Sea Launch arrived on the scene as a new launch services provider with an innovative idea and established backing. But
new kid on the block had
to prove itself with a demonstration launch before it could
participate as a commercial launch provider.
On March 27, 1999, Sea Launch
a 4,500-kilogram dummy satellite dubbed DemoSat into geostationary transfer orbit from its equatorial platform in the Pacific Ocean
. That launch satisfied nervous customers and insurers that the vehicle was flight worthy.
Then Seattle-based Boeing Co. began studying the concept of a sea-based launch system in 1993, according to the Sea Launch Web site. In April 1995,
Sea Launch formed
as a collaboration between Boeing and several international companies: Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye and Russia’s Energia design bureaus, and shipbuilder Kvaerner A/S of Oslo, Norway
In addition to leading the effort, Boeing provided the Sea Launch rocket fairing and performed system
. The Sea Launch Zenit-3SL is a two-stage Zenit rocket built by Yuzhnoye and enhanced with a third stage supplied by Energia.
The Zenit was chosen because it provided an inexpensive, relatively advanced, horizontally integrated rocket – the latter characteristic being attractive since the vehicle travels from its Long Beach, Calif., home port to its launch site stowed on its side before being erected to the upright position at sea, according to Sea Launch spokeswoman Paula Korn.
supplied the Odyssey floating launch platform
, a converted
30,000-ton oil rig
that travels under its own power to Sea Launch’s launch site some 2,240 kilometers southeast of Hawaii.
The journey from Long Beach,
4,800 kilometers away, takes some 11 days
, the Web site said.
the 34,000-ton command ship, appropriately dubbed
Sea Launch Commander.
The Sea Launch concept began with talks between Boeing and Energia; both wanted to put satellites into geosynchronous orbit without leasing land near
said in a March 18 phone interview.
To hold down costs, the companies wanted to rely as much as possible on off-the-shelf hardware and technology, she said.
The Zenit-3SL rocket is able to
place payloads weighing
6,100 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit
, the Sea Launch Web site said.
Sea Launch landed its first big customer in 1995 when satellite builder Hughes Space and Communications Co. ordered 10 launches over a five-year period.
But Sea Launch ran into difficulties amid a 1998 U.S. crackdown on space technology exports stemming from allegations that China was benefiting militarily from launching U.S.-made commercial communications satellites. Initially, two U.S. satellite makers, Hughes and , were accused of improperly transferring sensitive technology to China’s government-owned rocket maker during the course of launch failure investigations. But other U.S. companies were soon caught up in the crackdown.
On July 27, 1998,
the U.S. State Department suspended work on the Sea Launch program after
told U.S. government officials that it had shared technical information with its Russian and Ukrainian partners without the necessary permits
Boeing said at the time it had underestimated the complex nature of the technology transfer necessary for Sea Launch and that it had taken steps to correct the problem.
Boeing was ordered to pay
a $10 million fine to the State Department, and work resumed on
Sea Launch Sept. 29, 1998.
Meanwhile, however, a pair of launch failures involving Sea Launch partners – one of Boeing’s Zenit – made insurers and customers wary of risking their expensive cargo on an untested vehicle. 3 rocket and the other involving a
To ease these concerns,
Sea Launch agreed to conduct
a demonstration launch, which was a success
Almost six months later
, Sea Launch made its first commercial flight
, lofting the
Hughes-built DirecTV 1-R broadcast satellite to geostationary transfer orbit.
Since then Sea Launch has made 22 successful launches
and has experienced
failures, including a platform explosion in January 2007 that halted
operations for almost a year, the company’s Web site said.