Sea Launch is an international non-governmental spacecraft launch service that uses a mobile maritime platform for equatorial launches of commercial payloads on specialized Zenit 3SL rockets. It has so far assembled and launched thirty-one rockets, with three failures and one partial failure.
The sea-based launch system means the rockets can be fired from the optimum position on Earth's surface, considerably increasing payload capacity and reducing launch costs compared to land-based systems.
Sea Launch was established in 1995 as a consortium of four companies from Norway, Russia, Ukraine and the United States, managed by Boeing with participation from the other shareholders. The first rocket was launched in March 1999.
The launcher and its payload are assembled on a purpose-built ship Sea Launch Commander in Long Beach, California, USA. It is then positioned on top of the self-propelled platform Ocean Odyssey and moved to the equatorial Pacific Ocean for launch, with the Sea Launch Commander serving as command center.
In June 2009 the provider of the Sea Launch service, Sea Launch Co. LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Sea Launch emerged from bankruptcy effective October 27, 2010. Energia Overseas Limited, a Russian corporation, is majority owner of the reorganized entity, with Boeing and other American companies retaining minority shares.
Ownership and business
Four companies from four countries shared the original ownership of Cayman Islands-registered Sea Launch. It has been sold to Russian interests in October 2010 after going through Chapter 11 regulations. 
|Company||Country of origin||Ownership share||Contribution|
|Boeing Commercial Space||United States||25%||System integration, payload enclosures (nose-cone that protects the satellite during launch)|
|Energia||Russia||40%||Block DM-SL rocket stage (it is used in the Zenit 3SL rocket as its 3rd stage)|
|Aker Solutions||Norway||20%||Launch platform (Ocean Odyssey) and command ship (Sea Launch Commander)|
|SDO Yuzhnoye / PO Yuzhmash||Ukraine||15%||Two-stage Zenit rocket (used as Zenit 3SL's stages 1 and 2)|
The project was helped by Hughes Space and Communications, which in 1995 signed the first contract for 10 launches and 10 options, valued at $1bn, and Space Systems/Loral, which then signed a five-launch contract.
Total cost of the project has been reported at $583m in 1996. Chase Manhattan arranged about $400m in loans in 1996. Loans were later guaranteed against political instability in Russia and Ukraine through 2012 by the World Bank (up to $175m, of these up to $100m in Russia and up to $75m in Ukraine) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (up to $65m).
Sea Launch has a reciprocal agreement with Arianespace and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries through the Launch Services Alliance, providing assurance in case either company's system is not able to launch a payload for reasons of reliability, capacity, backlog, or otherwise. This was used for the first time in 2004 when Arianespace’s Ariane 5 had to reschedule a group of launches for reliability reasons.
The Sea Launch consortium claims that their launch-related operating costs are lower than a land-based equivalent due in part to reduced staff requirements. The platform and command ship have 310 crew members.
On August 6, 2010, Energia, which already owned 25% of Sea Launch, announced it planned to acquire a controlling interest of 85% in the company. As a result, the company plans to begin land-based launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in early 2011, while sea-based launches resumed in September 2011.
The first demonstration satellite was launched on March 27, 1999 and the first commercial satellite on October 9, 1999. Sea Launch has launched 29 rockets with 26 successes and 1 partial success as of September 2008. The first failure, of a Hughes-built communications satellite owned by ICO Global Communications, occurred on the second commercial launch on March 12, 2000 and was blamed on a software error that failed to close a valve in the second stage of the rocket.
A second rocket failed to launch on January 30, 2007, when Zenit-3SL exploded on the launch pad with the Boeing 702 NSS-8 satellite on board, seconds after engine ignition.
All Sea Launch missions to date have used the custom-designed three-stage Zenit-3SL launch vehicle, capable of placing up to 6,000 kg of payload in geosynchronous transfer orbit. Sea Launch rocket components are manufactured by SDO Yuzhnoye / PO Yuzhmash in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine (Zenit rocket for the first and second stages); by Energia in Moscow, Russia (Block DM-SL for third stage); and by Boeing in Seattle, United States (payload fairing and interstage structure).
Sea Launch rockets are assembled in Long Beach, California. The typical assembly is done on board the Assembly and Command Ship (the payload is first tested, fueled and encapsulated in the nearby Payload Processing Facility). The rocket is then transferred to a horizontal hangar on the self-propelled launch platform.
Following rocket tests, both ships then sail about 4,828 km to the equator at 154° West Longitude, , in international waters about 370 km from Kiritimati, Kiribati. The platform travels the distance in about 11 days, the command ship in about eight days.
