and 1 RD-0234 engines with thrust at 2080 kN. Propulsion of the second stage is based on two engines: RD-0235 and RD-0236 with total thrust at 255.76 kN. Third stage is Briz-KM which is powered by one S5.98M engine providing thrust at 19.6 kN.

Commercial history of Rockot started in 1995 when Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center established company with DaimlerBenz Space for introducing Rockot into commercial market under Eurockot Launch Services Company. Eurockot shares were divided by Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and DaimlerBenz Aerospace which decided to buy from Russian army 45 UR-100N missiles for further modifications by Khrunichev. In 2000 shares from DaimlerBenz Space were acquired by EADS Astrium (51% of shares at the moment) which became main partner of Khrunichev (49% of shares). Rockot was launched under Eurockot Launch Services in its first commercial mission on 16 May 2000 from Plesetsk cosmodrome with two SimSat satellites.

Sources:
http://tass.ru/kosmos/3339741

Strength of the consequence – Luxembourg sets $223 million to space mining

After announcing on February 3, 2016, by Vice Prime Minister of Luxembourg Etienne Schneider, that Luxembourg is going to change their law to promote space mining and exploration, it was clear that Government would like to participate with commercial companies under public-private partnership. After four months later we can see that authorities of Luxembourg are highly determined to establish in their country center of the space commercial exploration in Europe.

On Friday, June 3, 2016, it was announced that authorities of Luxembourg set $223 million to special fund which will support initiatives and projects helpful in space mining. It is quite historical moment for Europe – after changing law on space exploration and mining for more commercial friendly in USA on November 2015, Luxembourg became first country in European Union which does the same. It should not be surprising that Luxembourg would like to actively participate in space mining ventures and this is not possible without commercial companies. To make first steps in commercial space resources exploration easier and create impression that authorities are seriously interested in public-private partnership Etienne Schneider, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, assured on press conference:

“We have a first budget to get started but if we need more money, we will be able to provide it,”

It is clear that Government understands how important is research and development in space industry – potential partners like Deep Space Industries, SpaceX and Planetary Resources mentioned on February by Etienne Schneider surely would like to participate in R&D fund and start cooperation with Luxembourg under such conditions.

Initiative by Luxembourg government should be considered as new chance for economy and increasing technology potential. In future Etienne Schneider would like to see Luxembourg as one of the key countries in world’s space industry:

“Luxembourg’s aims is to be in the top 10 space faring nations in the world,”

Since February, when Luxembourg government announced that is able to reimburse up to 45% costs of future investments in space mining, it is next step in presenting attractive financial offer for potential investors. With $223 million, friendly law and own space industry like SES, Luxembourg is probably one of the most interesting place in Europe for potential investors.

On picture above: Artist’s vision of space mining mission.

Sources:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-luxembourg-space-mining-idUSKCN0YP22H

EDRS in action – leading laser data relay system tested again by ESA !

European Data Relay System reached first truly milestone on way of its development – first pictures were transmitted from Copernicus satellite.

On 1 June 2016 ESA informed about transmission via European Data Relay System (EDRS). It was performed using Eutelsat-9B satellite to transmit to ground control station images taken by Sentinel-1A satellite operating under ESA Copernicus program.

Sentinel-1A was launched on 2014 on atop of Soyuz-2.1a from Guiana Space Center. As part of the Sentinel-1 series of satellites, its main objective is providing imaging services with C band synthetic aperture radar (SAR). Satellite was based on Prima bus and manufactured under contract signed in by Thales Alenia Space and ESA. Sentinel-1A was also used to perform one of previous tests of EDRS in November 2014 using laser communication equipment installed on Inmarsat-4A F4 satellite.

