Karlsen Leaves Sea Launch after 14 Years

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Updated at 11:28 a.m. EDT

PARIS — Commercial launch services provider Sea Launch AG on Feb. 24 announced the resignation of longtime executive Kjell Karlsen as president, saying he is leaving to pursue “other opportunities outside the space industry.”

Bern, Switzerland-based Sea Launch is struggling to return to a sustainable launch rhythm from its oceangoing platform in the Pacific Ocean following a 2007 failure that led to Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, its purchase by Russian interests and its subsequent headquarters relocation from California to Switzerland.

A February 2013 failure slowed Sea Launch’s return to regular flight, but the company has maintained support from customers Intelsat and Eutelsat. The Eutelsat 3B satellite is scheduled for launch aboard a Sea Launch Zenit rocket in April.

Sea Launch’s operation in international waters has left it, in effect, without a government home, meaning the heavy-lift vehicle — based on Russian and Ukrainian technology — does not have access to U.S. or Russian government launches.

Sea Launch has used its equatorial launch base to focus on the heaviest telecommunications satellites, in competition with Russia’s Proton and Europe’s Ariane 5 rockets. 

A Land Launch version of the rocket, with whose owners Sea Launch has had occasionally fractious relations, has been operated on occasion from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a northern location from which it can launch smaller satellites into geostationary transfer orbit.

In a Feb. 24 statement, Karlsen said the increased ownership of Sea Launch by RSC Energia, one of Russia’s biggest space-hardware builders and the provider of the Sea Launch rocket’s upper stage, will permit the company “to continue to innovate and create value for the world’s satellite operator community. … I am looking forward to working in a new industry with a new set of challenges.”

In a Feb. 24 interview, Karlsen said he is leaving Sea Launch on good terms and “in excellent hands” to join a friend’s company in the Los Angeles movie-licensing industry. “It’s been more than 14 years and it’s time for me to accept a different challenge,” he said. “I really believe at this point that Sea Launch is well-positioned in the market.”

Sea Launch Chief Executive Serguei Gugkaev said in a statement that the company regrets Karlsen’s departure and wishes him well. “We have a strong leadership team in place with dedicated executives who are ready to assume his responsibilities and duties,” he said.

 

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