Speeding up ESA’s space projects — why Ukraine is the key

Ukraine has a lot to offer to the European space market — from the cost-effective workforce and trusted technologies up to the funding to the European space agency (surprise!).

These findings come from the report published by Noosphere Ventures, a space industry investment fund founded by space entrepreneur Max Polyakov.

The history of ESA-Ukraine cooperation started in 1999. Since that time, Ukraine has acted as an informal member of ESA, working in close partnership on a number of projects. However, the authors of the report highlighted that such cooperation does not fully provide both sides with all the possible benefits.

Why should European space take a closer look at Ukraine?

The core point one needs to understand — ESA’s space programs were affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine like any other activities that relied on Russian participation. During the IAC 2022 event recently held in Paris, ESA’s Director General Mr. Aschbacher even said that decoupling cooperation with Russia “is something that is not easy”. And one option for replacing Russia in European space projects with the minimum effort and cost for Europe is to build up cooperation with Ukraine.

ESA could engage Ukraine in several missions that were put on hold because of the Russian aggression. One such space program is ExoMars, for which Ukraine could provide a lander technology developed by the Ukrainian Yuzhnoye SDO.

Ukraine’s ambitions to be a part of the European space family are confirmed by the lasting Ukrainian-ESA cooperation. For example, since 2018, Ukraine has been engagez in the Lunar Moon Village Association and has suggested its own Moon Village modules concept. Ukraine also became a subcontractor for Thales Alenia Space (supply of thermal-hydraulic accumulator) in 2021 (SES-17). And while this cooperation appeared fruitful, Ukraine still does not have a fully legitimate ESA member status.

In addition to existing technologies, Ukraine has strong human resources — experienced staff, solid engineering education, and a well-developed scientific community. Unexpectedly for many, the country’s space sector currently employs over 16,000 specialists, which is equal to NASA staff. International space entrepreneur with Ukrainian roots Max Polyakov underlined in his interview to Bloomberg, that Ukraine has significant potential in space industry because of the talented people, who’s brains and passion embedded in Firefly Alpha rocket.

Over 100 transnational giants have R&D centers in Ukraine, including Boeing, which also serves as proof of Ukrainian engineering potential.

From the country’s perspective, the space scene is flourishing now. Just 3 years ago, the Ukrainian government provided permission for private space companies to build launchers, but the sector is already represented by more than 60 space startups ready to introduce their innovations on the international market.

Even before, Ukraine has long played an important role in a couple of global launcher projects, including the European Vega and American Antares. Not so long ago, the German Rocket Factory turned to Ukraine for help in the development of the engine for its launcher. Furthermore, Ukraine is a part of the Artemis Accords and was the 9th country to sign the agreement for a NASA-led lunar exploration and development program that is getting much attention from ESA. NASA’s Blue Ghost moon lander developed by Firefly Aerospace, an American new space company, founded by Max Polyakov, will include engines built by Ukrainian Flight Control.

Another thing that was mentioned during IAC 2022 is ESA’s plan to raise funding for the space program. In this aspect, building up ESA-Ukraine cooperation could be beneficial too. Based on the Noosphere Ventures report, Ukraine can co-finance ESA programs and become one of the top 10 European countries in this regard. Before the full-scale war, Ukraine planned to allocate €151 million for the space sector. And it looks like this figure could be increased in the next few years, as the beginning of the war emphasizes the significant role of the countries’ own space technologies and dual-use technologies in the security sector.

This summer Ukraine obtained EU candidate status. With this, the European community has acknowledged they would like to welcome Ukraine into their family.

And what about the European space family?

Noosphere Venture Partners is known for its investments in Firefly Aerospace in the US, Dragonfly Aerospace in South Africa, and Italian D-Orbit.

Max Polyakov has Ukrainian roots and is known for his support of Ukraine in its war for independence. Since the 90s, Max Polyakov has launched many profitable businesses, such as Maxymiser, Hit Dynamics, Firefly Aerospace, EOS Data Analytics. Now he is focusing on the space industry and philanthropy.