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Published: Tuesday, 10/18/2011

Rocket launch service looks skyward

LOS ANGELES TIMES
A spacecraft launch service that uses a mobile ocean platform, Sea Launch, is prepared to go back to work on Saturday to launch a 10,141-pound telecommunications satellite into orbit from the Equator. The Swiss-based company was pulled out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last year. A spacecraft launch service that uses a mobile ocean platform, Sea Launch, is prepared to go back to work on Saturday to launch a 10,141-pound telecommunications satellite into orbit from the Equator. The Swiss-based company was pulled out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last year.
LOS ANGELES TIMES Enlarge

LOS ANGELES — The launch of a 20-story rocket from an ocean platform near the Equator marks a long-awaited reversal of fortunes by Sea Launch, the rocket venture that’s fresh out of bankruptcy protection.

Late last year, an affiliate of Russian aerospace giant Rocket & Space Corp. Energia announced it would invest $155 million for a 95 percent stake in the company, which helped boost it out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company then moved Sea Launch headquarters from Long Beach, Calif., to Bern, Switzerland.

“There are new owners and renewed hopes here at Sea Launch,” said Peter Stier, a company spokesman.

The company is set to send a 10,141-pound telecommunications satellite into orbit Saturday for Paris-based communications giant Eutelsat.

“It’s a huge launch for Sea Launch,” said Marco Caceres, analyst for aerospace research firm Teal Group of Fairfax, Va. “There will be a high amount of exposure in Europe and everywhere else to see how they perform.”

Mr. Caceres estimates the satellite’s cost at more than $250 million.

“If they get two or three launches under their belt, they’ll regain their standing in the industry,” he said.

Sea Launch was formed as a joint venture in 1995, and was seen by Boeing Co. as an alternative to launching its satellites from land. Under the initial plan, the aerospace giant held a 40 percent stake, with the remaining shares held by RSC Energia, a Norwegian shipbuilder, and two Ukrainian rocket firms.

The consortium poured about $1 billion into the project, most of it to build the ship and the floating platform.

Just as the venture was launching its first rockets in 1999, demand for satellites fell when the dot-com bubble began to burst. By 2002, Sea Launch had sent up only one satellite. It gained worldwide notoriety in 2007 after dramatic video images of a failed launch went viral on the Internet.



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