News about innovations in the space industry appears almost every day. Although most of them are born in the United States, a country with a high level of technology and access to resources, Ukrainian engineers also try to keep up. In November 2021, the Space Hub incubator team led by Maxim Tkachenko presented a project for a nuclear reactor that will be used to recharge lunar rovers. Compact charging bases will increase the mobility of vehicles and open up new opportunities for space exploration. The project has great potential for both the company and space in general. So, we decided to learn more about the Space Hub team and its goals.
How Did Space Hub Start?
The founder of the incubator began working with engineering projects back in 2010, and over time, single ideas were united under one roof. In 2015, Tkachenko’s small team analyzed the innovation market of the Dnipropetrovsk region and showed its potential to the local authorities. After receiving approval, they opened the Space Hub on the territory of the Dnipro Rocket Museum in 2015.
As Tkachenko notes, over the years of the hub’s operation, he has been gathering talented engineers and aspiring entrepreneurs who could come up with any good ideas. Unfortunately, the commercial space industry at that time had just started to develop, which did not contribute to the implementation of those ideas. Moreover, in Ukraine, the law generally prohibited private companies from creating technologies, allowing only the popularization of space. Therefore, Space Hub had few projects in this direction. Nevertheless, in 2018, when the center had to close due to the museum’s refusal to renew the lease, the team went to different offices with the best engineers.
Space Hub made the first attempt to break into the industry in 2019 by creating a vacuum jet engine for deep space. However, the product did not find investors. As the deputy head of NASA explained, today, technologies and companies are not ready for deep space missions, and NASA itself is not going to think about such projects until 2030. Space Hub engineers realized they were a little ahead of their time and began to reconsider their approaches.
Space Hub Today
Nowadays, Space Hub is an international system of engineers that operates under foreign brands. Tkachenko explains that such a business model gives employees enough work and participation in interesting projects. The team cannot yet promote independent initiatives due to the peculiarities of the American market, where the leading corporations operate. “America is for Americans,” Tkachenko says, explaining that big agencies usually choose local companies that fully comply with written and unwritten rules. In other words, Space Hub does not yet have the resources and position to compete with the major players.
However, the team has already earned a reputation and a special place in the industry. “Our engineering team is an ambulance for other projects,” Tkachenko laughs. Space Hub engineers manage to save projects on the verge of failure when customers no longer expect it. According to Tkachenko, their advantage is their expertise in work with radiation and rather primitive construction combined with modern electronics. Such technologies are in demand for lunar missions as they are simple and inexpensive to use with sufficiently high reliability.
The engineers’ skills have already attracted the attention of several companies. They have taken part in developing and testing lunar rovers and devices for the lunar surface. In other words, the Space Hub team is one of the few with hands-on experience on the Moon. The next such project is scheduled for 2023.
A Silly Misunderstanding
Like any person who finds himself in the media’s spotlight because of his achievements, Maxim Tkachenko has recently become a participant in an unpleasant story. One journalist wrote that Pilgrim Ukraine company sells Russian GPS trackers to the National Police and The Security Service of Ukraine through individual entrepreneur statuses of Volodymyr Astapenko and Maxim Tkachenko. However, Tkachenko is surprised with the journalist’s conclusions: the mentioned company has not been operating since 2015, while its attributed earnings of 600 thousand hryvnias look ridiculous. He takes this situation with humor, saying that the news “shook up” the team when all the checks and investigation began. The misunderstanding also made the team think about rebranding Piligrim Engineering, since under this name, the Space Hub team most often performs in international projects. Anyways, even with the old name, the team is safe because their reputation and innovative ideas speak for them.
Why Does Space Need a Nuclear Reactor?
One such idea that should take Space Hub to the next level is the development of a thorium reactor for lunar rovers and cocoons protecting them during a moon night. A feature of the technology is not the reactor itself, which was invented 50 years ago, but the vacuum cooling system made by Space Hub engineers. Other inventions that the team plans to use will create a unique model of a rover for studying the Moon. We think it is better to review the advantages of the product to understand its innovativeness:
1. Thorium is much cheaper than uranium, which is more often used in nuclear reactors, which reduces its rover cost for customers.
2. The reactor turns on at the point where it should be used but not on the Earth. In other words, it will turn on already on the Moon, which increases the lifetime of the technology.
3. The reactor has a simple design that reduces the rover’s weight by approximately 5 kg. Lightness is a significant plus in the space business because delivering a 5 kg payload costs at least $6 million.
4. Space Hub will create special protective cocoons for rovers, in which they will be recharged and heated during a two-week-long night on the Moon. Without heating, the electronics usually fail when the temperature on the unlit side of the Moon drops to -150-170С. Additionally, cocoons will protect rovers against bursts of activity in the sun, that is, a sharp increase in radiation levels.
5. Space Hub plans to install Moon-to-Earth data transmission systems that provide more stable communications.
6. The Space Hub team also offers its potential customers a subscription to create and maintain a product, which will reduce the total cost by 30-50 thousand dollars per day. In this way, the client can save up to $7.5 million per month by choosing the services of Space Hub engineers.
Therefore, Space Hub could create a cheaper, lighter, more viable product for exploring the Moon.
Some Facts About Cooperation
One of the main features of Space Hub is constant cooperation with other companies. Despite the engineers’ technical savvy and experience, money and status remain the main thing in business. “We are all friends and we all work together,” Tkachenko says, noting that working on different projects is the only effective business model for the team at the moment.
Moreover, legislation is often an obstacle to Space Hub’s independent projects. As such. Space Hub will collaborate with one of the American universities to create thorium reactors because only US laws allow their manufacture. One part of Ukrainian engineers will assemble reactors in the USA with the Americans, and the other part will work on creating cooling systems in Ukraine. In this way, Space Hub can earn money for its own projects and become an important player in the exploration of the moon.
A Little More About Plans
Tkachenko defines that the main company’s goal is to gain experience and capital for launching independent projects. Although the implementation process includes many steps and actions. In 2023 – The third lunar mission is planned for 2023, the thorium reactor and rovers manufacturing will start until 2025, and, in 10-15 years, Space Hub wants to build its lunar base. Another goal that the founder sees as a priority is to give engineers reasonably high salaries. He is sure that the work of engineers in Ukraine is greatly underestimated compared to the same IT, although their work is often much more difficult.
Tkachenko also shares his global vision on the development of the space industry and the direction of the Space Hub. He believes that, in the short term, thorium reactors will be in greater demand than uranium because of their simplicity and low cost. Although he also foresees that the price of thorium, which is basically a waste product today, will rise significantly. “We need to buy thorium for 10 years in advance and then announce the reactors,” he notes half-jokingly.
Tkachenko also believes that horizontal rocket launches are the future. More and more companies want to use small satellites that require relatively light rockets. Horizontal launches, in this case, are much simpler and cheaper, and Ukraine has every chance to become a leader in this area with its unique “Mriya” cargo aircraft. It can carry small launch vehicles and release them in the air, and it is just a matter of developing an efficient navigation system. So, we will not be surprised if news about the involvement of Space Hub in such projects soon appears.
The Future of Ukraine in Space
As one of the most active participants in the Ukrainian space industry, Space Hub is concerned about its development. Tkachenko has some interesting ideas on this matter.
First, he believes that the industry will soon move into a public-private business. More private companies will emerge with new ideas, while public institutions with a strong base and experience will only strengthen their positions. For example, Tkachenko talks about the Noosphere company, which has invested in universities and some enterprises to get “the best brains” in recent years. He believes that such a strategy and cooperation with government organizations and other start-ups will allow the Noosphere to operate as a mega-corporation in the future. Thus, a worthy competitor to large American companies may appear on the market.
However, purchasing most parts or even alloys in Ukraine is possible only through state-owned companies. So, the same Noosphere will have to cooperate, for example, with Yuzhmash. Yuzhmash, in turn, can open a market for private companies, making a good profit. Nevertheless, Tkachenko notes that state organizations need to make slight changes because they are used to working on government orders, but the future lies with the market of private companies. Americans and Europeans are not afraid of Ukrainian enterprises’ prices, while their experience and patents promise a large influx of orders.
Secondly, according to Tkachenko, the exploration of the Moon is the primary goal of most companies and countries in the coming years. NASA’s planned missions and the growing number of inventions for lunar exploration confirm this assumption. “Whoever reaches the moon first and who puts their marks is the king,” the businessman marks. Therefore, it is essential for Ukraine not to fall behind in this race, but it is necessary to set appropriate goals and promote the development of Ukrainian companies.
“We have great potential and we need to be brave to fulfill it. Everything depends on our politicians. And we, engineers, are simple people who will just work, so if someone needs us someday, we will always do our job.”