With the platform ballasted to its launch depth of 22 m, the hangar is opened, the rocket is mechanically moved to a vertical position, and the launch platform crew evacuates to the command ship which moves about five kilometers away. Then, with the launch platform unmanned, the rocket is fueled and launched. The final ten seconds before launch are called out simultaneously in English and Russian.
|2||1999-10-09||DIRECTV 1-R||3.5 t||success|
|3||2000-03-12||ICO F-1||2.7 t||failure|
|6||2001-03-18||XM-2 ROCK||4.7 t||success|
|7||2001-05-08||XM-1 ROLL||4.7 t||success|
|9||2002-06-15||Galaxy IIIC||4.9 t||success|
|10||2003-08-07||EchoStar IX/Telstar 13||4.7 t||success|
|11||2003-09-30||Galaxy XIII/Horizons-1||4.1 t||success|
|12||2004-01-10||Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul 1||4.7 t||success|
|14||2004-06-28||Telstar-18||4.8 t||launch anomaly|
|17||2005-06-23||Intelsat IA-8||5.5 t||success|
|18||2005-11-08||Inmarsat 4-F2||6.0 t||success|
|19||2006-02-15||EchoStar X||4.3 t||success|
|21||2006-06-18||Galaxy 16||5.1 t||success|
|22||2006-08-22||Koreasat 5||4.9 t||success|
|27||2008-05-21||Galaxy 18||4.6 t||success|
|28||2008-07-16||EchoStar XI||5.5 t||success|
|29||2008-09-24||Galaxy 19||4.7 t||success|
|30||2009-04-20||SICRAL 1B||3.0 t||success|
|31||2011-09-24||Atlantic Bird 7||4.6 t||success|
|32||2012-05-31||Intelsat 19||5.6 t||success|
|33||2012-08-19||Intelsat 21||6.0 t||success|
|34||2012-12-03||Eutelsat 70B||5.2 t||success|
|35||2013-02-01||Intelsat 27||6.2 t||failure|
|36||2014-04||Eutelsat 3B||5.2 t||planned|
NSS-8 launch failure
On January 30, 2007, the Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket carrying NSS-8 and 500 tons of fuel exploded on launch. Available imagery shows a fireball much larger than the launch platform at sea level.
Since the launch pad platform is vacated by all engineers during the automated launch process, there were no injuries. On February 1, 2007 Sea Launch released a statement detailing its status.
It is believed that the failure was caused by a foreign object being ingested by the engine, causing the rocket to crash immediately.
On February 3, 2007, photographs of the damage were posted on internet forums. The launch platform damage is mostly superficial, though blast deflectors underneath the launch platform were knocked loose and were lost when they fell into the sea.
Repairs of the launch platform were completed in September 2007. The Sea Launch platform underwent repairs in Canada, docked near CFB Esquimalt, just west of Victoria, British Columbia, and departed on July 31, 2007. Both vessels returned to their home port in Long Beach, California.
Concerns and investigations
During project development in 1998 Boeing was fined ten million US dollars by the United States Department of State for technical violations of the Arms Export Control Act in handling of missile technology while dealing with its foreign Sea Launch partners. This is the largest civil penalty of its kind, although it could have been as much as 102 million US dollars. The Sea Launch project was suspended for two months during the investigation.
The Department of State found that between January 1994 and January 1998 Boeing illegally exported "defense articles" and "defense services", although no national security breaches were determined. The violations were uncovered by Boeing's internal investigation.
At about the same time United States Customs Service attempted to block Sea Launch from bringing Zenit 3SL rockets (classified as missiles) into California for assembly without a munitions import licence. The matter was settled in the company's favour.
Also in 1998, 16 member states of the South Pacific Forum issued a communiqué asking the United States to suspend the project indefinitely until and unless their environmental concerns are remedied. It was mostly criticized by the island nation of Kiribati.
The project was criticized in 1997 by International Transport Workers' Federation (ITWF) for registering its sea vessels in Liberia. In May 1999 Sea Launch reached an agreement with the ITWF, which allows crew members to use ITWF inspectors.
Using existing Zenit infrastructure at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the "Land Launch" system is based on a modified version of the Sea Launch vehicle, the three-stage Zenit 3SL rocket. Land Launch's Zenit 3SLB vehicle addresses the launch needs of commercial satellites weighing up to 3.5 metric tons (3.9 short tons). The two-stage Zenit-2SLB is also available for lifting payloads up to 13 metric tons (14 short tons) to inclined low Earth orbits.
Advantages of equatorial ocean-platform based launches
Advantages of equatorial launch site:
- The rotational speed of the Earth is greatest at the equator, providing a minor extra launch "boost".
- The need for a "plane change" to the zero degree inclination of geostationary orbit is eliminated, providing a major extra launch "boost". This allows 17.5%-25% more mass to be launched to geostationary orbit than the same rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, which is at 28.5 degrees north latitude.
- Any orbital inclination could be reached, thus (for example) combining in one launch site the attainable inclinations of both Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.
Advantages of ocean-based over a conventional land-based launch platform:
- An ocean launch reduces risks related to launching over populated areas, providing better safety to third parties.
- Absence of range conflicts with other launch systems and a near total absence of ship or overhead air traffic that would constrain launch.
Although Sea Launch is currently the world's only ocean-based space launch company, the idea of launching satellites from marine vessel is not unique.
San Marco platform
Between 1964 and 1988 the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy and NASA launched a number of spacecraft from the San Marco platform off the coast of Kenya. Unlike the Sea Launch platform, the San Marco platform was not self-propelled, instead being towed by a tug. It also stood on the seabed during launches, whereas Sea Launch is stabilised in open water by a dynamic positioning system.
Russian Shtil' rockets have been used to orbit payloads launched from ballistic missile submarines. Unlike Sea Launch, which performs launches of geosynchronous satellites from the equator, Shtil' rockets were launched from the polar Arctic Ocean.
|Wikinews has related news: Zenit rocket explodes on launch pad|
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