Buried by the coverage of yesterday’s explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral was the somewhat unexpected announcement that Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office is moving rapidly towards establishing a commercial launch operation for its Cyclone 4 rocket in North America.
According to the press release, which is included below, the Cyclone 4 would be capable of placing 3,700 kg into a sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO) for $45 million. In April 2015, Brazil pulled out of a decade long program to establish a South American launch site and marketing arm for the Cyclone 4 at its Alcantara spaceport, seemingly leaving the rocket without a future.
Now however, with a surging demand for satellites placed into the types of orbits for which it can serve, Yuzhnoye may be settling on a new plan which will find its booster able to compete without running into cumbersome and expensive trade barriers.
Yuzhnoye’s manufacturing counterpart, Yuzhmash, currently supplies the first stage core for the Orbital ATK Antares booster, which is also looking forward to a return to flight after a 2014 failure which was traced to its 40 year old Russian engines, and was unrelated to the core itself.
Unlike the keralox / solid Antares however, the Cyclone is a three stage hypergolic fueled booster which traces its heritage back to the Soviet R-36 ICBM. While still used extensively in satellites and spacecraft, hypergolic propellants, which ignite on contact and can be stored at room temperatures, have gradually fallen out of favor due to their highly toxic nature.
The last U.S. orbital launcher to use hypergolic propellants for both upper and lower stages was the Titan family, however the highly reliable and very popular Delta II, for which only two remaining launches are scheduled, also utilizes hypergolics for its second stage.
Ukrainian Cyclone 4 Launch Operations will be Established in North America
The Yuzhnoye Design Office in Dnipro, Ukraine has been authorized by the State Space Agency of Ukraine to proceed with a new international launch complex and operations in North America based on the existing Cyclone 4 rocket.
The search has begun for business and investment partners to develop the launch infrastructure and conduct sales, marketing, and mission management. On site assessments have already been conducted in Canada and the United States for possible launch complex locations.
The all Ukrainian vehicle will offer highly competitive pricing in this launch class along with reliable launch services, and eliminate the need for US customers to seek waivers for the use of other launch service providers. Operating from North America will provide operational convenience with negligible export control issues for customers. Cyclone 4 launch service target pricing will be $45 million USD (all inclusive) for 3700kg payloads to sun synchronous orbit.
Locations in Canada are being considered which would leverage and build upon the close ties between Canada and Ukraine, and would provide much desired economic activity to the municipalities involved. John Isella, US representative of the Yuzhnoye Design Office (Designer of the Cyclone 4) said “Operating Cyclone 4 commercially in North America will be attractive to investors and customers alike. We’re pleased at the prospect of bringing this mature launch system into commercial operation. Cyclone 4 will make a significant positive impact on the business cases of spacecraft constellation operators.”
The Cyclone 4 launch vehicle design is complete and the first flight vehicle manufacturing is nearly complete and will be ready for launch shortly. It’s estimated that with sufficient and timely funding the launch site construction will take 2.5 years since the ground systems are also designed and partially manufactured. Yuzhnoye in Ukraine has been in operation for 62 years and has launched 875 vehicles and built and launched over 400 spacecraft. The Cyclone family of vehicles have launched successfully 221 times.