Sea Launch Concludes 2012 With Successful Ride to Orbit for Eutalsat

Credit Sea Launch

Credit Sea Launch

Switzerland based Sea Launch AG successfully conducted its third mission of the year on Monday, lofting the Eutalsat-70B communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit from its floating Ocean Odyssey platform in the Pacific.  The launch of the Zenit-3SL rocket, the 34th in the history of the program took place from 154 degrees West longitude along the equator, and followed previous launches in June and August of this year.

Sea Launch has overcome bankruptcy, a major partnership re-alignment and two launch failures, one of which was spectacular, occurring on the pad of the Ocean Odyssey and inflicting considerable damage in the process, to regain a steady business in delivering large telecommunications satellites to geostationary orbit.   Its carrier vehicle, the Zenit 3SL is notable for the fact that it, like the SpaceX Falcon 9, is an all kerosene / liquid oxygen solution which gives it a distinct advantage in the simplicity department.

It speaks volumes about the overall cost structure of the launch industry that a rocket composed of major segments built in three different countries,  Ukraine (1st and second stage) Russia (orbital insertion stage) and the US (payload fairing), along with two highly specialized support vessels built in Norway,  could be  could be shipped halfway around the world from the Ukraine and Russia to Los Angeles to be integrated in a ship, and then towed well out into the Pacific on a converted oil platform  for the actual launch, and all headquartered curiously enough in a land-locked country (Switzerland), could be competitive in any sense, and yet it is.

Is it any wonder that SpaceX, which adopted the painfully simple notion of building a launch vehicle, including engines, under one roof and then shipping it by common tractor-trailer to an equally straight forward launch site, has so dramatically upset the status quo? As we rapidly close in on  2013, and the first flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 V1.1, it will be very interesting to note the response of other competitors if the company is able to both achieve a successful maiden launch, and then follow it up with its first major comsat delivery later in the year.

Assuming both launches come off as planned, the immediate reaction is not likely to be either instantaneous or dramatic,  but it is almost certain to force all players who wish to remain in the commercial launch business for the long run to re-evaluate virtually everything they do.

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