Friday, July 17, 2015

CHINA To Buy Sea Launch?

Just got an email informing me there was a new post on a spaceflight forum I hang out at.

It referenced this article on the Space News website.

Ever since Sea Launch laid off about 60% of their staff last August (me included), they've been in limbo about the future. Since all they launch is commercial payloads, if the commercial satellite guys don't want to fly on them, they're pretty much SOL for business.

And nobody was booking a launch on them......

Turns out all the post bankruptcy launches had been sold earlier, and they were just clearing the backlog, hoping that successful launches would show the industry that Sea Launch was back in business, and new bookings would follow.

Now, I'm not sure why they couldn't get additional business, those things were way above my pay grade, and any assumptions I made about why customers stayed away would have been, and still are, pure speculation.

Typically, the satellite builder (Boeing, Loral, Astrium, etc) books the launch, and retains control of the satellite until it's at it's assigned orbital "slot" and fully checked out. Then the satellite builder hands over the keys to the satellite operator (Dish, DirecTV, EUTELSAT, INTELSAT, etc) and they take control. So, when you provide launch services, you not only have to court the satellite operators, but the builders as well.

Strange bedfellows, as they say, and there was some ill will I know of between at least one operator and Sea Launch.

So, as the article says, Sea Launch has been "twisting in the wind" since their last launch over a year ago, with no bookings in sight, and bills piling up. According to a friend who still works there, the last of the Boeing contract people have gone to other Boeing sites, other companies, or to retirement.

And Boeing still has a sh1t load of property on site, and on the ships, and is owed well over $400 million from two of the original partners that defaulted on their guarantees to the banks that loaned Sea Launch the money it needed before they went Chapter 11.

One of the things that amused me was that Sea Launch was having a "garage sale" to dispose of unneeded/surplus equipment.

The one item mentioned specifically was the Spacecraft Adapter (SCA), which is the structure that the satellite mounts to, and in turn is bolted to the Interface Structure/Payload Support (ISPS) that mounts the entire Payload Accommodation to the Block-DM upper stage. The satellite mounting part of it is pretty standard, as some years back most of the satellite builders decided to agree on a fixed number of mount types, which makes it easier for everybody involved in the business. This meant you could "stock" maybe 5 or 6 different SCA designs, rather than having to design/build/test/certify one for each launch.

I find this very interesting, as that particular SCA will ONLY fit a Boeing ISPS that was designed to ONLY mate to a Block-DM.

If they're selling that, then it pretty much means they won't be doing any more business with Boeing.

And that makes me wonder what will happen to all the Boeing property, and Boeing controlled and operated ITAR sensitive equipment that's still on site.

Anyway.......we BEGGED them to let us sort through all the surplus equipment and "junque", and assign it a keep/sell or scrap status when they were asking for ideas about cutting costs and raising money.

We were continually shot-down for various non-reasons.

They have at least 15 high-end copy machines that need some minor maintenance/repair sitting in the warehouse that they could have sold to an independent copy machine service, but didn't.

They have a brand new roof-mounted chiller for a large HVAC system just sitting there that could have been sold but wasn't.

They have TONS of stuff sitting in the Payload Processing Facility parking lot that could have been sold either for scrap metal value, or to be refurbished.

They have thousands of pounds of copper wire and cable in storage that was never going to be used.

They have at least four pallets of surplus desktop computers that could have been sold, or stripped of good parts, and the parts sold.

And on, and on, and on...

And then I read on the same forum that ownership of the platform had already been transferred to the Chinese, with the platform listed as "Scrap Value". And as another poster pointed out, selling ships to the Chinese for "scrap value" worked out real well in the case of the ex Soviet aircraft carrier the Varyag.

I checked the IMO listing for the Odyssey, but all it shows is where it's flagged, not who owns it.'s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.


  1. My former neighbor worked for Loral and talked about sea-launch. I never understood the relationship properly until now.

  2. No problem, most people don't.

    I've met people that had no idea DirecTV and Dish even used satellites!

    Loral was always kind of the low-cost builder, while Boeing Satellite Systems (formerly Hughes Space and Communications) was "the high priced spread".

    Loral makes good satellites, but they somehow manage to sell them for less, probably a lower overhead than Boeing has.


Keep it civil, please....