Sea Launch goes Chap 11

Chris Forrester

Sea Launch, perhaps the most adventurous of all satellite launching platforms, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 22. Sea Launch and its subsidiaries declared assets of between $100m and $500m, and debts of up to $1 billion, a sum which looks as if it might easily be exceeded.

Sea Launch's debts to Boeing alone are almost $1bn (at $977m) with another £1bn of claimed debts against Sea Launch. Other suppliers are owed significant sums, not least the builder of the Sea Launch vessels Aker Marine of Oslo which is looking for $312m. Its Russian and Ukrainian partners are also owed a fortune, while the project's financial backers are due to be paid $251m this year, $100m next year and another $100m in 2014, says Court filings. One can only wonder at why Sea Launch's contractors and suppliers have been so patient over payment. Some of the debts go back to the project's inception.

Sea Launch used two vessels to launch its rockets into space. One, the floating platform (Ocean Odyssey) actually launched the rockets while the other was the command and control ship (Commander), and used to house staff and technicians. The Sea Launch mini-fleet would sail 4800 nautical miles from its home port near Los Angeles to a point on the Equator at 154 deg West, and launch. Sea Launch also had an embryonic land-based enterprise.

The enterprise is 40% owned by aerospace giant Boeing, with other partners including Norwegian (Aker Solutions), Russian (Energia) and Ukrainian investors drawn mostly from the rocketry industry.

The company, in a statement, said it intends to continue normal business operations. "Subject to court approval, Sea Launch will initially use its cash balance to meet operational requirements during the reorganization process," it said. Some 130 staff work at its Long Beach facility. The company says it will seek Debtor in Possession status (DiP) and continue trading.

A company spokeswoman said Sea Launch has a backlog of 10 rocket launches, eight of which are intended to happen at sea. The remaining pair are scheduled to launch from its land facility at the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.

Sea Launch suffered a catastophic failure upon its ocean platform in January 2007 when a New Skies satellite (NSS-8) was destroyed which subsequently meant the system could not be used for some 9 months while repairs were made. Then, in April this year, Sea Launch lost an arbitration court case (to Hughes) which ended up costing its some $52.3m - and which it has yet to pay.

Sea Launch has had some notable successus, not least launching ‘Rock' and ‘Roll', the first two satellites for XM Satellite Radio (although they were actually launched as Roll and Rock!). A few days ago on June 21 its Land Launch operation successfully orbited Measat's 3a craft into orbit from Baikonur. Its most recent Sea Launch mission took an Italian craft Sicral 1B into orbit in April

One of the upcoming launches concerns Eutelsat's W7 craft later this year.