Ukrainian space officials soon will begin bilateral talks with NASA on possible cooperation in civil space exploration, including lightweight radiation-shielding and a possible liquid-fuel upper stage for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares launch vehicle.

On the heels of the successful demonstration flight of Antares, with its Ukrainian-built first stage, the Eastern European nation is pursuing cooperation with Russia, China and any other countries interested in buying its advanced space hardware, according to Ukrainian space officials visiting the U.S. this week.

Eager to push the commercialization of its Soviet-heritage space industry, Ukraine's national space policy calls for development of an upgrade of its venerable Cyclone launcher; a family of new kerosene-fueled rockets designated Mayak; scientific research in space across the spectrum of disciplines; and expansion of “the presence of Ukrainian enterprises on the global space market.”

“Ukraine is one of several countries that has a full aerospace cycle,” says Vice Prime Minister Yuriy Boyko, whose portfolio includes space exploration. “We are ready to make rockets from the beginning to the end, and to send these rockets to space fully using our equipment, using our technologies, using our mechanisms, and that's why we have more than 50 international projects.”

At the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing last month, Ukrainian officials unveiled Alcantara Cyclone Space, their new joint commercial launch services operation with Brazil (AW&ST Sept. 16, p. 50). Yuri Alexseyev, chairman of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, says work on preparations to loft a new variant of the country's Cyclone launch vehicle —designated Cyclone 4—from the Alcantara launch facility on Brazil's north coast is behind schedule, largely because of heavy rains. But work on the new rocket, with a new restartable upper stage powered by a “military grade” hydrazine engine, is proceeding apace at the state-owned Yuzhnoye Design Bureau. Ground tests of the new stage are expected before year's end, Alexseyev said here last week.

Boyko and the Ukrainian space agency chief met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in Washington, and were scheduled to visit Johnson Space Center in Houston. Bolden and the Ukrainians agreed to form a bilateral working group to look for possible areas of cooperation and report back during an international space exploration forum in January.

One possible Ukrainian contribution to future deep-space human exploration is in composite materials impregnated with heavy metals that provide the same protection from radiation as conventional shielding three times heavier, Alexseyev noted.

Accompanied by Olexander Motsyk, Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., the two space officials also met with representatives of Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences Corp. to discuss possible commercial ventures. Yuzhnoye and its manufacturing arm Yuzhmash, which produced the Soviet Union's heavy SS-18 nuclear-tipped ICBM, developed and built the first-stage hardware for Orbital's Antares, which the U.S. company will use to fulfill a $1.9 billion, eight-flight NASA contract delivering cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) with its unmanned Cygnus logistics vehicle.

Boyko says Ukraine is ready to supply crewmembers to the ISS, and to participate in other ways. It has also made preliminary studies of using the new upper stage for the Cyclone 4 on Antares. Powered by the RD-861K engine, the new stage would improve the accuracy of Antares payload placement over the ATK-supplied solid-fuel upper stage that will be used on the ISS contract, Alexseyev explained.

Yuzhnoye is at work on a kerosene-fueled launch vehicle called Mayak that it hopes to market to other nations interested in a “clean” launcher as opposed to those using toxic hypergolic propellants. Variants of the Mayak would include a heavy-lifter that was showcased at the MAKS air show near Moscow earlier this year. It would be comparable to the 70-ton initial capability of the planned U.S. Space Launch System.

Ukraine also is holding cooperation talks with Russia and China. Boyko says both nations are interested in joint heavy-lift rocket-development efforts with their former partner.

“People forget that the Chinese space program was based on Soviet technologies,” says Alexseyev, a rocket engineer and veteran of Cold War ICBM work at Yuzhmash who played a key role in forming the Sea Launch and Land Launch international joint ventures that use Ukraine's Zenit rocket to orbit commercial satellites.

Despite Ukraine's roots as a high-tech Soviet republic during the space race, it now believes the future lies in global cooperation with all comers, especially the U.S., says Boyko. “We need to understand NASA policy, because America is Number 1 in this issue,” he explains. “America is the leader of space programs, and we want to understand what way our space society will go. We want to understand the place of Ukraine in this situation.”