Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 16:54 GMT
Sea Launch primed to make history
The $2bn Sea Launch project aims to use a giant converted oil rig, positioned on the equator, to put satellites into space relatively cheaply.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has licensed Sea Launch after safety checks. The FAA head, Jane Harvey, said: "This will be the beginning of a new and captivating period in the field of commercial space launches."
Cheaper access to space is possible if the launch site is exactly on the equator. This means the rocket can harness the maximum benefit from the Earth's rotation, to help catapult it into a geostationary space orbit.
The launch is currently scheduled for 2218 GMT on 27 March, 1999, from a point on the equator 2,250km (1,400 miles) south of Hawaii.
The platform is called Odyssey and is a refitted, 25-year-old North Sea oil rig, measuring 133m (435ft) long by 67m (220ft) wide. It propels itself through the water but before the launch will virtually submerge in order to gain stability.
A ship acting as the control centre is accompanying Odyssey. It is 200m (660ft) long and was built on the Clyde in Glasgow, UK. In port, the ship is the rocket assembly area.
The Sea Launch consortium says it already has contracts for 18 commercial launches and could host over 60 missions by 2010. The Hughes Space and Communications Company has awarded a contract for 10 satellite launches with an option for a further 10.
The Sea Launch project involves US company Boeing (40% stake), Russian space rocket corporation Energia (25%), Norwegian shipbuilding company Kvaerner (20%), and Ukrainian rocket companies Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash (joint 15%).