Spaceflight Insider

Sea Launch reduces staff due to lull in launches

Sea Launch's Zenit-3SL rocket aboard the platform Odyssey. Photo Credit: Sea Launch

Sea Launch has announced staff reductions due to a lack of launches for 2014.  The cutbacks will be made at the company’s headquarters located in Nyon, Switzerland and its prime contractor Energia Logistics in Calif. Satellite Today reported that Sea Launch will also be taking its vessels Sea Launch Commander and Odyssey out of service, a cost-saving move the company says is common during periods of inactivity in the maritime industry.

Sea Launch stated in a press release that it plans to use this hiatus to improve operational efficiencies, upgrade its launch and support systems, evaluate shore-based power for the ship while they are in port and finalize internal trade studies on vehicle configuration changes.

“In light of this gap in our launch manifest, Sea Launch is taking the opportunity to pursue all prudent business solutions to realize significant cost savings in labor, maintenance and fuel while maintaining the capability to call-up the vessels as needed,” said Serguei Gugkaev, CEO of Sea Launch. “While any reduction in staff is regrettable, Sea Launch will retain key personnel across all corporate and technical functions, allowing the company to ramp-up to meet its next launch commitment.”

While Sea Launch does not have any launches scheduled until 2016,  the company says it could be ready to launch as early as mid-2015. The company’s most recent launch was in May 2014, when it successfully launched the Eutelsat 3b.

In 2007 a Zenit-3SL rocket exploded aboard Sea Launch's floating launch platform. Photo Credit: Sea Launch

In 2007, a Zenit-3SL rocket exploded aboard Sea Launch’s floating launch platform. Photo Credit: Sea Launch

Sea Launch uses a three-stage Zenit-3SL launch vehicle. The Zenit-3SL combines a two-stage Zenit-2S rocket built by Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Bureau with a Block DM-SL upper stage manufactured by Russia’s RKK Energia and a payload fairing produced by Boeing.

Sea Launch integrates the rockets in Long Beach, Calif. and transports them to the Odyssey platform aboard the vessel Sea Launch Commander which also functions as a control center.  Launches are conducted at the equator in the Pacific Ocean at the equator, approximately 230 miles (370 kilometers ) from Kiritimati. The concept of a floating launch platform is based off the fact that rockets gain an extra “push” the closer they are launched to the equator. The Sea Launch concept works to optimize the physics behind this.

The Zenit-3SL has been sent aloft via the floating platform 36 times with three failures and one partial failure which occurred when a satellite was delivered to a lower-than-planned orbit. The most disastrous anomaly occurred on January  30, 2007 when a Zenit-3SL, carrying the Dutch communications satellite NSS-8, exploded on the launch pad due to debris in the rocket’s turbopump.  More recently, on February 1, 2013, one of the boosters, carrying the Intelsat-27 suffered a premature engine shutdown. This saw the launch vehicle and its precious cargo plunge into the Pacific Ocean shortly after liftoff.

Sea Launch was formed in 1995 with Boeing as a 40 percent owner. After the 2007 explosion, the company had severe financial problems and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.  The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 with Energia becoming the new majority owner.

In addition to technical problems, increased competition from SpaceX and other launch service providers, Sea Launch may fall prey to increasing political tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Early this month, Igor Kormarov, the new chairman of the board of Energia and chief of the Russian United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) stated that Sea Launch’s fate would be determined by the end of the year.

“The unique Sea Launch project faces serious risks as certain parts of Zenit carrier rockets are produced in Ukraine and the floating platform and command ship are based in the United States. The new leadership of the Energia United Rocket and Space Corporation has been tasked with preparing proposals for this project,” Komarov said.

The vessel Sea Launch Commander can transport a rocket to the floating launch platform and act as a command center for launch operations. Photo Credit: Sea Launch

The vessel Sea Launch Commander can transport a rocket to the  Odyssey floating launch platform and act as a command center for launch operations. Photo Credit: Sea Launch


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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

Reader Comments

SpaceX’s launch failure is probably a good argument for Sea launch. There is probably less risk to life to launch at sea. SpaceX’s probably puts more lives at risk.

Solid reporting. Rare to see an article about the SL Program without some sort of opinion one way or the other.

Brian Douglas White


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