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Ukraine plans to join the EU. Will the nation's space prospects expand as a result?

The first stage of Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket, seen here launching a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Feb. 19, 2022, is built by the storied Ukrainian aerospace manufacturer Yuzhmash.
The first stage of Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket, seen here launching a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Feb. 19, 2022, is built by the storied Ukrainian aerospace manufacturer Yuzhmash. (Image credit: NASA Wallops/Allison Stancil)

Olga Ozhogina is a freelance space reporter. She contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights via the press center at Promin Aerospace, a Ukrainian rocket startup. 

On Feb. 28, on the fourth day of Ukraine's fight against the Russian invader, Ukraine submitted its application for European Union (EU) membership with a special expedited procedure. The application was accepted and has entered the process of consideration.

This does not mean immediate or rapid accession, but the process has been reduced three- or fourfold. Other countries have undergone this process over an eight- to 10-year period, but Ukraine will be able to join the EU much faster if all conditions are met.

When Ukraine can join the EU, this achievement will open up prospects for cooperation in all spheres of politics and business at the highest level. This holds tremendous potential for the development of the Ukrainian space industry.

As members of the EU, Ukrainians will have the chance to receive grant funding for space projects. European companies will be able to hire Ukrainian workers without bureaucratic obstacles and vice versa, and conduct joint training.

Ukraine has a rich legacy of space infrastructure and technology dating back to Soviet times, but in the last 10 years, more than 30 Ukrainian space startups have appeared. However, the average age of Ukraine's leading space industry luminaries is over 50 years old. Thus, the country is focused on educating new specialists in the space industry.

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Ukraine's accession to the European Space Agency

Ukraine began its gradual EU integration in 2014 when it signed its Association Agreement with the bloc.

Implementing the terms of the Association Agreement improved business conditions for the Ukrainian space industry. Space entrepreneurship started moving toward the private sector, and young startups appeared on the scene.

The Association Agreement, designed until 2022, was created to expand Ukrainian cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Volodymyr Taftay, the head of Ukraine's State Space Agency, is also convinced that Ukraine can enter ESA. Thus, this past autumn, the State Space Agency presented its plans to make Ukraine's accession a reality.

"We have a roadmap for accession and are working closely with the European Space Agency," Taftay said.

Ukraine is a part of the Artemis Accords, a NASA-led lunar exploration and development program that is getting much attention from ESA. Ukraine's participation in the program will allow it to help develop technologies that can be used to create a lunar settlement.

Related: NASA's Artemis moon-exploration program (reference)

Volodymyr Taftay, head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine.

Volodymyr Taftay, head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine. (Image credit: Promin Aerospace)

What are Ukrainian space companies bringing to the world?

Ukrainian space production plays a crucial role in the world market. Since 1950, when the state manufacturing enterprises Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash were founded, Ukraine has been an important manufacturer of launch vehicles, rocket engines and space equipment.

Yuzhmash is producing the first stage for the American Antares rocket and the engines for Europe's Vega rocket. The company also will build the Cyclone-4M launch vehicle to be operated from a spaceport in Canada.

In August 2021, Yuzhmash sent to the United States a dimensional docking model of the first stage of the Beta rocket by Firefly Aerospace. In January, Ukraine deployed a satellite called Sich-2-30. Seven more Ukrainian satellites are planned for launch over the next five years, one of which was developed by students at the Ihor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

The European Space Agency has also shown interest in a membraneless electric imager produced by Yuzhnoye. This device will be helpful in lunar expeditions.

A number of new private space companies appeared in Ukraine between 2015 and 2021, including SETS (Space Electric Thruster Systems), Promin Aerospace (opens in new tab), Elliscope, Flight Control Propulsion and Orbit Boy.

Founded in 2016, SETS develops electric rocket propulsion systems and spacecraft subsystems. In 2018, the company received the Quality Label for Horizon 2020. Promin Aerospace is developing an ultralight launch vehicle to launch nano and pico satellites into orbit, while Flight Control Propulsion is developing rocket engines and other high-tech rocket equipment.

Misha Rudominski, co-founder and CEO of Ukraine-based Promin Aerospace.

Misha Rudominski, co-founder and CEO of Ukraine-based Promin Aerospace. (Image credit: Promin Aerospace)

These companies are based in Ukraine's space capital of Dnipro. It has long been a significant humanitarian nexus for refugees fleeing from Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine. This has become even more the case since Russia launched its new invasion. Employees of many local space companies are helping collect aid for the population and the Ukrainian army to help defeat the Russian aggressor.

"Ukrainian space companies are not just continuing their work; they are also helping the country and the population by fulfilling their civic duty. After our victory, this powerful potential will be fully realized," said Misha Rudominski, co-founder and CEO of Promin Aerospace.

He is confident that if Ukraine successfully joins the European Union, companies like Yuzhmash, the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and private Ukrainian space companies will receive orders from ESA. 

"We will become full-fledged players in the European aerospace market," Rudominski said. "Ukrainian expertise outmatches that of the European[s] in such domains as rocket technologies and subsystems. Like space systems, we compete with them on the same level in some domains. In yet other domains, we are weaker. But this is typical, as each country in Europe already has its focus and specializations."

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Olga Ozhogina
Olga Ozhogina

Olga Ozhogina is a Ukrainian space reporter, journalist and photojournalist. She studied avionics at the National Aviation University in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and journalism at Dnipro National University in Dnipro, the nation's famous "Space City." She brings considerable technical knowledge to her space coverage and has a broad range of experience across multiple platforms in news media.