On Aug.1, Northrop Grumman’s sleek Antares rocket rose from the rural wetlands of eastern Virginia, propelling into orbit a cargo spacecraft headed to the International Space Station. The launch was smooth, faultless. The rocket’s first stage, assembled in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, separated about three and a half minutes after liftoff and fell into the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean as planned.
The launch success was likely bittersweet for the Ukrainian engineers who built that stage . That’s because the flight was the last for this type of Antares, the 230 series, which contained Ukraine-made components, as well as engines made in Russia.
Volodymyr Usov, a Ukraine-born space entrepreneur and former chairman of the country’s space agency, has no doubt that the collaboration with Northrop Grumman — so precious to the Ukrainians, as it opened the door for them to the West — fell victim to the war waged against them by Russia
The end of the Antares project is just one of the many blows Ukraine’s mighty space industry has sustained since Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
The enormous Yuzhnoye State Design Office and Yuzhmash Machine Building rocket factory in Dnipro, where the Antares first stages were assembled, have been repeatedly targeted by Russian missiles. The exact scale of damage these facilities have sustained is not known, but Usov said the plants, giant state-run establishments from the time when Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, have now mostly switched to building military technology.
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“Dnipro is under attack almost every week, and [the Russians] target critical infrastructure,” Usov told Space.com. “There were several airstrikes on the [Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash] enterprises. There was some damage, but the factories are now working pretty intensively, mostly on military and defense…