Ukraine’s spacetech community unites in defence of the country

Russia’s invasion has highlighted the innovation, talent – and unity – of Ukraine’s spacetech sector.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has united the space community both within Ukraine and around the world.

From the first days of the war, space organisations have rallied to Ukraine’s side.

The captain of the SpaceX Inspiration 4 crew Jared Isaacman personally brought aid to the Ukrainian military, while satelite images of the movement of Russian troops were provided by Capella. Ukrainians also received Starlink satellite internet reception stations as a gift from Elon Musk – at the request of Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov.

Musk said that SpaceX had reprioritised its work to ensure the cybersecurity of its Starlink stations. Because of this, the company even postponed the planned release of new versions.

As the world watches Ukraine fighting against Russian aggression, Ukrainian companies have had ensure the safety of their employees. To do this, most have switched to remote work formats and flexible schedules.

Several Ukrainian space companies, including both start-ups and large firms, have managed to continue operations, combining their work with volunteering.

Some high-tech companies are opening up new fields of operation to support the military and the population. For example, the mobile application Reface has launched a logistics project called KOLO to supply ammunition to the Ukrainian army. Their engineering team is now working on new software to analyse enemy movements in satellite images.

Spacetech during wartime

Many private and state aerospace companies in Ukraine are developing spacecraft, aircraft, and parts. These include SETS (Space Electric Thruster Systems), Kurs Orbital, Flight Control Propulsion, and the start-ups Orbit Boy, Promin Aerospace, and Elliscope.

The state-owned Pivdenne and Pivdenmash enterprises are developing rocket engines and rockets in collaboration with the Orbital Sciences Corporation and the European Space Agency.

The former head of Ukraine’s State Space Agency and founder of Kurs Orbital Volodymyr Usov stressed that Ukrainian space companies have great potential that will be fully shown after victory over the invaders.

“No one believed that Ukraine could resist the Russian army crossing our borders, but we are doing it. New space start-ups have appeared almost every month, and there will be more,” he said.

The engineering team at start-up Promin Aerospace remains in Ukraine and is continuing its work on developing a rocket. Working remotely, its team also now has added responsibilities for territorial defence and volunteering as part of the daily routine.

“Each of us has had to be flexible for the needs of wartime and to perform new duties to protect our country. Some are strengthening the defence of their cities, some are helping refugees and the armed forces, while others are arranging supplies of medicines, ammunition, and food,” said Misha Rudominsky, CEO and co-founder of Promin Aerospace.

Sanctions against Russia

The Russian invasion has seen a severe and prompt response from the international space community. Several countries have imposed sanctions against Russia, making previously planned international projects impossible.

As such, the launch of OneWeb satellites from the Russian-operated cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan was canceled, the Russian-European Mars mission was suspended, and more than half of all high-tech imports frozen, which will do considerable damage to Russia’s state space programme.

Moreover, Russia has also cut itself off from activities which did not fall under sanctions. Roscosmos, which runs Russia’s space programme, has refused to export RD-181 rocket engines and cooperate on the International Space Station (ISS).

Its withdrawal from international projects is likely to open up more opportunities for other space companies – and some of these might well be Ukrainian.

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