Result of recently performed test was unveiled on June 1, 2016. It covered transmission of two pictures taken by Sentinel-1A over La Reunion Island; images were taken in high resolution mode and with wide swath mode for both detailed and wide angle pictures. Imaging data were transmitted from Sentinel-1A during flight performed with speed at 28000 km/h to EDRS-A node which remained on GEO orbit. Laser beam used for data transmission achieved high efficiency-speed of transmission was at 600 Mbit/s (laser is able to work with even better data transmission speed, up to 1.8 Gbit/s to provide transmission of 50 TB of data for 24 hours). Distance between Sentinel-1A and EDRS terminal on Eutelsat-9B was 35000 km; process was performed automatically. It is worth to remind that Sentinel-1A remains on orbit with altitude of 693 km and inclination at 98.18° and Eutelsat-9B, launched on 29 January 2016,was placed on GEO orbit (9°E Eutelsat slot) with altitude at 35800 km with inclination at 0.1°. Data from Eutelsat-9B were received by German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen and next they were sent to ESA for further analysis and post processing which is necessary to transform RAW data into pictures.

European Data Relay System is developed by ESA independent relay data system operating in real time for satellites, spacecraft, UAVs which are not able to connect with ground control stations directly due the long distance. System is not requiring any regulations of frequency; there is no problem with jamming and system is resistant for Sun influence. EDRS is part of the ARTS (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) program which is joint public-private partnership of ESA, DLR and Airbus Defense and Space. EDRS will provide highly efficient, secure and fast communication with laser beam between satellites or any other vehicles and Ka band transmitters which will communicate with ground stations after receiving data transmitted with laser. First transmission using EDRS was performed between German Terrasar-X satellite and American NFIRE satellite on 21 February 2008. Both spacecrafts were equipped with laser terminals made by German company TESAT, which is prime contractor for EDRS. During first test achieved speed of transmission for 5000 km distance was 5.6 Gbit/s. Second test performed between LEO and GEO satellites was performed on November 2014. Sentinel-1A (Copernicus satellite) transmitted image for 36000 km with TESAT laser terminals to Alphasat satellite; both spacecrafts were equipped with Laser Communication Terminal (LCT) of second generation. Next Alphasat retransmitted image to ground station with on Ka band with radio transmitter.

TESAT laser emitting and receiving terminals were funded by ESA and DLR. Program was developed under public-private partnership with participation of ESA and Airbus Defense and Space. Necessary ground stations were funded by ESA; launch service provider and system integrator will be Airbus Defense and Space, which will become owner of EDRS in future (it is planned for 2030); ESA will still remain main customer, but system will be also offered commercially. Next planned launch of EDRS-B node is planned for 2017. It will be EDRS-C on SmallGEO platform by OHB Systems AG along with HYLAS-3 telecommunication payload.

On picture above: laser communication device attached to International Space Station.

Sources:
http://www.esa.int/For_Media/Press_Releases/Europe_s_SpaceDataHighway_relays_first_Sentinel-1_images_via_laser

Antares after static test-Orbital ATK prepares for resuming flights

On May 31, 2016, first stage of Orbital ATK Antares rocket passed static fire test of first stage. Test was performed in NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

This was first time for Antares to visit Wallops Island in Virginia since disaster on 28 October 2014. Rocket was delivered to Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad 0A which is placed in the south part of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility after it was rolled out from NASA’s on May 12, 2016. Planned for May 31, 2016, was part of preparing before planned for July 2016 launch of Antares with enhanced version of Cygnus spacecraft under CRS program.

Main objective of performed on 31 May 2016 test was tryout of first stage with new propulsion, which are RD-181 engines made by Russian Energomash factory. Test started at 21:30 GMT on Pad 0A and lasted for 30 seconds. Along with propulsion examination, engineers from Orbital ATK were able to perform trials of avionics, thrust vector control and general functionality of the first stage. Full power tests gave also possibility of testing part of the procedures which are used during launch: propellant loading, launch countdown, igniting of the engines or shut down procedure. Multiple systems of the Pad 0A were also tested including water deluge system (similar to Niagara in Cape Canaveral AFS), fueling system or supporting tower. Engine performance and rocket structure initially seemed to be correct, but data gathered from various sensors will be analyzed by Orbital ATK specialists before Antares readiness for launch will be confirmed. According to Orbital ATK General Manager Mike Pinkston:

“Early indications show the upgraded propulsion system, core stage and launch complex all worked together as planned,”

In fact if Antares will manage to pass full power test, Orbital ATK will be able to start preparing before OA-5 mission in July.

