Roscosmos backs out of troubled NewSpace firm Sea Launch
Zenit-3SL rockets may still be launched by commercial launch service provider Sea Launch – but Roscosmos won’t be involved with the project anymore. This is according to reports appearing on both TASS as well as The Moscow Times. These recent events represent the latest upheaval for a company that has had problems repeatedly throughout its history.
On Wednesday, March 30, Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, announced that it had found a buyer for its part of Sea Launch. Roscosmos’ head, Igor Komarov, did not tell TASS who that buyer was.
According to Komarov, investors in the U.S., Australia, China, and Europe have expressed interest in Roscosmos’ portion of the company.
Sea Launch was formed in 1995 between four international aerospace organizations – U.S. aerospace titan Boeing, Russia’s Energia, as well as the Norwegian company Kvaerner (currently Aker Solutions), and Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash. Sea Launch sent its first payload aloft in 1999.
The physics behind the company’s activities appeared to be sound. Launching as close to the equator as possible (at sea) should maximize the extra ‘boost’ received from the Earth’s rotation. In theory, it was thought this should reduce the cost to send payloads to orbit. However, an array of issues cropped up that prevented the company from achieving its goals.
In 2006, Sea Launch’s president and general manager, at that time, Jim Maser, left the company to join SpaceX.
Three years later, in 2009, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, coming out of this restructuring in 2010 – with Energia controlling an estimated 85 percent of the company and with Boeing retaining a minority ownership in the firm.
By 2013, the launch service provider had achieved a total of some 31 flights – which included three total and one partial failure. It was also in 2013 that Boeing issued a lawsuit against Energia, PO Yuzhnoye, and KB Yuzhnoye to have them pay their part of the more than $350 million incurred due to the bankruptcy filing four years earlier.
In 2014, the company was dealt yet another blow with Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. Sea Launch, essentially shuttered and the business’ assets began to be eyed in terms of disposition as of last year (2015). Russia’s military activities in the Crimea were less than helpful as the Zenit-3SL is built in Ukraine using Russian components (an estimated 70 percent of the boosters’ components are produced in Russia).
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.