The U.S. government has approved the purchase by a Russian space hardware builder of commercial launch service provider Sea Launch Co., an event that should trigger the flow of cash to the launch operator in the coming weeks, Sea Launch President Kjell Karlsen said Sept. 10.
Karlsen said the interagency U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) on Sept. 9 gave its approval for the purchase of Sea Launch by Energia, a large Russian space hardware manufacturer that has long been a Sea Launch shareholder and contractor.
Chicago-based Boeing Co., which had been Sea Launch’s general contractor and principal shareholder, will remain a Sea Launch supplier but otherwise has ended its management role in the company, which has been in U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Karlsen said wrapping up the regulatory filings will enable Sea Launch of Long Beach, Calif., to set what is known as an “effective date” for leaving Chapter 11 status and receiving $155 million from Energia. Of this amount, $15 million has been reserved to pay Sea Launch’s unsecured creditors as well as adviser and legal fees from the Chapter 11 process.
The remaining $140 million will be in equity and will be used to make catch-up payments to Sea Launch suppliers. Sea Launch then will begin preparing to return to service by refurbishing and recertifying the command ship and ocean-going platform that together comprise Sea Launch’s mobile launch base.
The company specializes in launching heavy telecommunications satellites from that platform, which propels itself from Long Beach to an equatorial spot in the Pacific Ocean.
Because it does not operate on U.S. or Russian territory, Sea Launch is not, as a rule, eligible to conduct launches for either of these two governments, making the company almost wholly dependent on the commercial satellite market.
Karlsen said Sea Launch is emerging debt-free from Chapter 11 and will be able to survive on three to four launches per year.
“For Energia, this is a ticket into the global commercial launch business, and it is really not that expensive,” Karlsen said.