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EDITIONS
Friday, 15 November, 2002, 10:07 GMT
Sea-launched rockets take-off
Sea Launch
Sea Launch in its home port of Long Beach, California

A converted oil drilling platform is the base for the only sea-launched rocket in the world.

Sea Launch is a joint venture between American, Russian, Ukrainian and Norwegian companies.

Its main advantage is that it can launch from dead on the equator.

This gives satellites an extra boost into orbit thanks to the Earth's spin.

Traditions

Moored in its home port of Long Beach, California, Sea Launch's Odyssey platform - a converted oil rig - is an impressive site.

Sea Launch
Sea Launch: Booked for the rest of this year and the next
From the helideck to the water it measures about 70 metres (230 feet).

It may be based in California but, once aboard, this rig has a distinctly Russian feel.

And Tod Milton, head of security for Sea Launch, is keen to point out one old-style Soviet rocket tradition.

"The red stars on the accommodation arm indicate the launches," he said.

"The third star from the right has what appears to be a teardrop and that indicates the one - out of eight launches - failure."

Rivals

To launch a rocket, the rig and its accompanying command ship sail south west out of Long Beach to a position in the Pacific Ocean on the equator, hundreds of kilometres from land.

Paula Korn of Sea Launch said launching from the equator directly into equatorial orbit allows the rocket to carry heavier payloads or more fuel.

"Because we are launching on the equatorial plain we also have a good shot at a very accurate target and that often results in several years of extra life in orbit," she said.

Europe's main rocket company, Arianespace, acknowledges that its toughest commercial rivals are systems such as Sea Launch, which marry Russian technology with America marketing know-how.

Philippe Berterottiere, in charge of sales and marketing for Arianespace, said the main competition came from former Soviet countries, notably Russia and the Ukraine.

Side by side

Back on Sea Launch's command ship there's another rather unusual feature.

The launch control centre is divided in two - a Russian side and an American side.

The Russian side of the room has blue workstations and blue desks and it's arranged in a horseshoe with the screens at the front of the wall.

The American side is set up much the same way that Kennedy Space Center or any American launch complex is, with theatre-style seating.

And this American-Russian division extends right down to the countdown, which is in both languages.

Smelly

Yet despite its hi-tech rocketry, Sea Launch does maintain some rather older maritime traditions - for example - meeting King Neptune when crossing the Equator, a ritual involving soya sauce and shark intestine.

Rotting fish aside, Sea Launch's formula is proving a hit with its customers.

It has satellite launches booked for the rest of this year and the next.

The industry as a whole may be going through a tough time, but Sea Launch is set to ride out this particular squall.


See also:

10 Jan 01 | Business
30 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
08 Nov 02 | Africa
25 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
26 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
12 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
Links to more Business stories are at the foot of the page.


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