Antares rocket is medium sized launch vehicle (able to deliver 6120 kg to LEO in previous version) and largest rocket in Orbital ATK fleet comparing Pegasus, Taurus and Minotaur launch vehicles. It was designed in the cooperation with Yuzhnoye Design Bureau; first test flight was performed on 21 April 2013. Propulsion of the Antares was modified by Yuzhnoye Design Bureau two NK-33 post-Soviet engines manufactured in late seventies. First stage was powered by two engines which were able to provide thrust at 3265 kN. Second stage was designed by Orbital ATK with one in-house Castor-30 engine with thrust up to 293.4 kN. Antares in basic configuration was 40.5 m long with diameter at 3.9 m and mass at 240000kg. First stage was liquid fueled with RP-1/LOX, second stage was solid fueled with HTPB (12815 kg of propellant). New version marked as “200” will use double Energomash RD-181 engine with thrust at 3700 kN in the first stage combined with enlarged second stage. During OA-5 mission Orbital ATK will use “230” configuration based on first stage with two RD-181 and  Castor-30XL solid fueled (HTPB) second stage with max thrust at 395 kN. Rocket in 230 configuration is longer comparing to Antares 100 (41.9 m) with unchanged diameter of 3.9 m. Launch mass is 298000 kg. Antares 230 is able to lift to GTO orbit 2700 kg, to LEO payload capacity is 7000 kg.

On picture above: first stage of Antares 230 on 12 May 2016.

Sources:
https://www.orbitalatk.com/news-room/release.asp?prid=155

Expedition 48-49 postponed to 7th July 2016

Unexpected issues with Soyuz-MS caused postponing launch of Soyuz-MS which should delivered members of Expedition 48-49 to ISS on 24th June 2016. 

It seems that Astronauts Kathleen Rubins (NASA-first spaceflight), Takuya Onishi (JAXA-first spaceflight) and cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin (Roscosmos-second spaceflight) will start their space mission on International Space Station two weeks later. It was not unveiled if launch delay will effect on mission duration, originally planned to last until November 2016. All three members of crew already finished their training in Star City in Russia on 27 May 2016. It is planned that Astronauts Kathleen Rubins, Takuya Onishi (JAXA-first spaceflight) and Anatoli Ivanishin will start their flight preparations in Baikonur on 24th June 2016. Launch of the Soyuz-MS on atop of Soyuz-FG was rescheduled for 7th July 2016 but it is possible that it will be postponed further, even to 17th July 2016.

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On picture above: Kathleen Rubins, Anatoli Ivanishin,  Takuya Onishi.

According to Russian media delay is caused by problems with Soyuz-MS. It is new version of Soyuz spacecraft designed and manufactured by RKK Energia. It is successor of Soyuz-TMA; flight with members of Expedition 48-49 onboard was planned as maiden flight of MS version. Problems were announced on June 1, 2016 and were confirmed by source close to Russian space industry. According to TASS, Soyuz-MS could create threat for ISS after docking. New control system could cause rolling of the docked Soyuz-MS without possibility of stopping this movement from International Space Station, crew remaining inside Soyuz or ground control center. It is obviously that it would be danger for crew inside Soyuz and ISS – rolling spacecraft could easily destroy docking port or effect of stability of flight of ISS. Experts in RKK Energia are working on problem but still reasons of potential anomaly are not known – it could be assumed that new docking system and modified KURS docking navigation system is possible source of anomaly.

Comparing to previous versions of Soyuz, MS version offers multiple improvements. New more efficient solar arrays were installed along with new docking systems (including KURS docking navigation system). Energia decided to modify onboard computer for digital computer (instead analog Argon-16) TsVM-101 , which is lighter and smaller; MBITS telemetry transferring system is increasing safety during docking if ground stations are out of range (it relays telemetry data using satellites). GLONASS/GPS/COSPAS-SARSAT navigation and rescue systems provide more accurate data for recovering after landing.

