Ukraine mulls domestic launch site

A leading Ukrainian rocket developer has published plans for a space port on the country's Black Sea coast, which could give the former Soviet republic a fully independent access to space for the first time.

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In February 2019, the KB Yuzhnoe design bureau based in Dnipro, Ukraine, disclosed plans for a launch site on Ukrainian territory to host a newly proposed light-weight rocket dubbed Tsyklon-1M (Cyclone-1M). The small launch vehicle appeared to feature two stages with a single engine on the first stage. If ever built, it could compete on the emerging market of smallest commercial satellite launches, primarily targeting near-polar orbits, which allow global coverage of the Earth's surface.

This is likely the first known plan for Ukraine to build a spaceport on its own territory. In nearly three decades since its independence, the lack of a launch facility seriously hampered indigenous space efforts in the country, despite a great deal of experience and technological heritage surviving from the Soviet period. In the intervening years, KB Yuzhnoe operated as a major contractor in the Russian, American and European space programs.

The proposed Ukrainian site would be located in the rural area on the northern coast of Black Sea in the Mykolaiv (Nikolaev) Region of Ukraine at 46.36 degrees North latitude, 32.03 degrees East longitude. (During the Cold War, the same region hosted Soviet ballistic missiles.) The particular location also happens to be in the delta of the Dnipro (Dnepr) River, providing a direct water route to Yuzhnoe's production plant, perhaps as an alternative to ground transportation across a landmass notorious for its bad roads.

The orbital ascent trajectory envisioned for the spaceport, would take the rocket south across the Black Sea and after overflying Turkey, it would allow a splashdown of the first stage in the Mediterranean Sea, east of Cyprus, around 1,300 kilometers downrange from the launch site. The fragments of the payload fairing would follow shortly thereafter, also falling into the Mediterranean north of Egypt, around 1,500 kilometers downrange.

The second stage and its payload could be inserted into a polar orbit and they would reappear over the Ukrainian territory after one revolution around the planet.

The ground track was apparently designed to cross the shore of Asia Minor east of the Bosphorus Straits and then continue over the mountainous regions of Turkey to avoid the densely populated areas around Istanbul. However, a possibility of an accident with the rocket at a certain point of ascent would still leave some chance of debris falling on the Turkish landmass. Therefore, some sort of political agreement between governments in Kiev and Ankara would be required to settle overflight rights for successful missions and to provide compensations in case of an accident.

In the past few years, KB Yuzhnoe advertised plans to build a launch site in Canada for the heavier Tsyklon-4M rocket, but the development of that new launcher and its launch site has been continuously delayed due to financial and technical problems. In February 2019, KB Yuzhnoe promised to break ground at the Canadian site at the end of the year. The two proposed sites can theoretically co-exist, because they will host rockets in different weight categories, but the developers of both vehicles will have to overcome considerable financial and technical challenges.

A previous attempt to develop a launch site for the Ukrainian Tsyklon-4 rocket in Brazil was abandoned around 2015 due to political problems.


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The article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: April 23, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: March 1, 2019

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A concept of the light-weight Tsyklon-1M rocket as of February 2019. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe


Launch pad, processing complex and fueling facility proposed for the Mykolaiv launch site in the spring of 2019. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe