Michael Ryabokon, Chairman of the “Association Noosphere” Board of Directors, spoke about Noosphere and the space industry in his interview with SE “PA Yuzhmash” corporate resources. Read the originally translated interview below.
- Q. Noosphere, Firefly, Firefly Aerospace… It is easy to confuse who is who. Yuzhmash has employment contracts with three Noosphere group entities, none of which are even the ones mentioned above. Tell us about the structure of the Noosphere group, and what place do Ukrainian entities have in it?
A. Noosphere is a non-profit public organization whose mission is to create an ecosystem in Ukraine favorable for the development of engineering startups. Such an ambitious goal requires the development of the STEM movement and the creation of a community of engineers from various fields. The organization exists via contributions from philanthropists or partner companies, including space companies, but not just them. A substantial part of the company’s funding is represented by digital economy companies (marketing, big data processing systems, consumer Internet, and financial services). Moreover, we are open to cooperation with any non-political organizations who share our values and interests, regardless of their field of activity.
That being said, most Noosphere partner companies are space tech, so there is a noticeable “bias” in Noosphere’s space initiatives (hackathons, conferences, other events). This is in line with modern trends, though – there is a global trend toward space themes. If we talk about partner companies from the space industry, some of them have a big brand and a solid history, such as Firefly Aerospace and EOS DA, while others are less public, but no less active (such as those who sign contracts with Yuzhmash).
I believe that the key element for Noosphere is not structure, but philosophy and values, and consequently their main envoy – the founder of Association Noosphere Max Polyakov. He has a talent for uniting passionaries (passionate people with visionary ideas). As a follower of the views of the great scientist Vladimir Vernadsky, Dr. Polyakov does not attach any particular importance to countries and borders – noosphere, the sphere of thought, does not know borders, nationality or color. Therefore, there are no special places for any special units. Everything is on a parity basis. Except that there are far more social projects in Ukraine than in the United States.
In the United States, we currently have only four initiatives: the Firefly Education Academy at the University of Texas at Austin, the annual FIRE rocket modeling competition, sending student satellites into space (free of charge), and the Space Foundation’s international drawing competition.
In Ukraine, however, we implement more than 40 initiatives annually. Some of our most remarkable space education projects are: the Dual Educational Center founded by NTUU “Kyiv Polytechnic Institute named after Igor Sikorsky”, Oles Honchar Dnipro National University and NGO “Association Noosphere”; “Noosphere Engineering School” (technical laboratories in 6 Ukrainian universities); “Student Rocket”; “Ukraine Spacemodeling Sport Federation” (frms.ua); “Vernadsky Challenge” engineering startups competition (vernadskychallenge.com); and so many others.
Yuzhmash specialists may be interested in details of the Student Rocket project, which is being implemented with the support of Yuzhmash and its unit, the Pavlograd Mechanical Plant. The project develops and manufactures light ultra-small missile systems with their own control system, engine, payload and integrated test and control system. Successful launches are underway. They have attained heights of 2 and 4 km with the payload delivery and have received telemetry data from it; a 40 km launch is planned for this autumn.
- Q. What tasks are the companies of Association Noosphere focused on in Ukraine for the medium and long term?
A. Each Noosphere partner company has its own commercial tasks with different terms. On the whole, let’s be honest, Ukraine is not a consumer of the space companies’ products and services. All these companies are doing here is creating jobs and solving some socially important issues. For example, thanks to EOS DA research, the fact that in 30 years, the Rivne region may in principle be without forests (interfax.com.ua/news/general/683759) has been raised as an issue.
If we talk about the work of Noosphere, in the medium term it is to act as a catalyst for the engineering process in Ukraine and to facilitate the development of new, successful commercial companies in the Ukrainian aerospace industry. In the long run, it is to return Ukraine to its former glory as an aerospace giant on the world economic map.
- Q. How do you assess the space industry in Ukraine, is it viable? Specifically, how do you assess the potential of state-owned enterprises in the space industry in terms of establishing long-term cooperation with them?
A. In my opinion, the basis of any economic sector, especially science-intensive ones, is people. Ukraine has excellent human resources. The history of the development of the aerospace industry in Ukraine confirms this. But we must admit that the world of technology is evolving, and Ukraine has, in a sense, lost a good 30 years because, as in any other country in its infancy, other issues were a priority.
I am not an advocate for any particular form of business ownership. There are state-owned enterprises such as Yuzhmash, which are easy and productive to work with, and there are private companies with which there is no synergy. But we must recognize that world practice follows the path of corporate economic development without active government participation. Yes, there must be government controls, but are state-owned enterprises needed in their current operating form? It is a question to which world practice (ESA, NASA) gives an unambiguous answer – no more.
In fact, all of our space companies support the NewSpace movement, which defends the right of private companies to work in the space industry. But this does not exclude the possibility of cooperation. Collaborations are possible and necessary! Synergy is always useful.
- Q. You are well acquainted with the current competencies and capabilities of Yuzhmash. Which of these is of substantive interest to Noosphere? In which current and future Noosphere projects do you see Yuzhmash participation, and what exactly does that look like?
A. This question will be better answered by engineers. In my subjective opinion, after re-equipping the production with modern equipment and training staff to work with new technologies and materials, new prospects will open for the company to work within the market. But for this, you need to be in constant contact with the consumer and outperform competitors with technology and quality.
- Q. Currently, legislative support for the corporatization of state-owned enterprises in the space industry is being drafted. What is your attitude towards the issue of corporatization, from the private space business perspective? Do we need it and if so, why?
A. As I mentioned before, I am a supporter of the NewSpace philosophy. Corporatization is vital for effective management and profit. The role of the state is arbitration, security, protection of citizens, and social projects, but not the commercialization of its activities.
The state is not about profit. The planned economy does not work because the market is changing faster every day, the digital age is knocking, and the state is a bureaucracy. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and leave commercialization to the space industry. After all, it is an imperfect system when companies who have to make a profit (profit is, in principle, the only goal of any commercial organization), are waiting for government subsidies to make payroll. And if the subsidies come from the owner, for example, companies would quickly advance in some areas as compared to other countries, but would be completely in line with other non-profit social projects … which are not about business and not about the economy. And then they say that it isn’t worth it to be participants in the global commercial space industry market. That sounds a little bit silly.
Of course, the issue of privatization should be approached carefully and thoughtfully, but it should not be delayed. There is a risk that we will lag so far behind the players at the global level that there will be nothing left to corporatize or privatize.