Sources:
http://tass.ru/en/science/879543

Flocks in space – 16 Cubesats starts space mission from Kibo module

Tonight International Space Station crew will finish deploying 16 Flock Cubesat satellites from Kibo module.

After inflating BEAM module on Saturday and monitoring air pressure and possible leaks inside new module, crew of ISS started this week with deploying fleet of 16 Cubesat satellites. Since Monday 30 May, 2016, crew members are deploying Flock nanosatellites belonging to Planet Labs. After deployment performed tonight, constellation of Planet Labs nanosatellites will increase again for number of satellites – last deployment of Flock satellites took place on 16, 17 and 18 May 2016. Satellites for both deployments were delivered by Cygnus spacecrafts: first twelve inside of Cygnus CRS-4 (launched on 6 December 2015) and additional twenty inside Cygnus CRS-6 (launched on 23 March 2016).

Flock satellites were designed and are operated by Planet Labs Company which is providing imaging services for customers around the globe. They are imaging spacecrafts with weight at 5 kg and equipped with high resolution imaging device: telescope combined with CCD camera with Bayer-mask filter installed. CCD resolution is 11 MP or 29 MP in most recent version of Flock what gives imaging resolution from 3 m to 5 m. Satellites are 3U sized and their operational life after deployment from ISS is around 12 months.

Deployment of Flock satellites was performed from Japanese Kibo module using Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) and JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD). JEMRMS is 10 m long robotic arm attached to part of Kibo called Pressurized Module.  It was designed to perform service actions on pressurized part of Kibo (ELM-PS); it is controlled from console installed inside Kibo. In spite of main arm, another smaller arm with 2 m long is attached to perform more precise actions. J-SSOD is special deploying device designed for deploying Cubesat satellites in 1U, 2U and 3U sizes to elliptical orbit with altitude of 380 km x 420 km and inclination at 51.6°; orbit altitude depending on altitude reached of ISS. Deploying procedure starts when satellites are delivered to ISS inside supply spacecraft; Cubesats are delivered preinstalled in Nanoracks Deployer. It is installed on Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) manually by crew and next it is attached to JEM Slide Table inside the Kibo’s airlock. Next step is depressurizing airlock and moving MPEP with Satellite Install Cases outside; they are grabbed by JEMRMS at transferred to deploying point. MPEP is set to be faced to the direction of nadir-aft at 45° to the opposite side of the flight direction. Last step is releasing satellites with spring mechanism which puts them for safe distance from ISS.

 

Sources:
https://blogs.nasa.gov/

“FEDERATION” scheduled for 2025 to the first Moon mission

New Russian spacecraft “Federation” will probably start regular manned missions from 2025.

According to TASS news agency Roscosmos is planning to start regular flights to Moon orbit from 2025 with new “Federation” spacecraft. “Federation” is under development since 2008, when Russia cancelled participation in joint project of new spacecraft with ESA. New spacecraft will replace in service Soyuz space vehicles, which has been utilized for last 49 years (present version of Soyuz, Soyuz TMA, has its origins in Soyuz 7K-OK version which started service in 1967). On May 28, 2016, TASS announced that Roscosmos seriously considers intensification of Moon exploration; quoted anonymous source from TsNIImash (Central Research Institute of Machine Building managed by Roscosmos -main research and certification organization in Russia focused on developing rocket and spacecrafts) stated that missions will cover flyover the Moon and landing on Moon surface. “Federation” will also fly to Earth-Moon libration points (there are five libration points between Earth and Moon where spacecraft could easily remain in stable flight without risk of being pulled by Moon or Earth gravitation). Same source also confirmed that “Federation” will be under tests in Vostochny cosmodrome with first scheduled unmanned flights already on 2021. First manned test mission is planned for 2023 from Vostochny along with one unmanned mission-both performed with Angara-A5.  According to Source, four flights on atop of Angara-A5 are necessary to finish test phase of the “Federation”, what gives reason to assume that 2024 is possible date for the first official maiden mission of “Federation” to International Space Station. Only one year after, on 2025, Roscosmos is planning first two flights to the Moon. It is very ambitious program, especially if we take under consideration that Roscosmos is also planning unmanned robotic missions to Moon under Luna-Avtomat program in 2019-2024 (with announced in 2015 landing of Luna-25 on South Pole of the Moon). It is hard to predict if Roscosmos will manage to carry on with two expensive programs, not to mention about continuing development of Angara-A5 (which next flight is planned for the end of 2016) which will also stretched budget. On December 2015 Igor Komarov claimed that Moon and Mars are ultimate goals for Roscosmos but first flight around the Moon with utilization of new heavy launch vehicle (what clearly points to Angara-A5 and “Federation”) will be postponed to second half of the next decade:

