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Satellites Launched From Pacific Platform
A rocket named Sea Launch lifted off from a converted oil drilling rig in the Pacific Ocean early in the morning of March 28, 1999, on its inaugural flight.
The Ukranian/Russian Zenit 3SL booster successfully lifted off from the Odyssey launch platform moored 1,400 miles south east of Hawaii. For its first flight, Sea Launch successfully ferried a dummy demonstration payload into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
An American-made communications satellite was ferried to Earth orbit by a Ukranian rocket launched from a platform floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
A Boeing Commercial Space Co. artist's rendering, at right, shows a Zenit rocket lifting off from a platform far out at sea in international waters of the Pacific Ocean.
A 430-foot-long oil rig from Norway sailed from Long Beach, California, out into the middle of the Pacific along with a 650-foot assembly and command ship. A 200-foot Zenit/Energia rocket burned kerosene and liquid oxygen as it hefted a 5,000-lb. Hughes Space & Communications Co. satellite to orbit hundreds of miles above Earth.
The self-propelled, semi-submersible oil drilling platform was converted into a unique ocean-going launch platform with a weatherproof rocket hangar, fuels storage, and an automated rocket transporter-erector system.
While moored at its home port, the assembly and command ship (ACS) served as the rocket assembly and vehicle integration facility. Later, at sea, the ACS served as sea-going launch control center.
NPO-Yuzhnoye, of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, has built thousands of rockets and conducted hundreds of successful launches. Its Zenit -- a horizontally-integrated, self-erecting, self-fueling rocket -- served as the first and second stage of the Sea Launch rocket.
RSC-Energia, of Moscow, Russia, has developed and launched numerous rockets, satellites and spacecraft, including the Mir space station. Energia supplied its Block DM upper stage, which has successfully flown more than 140 missions, to serve as the Sea Launch upper stage.
Hughes has built more than 40 percent of the world's commercial communications satellites currently in operation. Sea Launch is capable of carrying Hughes' largest satellites, the HS-601 and HS-702 models, to low, medium or geostationary Earth orbits.
Ten Sea Launches
Sea Launch Co., LDC, is a multinational commercial satellite launching venture formed in 1995 by Boeing Commercial Space Co. of the United States with partners Kvaerner a.s. of Norway, RSC-Energia of Russia, and NPO-Yuzhnoye of Ukraine.
Boeing, Kvaerner, Energia and Yuzhnoye began studying the concept of a sea-based launching system in the spring of 1994, and refined their designs over the ensuing year. On April 3, 1995, the partners announced their decision to form a commercial venture to provide Sea Launch services. In late 1995, Sea Launch Co. received its first order, for a minimum of ten launches starting in 1998-99, from Hughes Space and Communication.
Sea Launch combines the strengths of the four partner companies in aerospace, rocket science, shipbuilding and space operations. A 1995 trade agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine governments allowed adequate access to the Zenit booster for the Sea Launch plan.
The Launch Platform
A semi-submersible former oil drilling platform was purchased and modified at Stavanger, Norway. Work on the all-new ACS ship was done in Glasgow, Scotland.
Hughes Space and Communication Co., a Los Angeles-based satellite manufacturer, became the venture's first customer when it ordered a series of at least ten commercial space satellite launches from Sea Launch.
Sea Launch established its U.S. home port in Long Beach, California, near satellite manufacturers and aerospace and maritime supply companies. Launches are conducted from international waters in the Pacific off Long Beach.
Mission planning, management, and payload processing facilities are in the home port which also provides dockside moorage for the two specialized ships that are at the heart of the Sea Launch operation.
Launching from the ocean platform offers satellite-owning customers numerous advantages from convenient and low-cost payload processing to maximized payload capacity.
- The assembly and command Ship (ACS) is the rocket assembly and vehicle integration facility while in port. It becomes the launch command and control facility at sea.
- The converted, self-propelled offshore oil drilling platform is the ocean-going launch platform.
