Sea Launch is a spacecraft launch service that uses a mobile sea platform for equatorial launches of commercial payloads on specialized Zenit 3SL rockets. As of July 2008 it had assembled and launched 28 rockets with two 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.
The Sea Launch consortium of four companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, was established in 1995 and their first rocket was launched in March 1999. It is managed by Boeing with participation from the other shareholders.
The launcher and its payload are assembled on a purpose-built ship Sea Launch Commander in Long Beach, California. 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.
Although Sea Launch is currently the world's only ocean-based space launch company, the idea is not unique: in 1964–1988 the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy and NASA launched spacecraft from the San Marco platform off the coast of Kenya and Shtil' rockets have been used to orbit payloads launched from submarines.
|Company||Country of origin||Ownership share||Contribution|
|Boeing Commercial Space||United States||40%||System integration, payload enclosures (nose-cone that protects the satellite during launch)|
|Energia||Russia||25%||Block DM-SL rocket stage (it is used in the Zenit 3SL rocket as its 3rd stage)|
|Aker Kværner||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 MHI, 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.
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 30 January 2007, when Zenit-3SL exploded on the launch pad with the Boeing 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 six tonnes of payload in geosynchronous 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 onboard the Assembly and Command Ship (the payload is first tested, fueled and encapsulated in the 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 automatically 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.
|March 27, 1999||DemoSat||4.5 t||success||1|
|October 9, 1999||DIRECTV 1-R||3.5 t||success||2|
|March 12, 2000||ICO F-1||2.7 t||failure||3|
|July 28, 2000||PAS-9||3.7 t||success||4|
|October 20, 2000||Thuraya-1||5.1 t||success||5|
|March 18, 2001||XM-2 ROCK||4.7 t||success||6|
|May 8, 2001||XM-1 ROLL||4.7 t||success||7|
|June 15, 2002||Galaxy IIIC||4.9 t||success||8|
|June 10, 2003||Thuraya-2||5.2 t||success||9|
|August 7, 2003||EchoStar IX/Telstar 13||4.7 t||success||10|
|September 30, 2003||Galaxy XIII/Horizons-1||4.1 t||success||11|
|January 10, 2004||Telstar 14/Estrela do Sul 1||4.7 t||success||12|
|May 4, 2004||DIRECTV-7S||5.5 t||success||13|
|June 28, 2004||Telstar-18||4.8 t||launch anomaly||14|
|March 1, 2005||XM-3||4.7 t||success||15|
|April 26, 2005||SPACEWAY-1||6.0 t||success||16|
|June 23, 2005||Intelsat IA-8||5.5 t||success||17|
|November 8 2005||Inmarsat 4-F2||6.0 t||success||18|
|February 15, 2006||EchoStar X||4.3 t||success||19|
|April 12, 2006||JCSAT-9||4.4 t||success||20|
|June 18, 2006||Galaxy 16||5.1 t||success||21|
|August 22, 2006||Koreasat 5||4.9 t||success||22|
|October 30, 2006||XM-4||4.7 t||success||23|
|January 30, 2007||NSS-8||5.9 t||failure||24|
|January 15, 2008||Thuraya-3||5.2 t||success||25|
|March 19, 2008||DirecTV-11||5.9 t||success||26|
|May 21, 2008||Galaxy 18||4.6 t||success||27|
|July 16, 2008||EchoStar XI||5.5 t||success||28|
|September 24, 2008||Galaxy 19||4,690 kg||success||29|
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.
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.