“The flight around the Moon with the use of heavy-class carrier rockets has been postponed from 2025, as previously planned, beyond the period covered by the program,”

These words were referring to new draft Federal Space Program which in December 2015 still pointed that Moon flight is possible after 2025. Now it seems that Roscosmos is increasing pace and put first flight around the Moon to 2025. Same situation appears with number of flights required for finishing tests of “Federation” and Angara. On November 2015 TASS claimed that at least six flights are necessary what was in clearly opposition to statement by chief of the Energia Rocket and Space Corporation (RKK Energia) Vladimir Solntsev who claimed that four launches are enough. Roscosmos would like to perform Moon flight in 2025 and on May 13, 2016, it was unveiled that date for next launch of Angara will be probably set for December. It is clear sign that Moon is now main goal for Roscosmos and probably it will be so for the next years.

On picture above: Mir and Moon in the background – past and the future of Roscosmos.

More:
http://tass.ru/en/science/846562
http://tass.ru/en/science/840321
http://tass.ru/en/science/878732

Problems with Soyuz during launch of Glonass-M unveiled !

It seems that even most reliable rocket can be affected with “bad day” syndrome.

According to TASS news agency during last launch of Soyuz-2.1B, which took place on May 29, 2016, some kind of problems appeared before separation of Fregat-M upper stage with the rocket. Due the unspecified anomaly, Fregat-M upper stage was forced to exceed burn time to reduce effect of the problems which appeared in previous phase of flight. Similar situation appeared during last launch of Atlas V with Cygnus OA-6 on atop on March 23, 2016; Centaur upper stage was keeping its propulsion working for prolonged time to overtake insufficient burn time of first stage of the rocket. During Soyuz-2.1B/Glonass-M launch performed from Plesetsk cosmodrome, first three stages (or one of the stages) of the rocket were not able to provide enough thrust to reach designated orbit for Fregat-M. Upper stage started its S5.92 engine to provide 19.85 kN of thrust and with extended burn time helped Glonass-M in reaching correct orbit. It was not unveiled how big was difference between ordinary burn time of S5.92 engine comparing to ordinary flight. This anomaly not direct threat for mission mainly thanks to Fregat-M features: ability for performing up to 25 burns,  propellant capacity of 5600 kg (Fregat-M has increased fuel reserve from 5250 kg to 5600 kg comparing to previous Fregat version), independent guidance, navigation, attitude control, tracking and telemetry systems. TASS claims that special State Commission already started investigation on anomaly. In spite of problems during flight, Glonass-M reached its orbit and is operating correctly.

Fregat-M was designed and is manufactured by NPO Lavochkin. Its dry mass is 980 kg with height at 1.5 m and diameter of 3.358 m. Around fuselage fuel tanks are attached, each tank has installed on the top two additional smaller tanks. Single S5.92 engine is fueled with 5600 kg of N2o4/UDMH and gives 19.85 kN of thrust; 3- axis stabilization is using twelve additional thrusters. Main engine can be used with two to thrust levels: 13.96 kN/6.85 MPa chamber pressure and 20.01 kN with chamber pressure at 9.8 MPa.

Sources:
http://tass.ru/kosmos/3323715

Made in Ukraine – proposition for replacement of RD-180 from SSAU

Is it possible that Ukrainian space industry, which recently passed through rough time and was strongly affected with economic crisis, will beat Russian competitor on American market?