The Partners' Roles
Boeing Commercial Space Company, a subsidiary of The Boeing Company of Seattle, Washington, is responsible for overall program management and business operations, for manufacture of the payload enclosure and interfaces, for integration of the payload to the rocket, and for development of the home port.
Kvaerner a.s., of Oslo, Norway, is Europe's largest shipbuilding and maritime concern. Kvaerner designs, builds, modifies and refurbishes almost every manner of ocean-going vessel -- from oil drilling platforms, to roll-on roll-off cargo ships, to military and merchant ships of virtually every class.
At its Rosenborg Shipyard in Stavanger, Norway, Kvaerner modified the self-propelled, semi-submersible oil drilling platform to become the ocean-going launch platform. It included a weatherproof rocket hangar, fuels storage, and the automated rocket transporter-erector system.
At its Govan Shipyard in Glasgow, Scotland, Kvaerner constructed the 650-foot-long, 34,000-ton assembly and command Ship (ACS). When moored at the home port, the ACS serves as the rocket assembly and vehicle integration facility. At sea, the ACS serves as the sea-going launch control center.
RSC-Energia, of Moscow, is one of Russia's largest aerospace companies. As a space systems supplier to the former Soviet Union, Energia has developed and launched numerous rockets, satellites and spacecraft, including the Mir space station.
Among Energia's many successful products is the highly reliable Block DM upper stage -- which has successfully flown more than 140 missions. Energia provides the Block DM to serve as the Sea Launch rocket's upper stage. Energia also provides rocket integration and space flight management services.
NPO-Yuzhnoye, of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, another space systems supplier to the former Soviet Union, was a principal designer and builder of expendable launch vehicles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Yuzhnoye has built thousands of rockets and conducted hundreds of successful launches. In the early 1980s, Yuzhnoye was asked to develop a robust, reliable, modern-technology launch vehicle called Zenit. Yuzhnoye's answer was what we now see as the horizontally-integrated, self-erecting, self-fueling rocket that serves as the first and second stage of the Sea Launch rocket.
Ukraine would like to launch dozens of U.S. satellites on its Zenit booster in the early 2000s.
Chinese Lure Tourists with Space Launches
China in Space
It's difficult for the four million desperately-poor residents of Liangshan prefecture in central China to eke out a living. One of their few sources of income is China's space program at the Xichang launch pad.
Regular blast offs of China's Long March space rockets has made that Xichang county site a huge attraction for local tourists. Now the peasant farmers of the poverty-stricken prefecture are trying to use their unusual tourist attraction to make life a little easier for their families. Local residents hope the Xichang space center will draw thousands of spectators from across China and even around the world.
A minority group, known as the Yi, make up 42 percent of the local population in the mountainous region. The Yi live by subsistence farming. Despite their poverty and the poverty of a number of other minority peoples in the area, Liangshan is free of ethnic unrest and is politically stable. The prefecture is known for its gentle climate and 2,000 hours of sunshine a year.
Russian Submarine Novomoscovsk
Launches Satellites From Barents Sea
The Russian nuclear submarine Novomoscovsk fired two small environmental research satellites into orbit in July 1998. It was the first time a commercial payload had been put into orbit from a submarine.
The unique launch was the first commercial space launch in the history of the Russian Navy.
The satellites, called TUBSAT-N and TUBSAT N-1, reached their correct orbits after being launched at 0315 GMT on Tuesday. The satellites will be used to collect environmental data from the world's oceans by scientists from the University of Berlin.
They were fired from beneath the Barents Sea using ballistic missile technology developed for military purposes.
Putting satellites into low earth orbit is technically only a small step from delivering long-range warheads.
The Russians have been offering the submarine launch facility as a commercial service for some time and have already conducted sub-orbital test flights.
The benefits of a submarine launch are primarily safety combined with the ease of putting a payload into a specified orbit.
For safety reasons, there are serious restrictions on the directions rockets can be launched from sites to land.
But this latest success does not mean the world's space agencies will be all launching at sea.
Submarine-based missiles are only big enough to launch small research satellites and will never be able to launch large communications or interplanetary space probes.
But the success of the launch is expected to open up a valuable niche in the space markets for the Russians.
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