Millions of USD granted for research and development to American companies surely will finally resolve lack of American rocket engine with comparable parameters to RD-180. But what is better motivation for increasing effort than little competition ?

During recent visit of representatives of Ukrainian authorities in USA on 23-27 May 2016, Ukrainian side proposed to combine efforts of American and Ukrainian space industry to develop new rocket engine able to replace RD-180 manufactured by Russian NPO Energomash. To better understand sense of this proposition, it should be reminded that RD-180 engines are currently used in Atlas V rocket for lifting military satellites in USA along with NASA and commercial payloads. Due the tensions with Russia after Crimean crisis, authorities of USA decided to set ban for Russian engines. It resulted in multiple problems in signed contracts between ULA and Department of Defense, main public customer of ULA. United Launch Alliance was ultimately allowed to import limited number of RD-180 engines (18 engines will be necessary to complete all signed contracts in following years) to finish signed contracts but situation became pretty hard mainly due the lack of American made engine, which could replace RD-180. New engine, which is already under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR1 engine), will be ready not earlier then on 2019, while BE-4 engine developed by Blue Origin (with static fire tests planned for the end of 2016 and considered as main propulsion for new ULA Vulcan rocket) will be probably ready 16 months earlier. It means that next two years DoD will count on Russian engines and in case of any delay with AR1, BE-4 or Vulcan this time could easily extend. Even in case when both engines will be ready on time, it should not be surprising that creating another opportunity will bring economic benefits for DoD. Cooperation with Ukraine could result in low cost engine significantly cheaper than BE-4 or AR1. It should not be surprising that proposition of Ukraine was taken under consideration and according to TASS news agency will be disputed during further negotiations already on November 2016 in Kiev. Chief of the Ukrainian space agency SSAU, Lyubomyr Sabadosh confirmed this proposition in interview given to UNIAN news agency:

“We have proposes using our capabilities for implementing a joint design solution for the production of a liquid propellant engine, which is currently purchased in the Russian Federation. Our partners have an understanding that it’s quite a complicated task, but we can cope with it, and the discussion will take place at the level of professional experts,”

For Ukrainian space industry it will be unique chance to leave crisis behind and enter to the American market. Their space industry, which was during years of USSR most modern, was put in the front of catastrophe during recent two years. Crisis on Eastern Ukraine and Crimea was beginning of the end of cooperation with Roscosmos, which was main source of money for Ukrainian space industry. End of the joint programs like Sea Launch (sea platform launching Ukrainian Zenit rockets), cancelling Russian participation in Dnepr rocket (which was offered commercially during recent years by ISC Kosmotras) along with cancelling Tsyklon-4 program by Brazilian partners, left main space industry company on Ukraine,  Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, without any customers. In the beginning of the 2015 situation in State Design Bureau Yuzhnoye and cooperating facilities like State Enterprise Production Association Yuzniy Machine Building Plant or Scientific and Production Enterprise Khartron-ARKOS (not to mention about smaller subcontractors) was extremely bad. Salaries were reduced and factories operated only for three days in week. To keep Yuzhnoye facility operating Ukraine was even forced to seek money in foreign loans in International Monetary Fund. Starting cooperation with American companies would be chance for new investments and restructuration. Implementing new technologies and modern managing rules into experienced design offices on Ukraine could result in many interesting possibilities. Combining it with much lower labor cost in Ukraine, it is more than possible to manufacture new generation rocket engines in Ukraine with lower cost that NPO Energomash is offering to ULA their RD-180. It could be clear sign that DoD would like to avoid relying on one source of engines, but also is targeting in every possibility of cost reduction. It is extremely important from point of view of DoD, if we take under consideration that number of launches contracted for Department of Defense is still increasing and economical sense of reducing costs of rocket engines is crucial for providing constant and low cost access to space for DoD in future years.

On picture above: RD-180 in action.

Sources:
http://tass.ru/en/science/879021
http://www.reuters.com/article/ukraine-crisis-debt-commercial-idUSL8N15Q54R
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-space-russia-idUSKCN0X600H