Thursday, May 22, 2014


In February of 2013 we brought you this essay on a sea based private space launch system, and the concept of private space transportation generally. In the nearly year and half since then there have been a few new developments. Time for a revisit and up date.-Editor 


A 2009 successful sea launch, photo source:

In February of 2013 we  linked you to the following FOX NEWS story, Now as Paul Harvey used to say...."the rest of the story

"Sea Launch AG says a U.S. communications satellite was lost after a booster rocket carrying it into space failed shortly after its launch from a floating platform in the Pacific.
The company said in a statement Friday the Intelsat 27 satellite was lost 40 seconds after the launch due to the failure of the Zenit-3SL rocket. The Boeing. Co-built spacecraft was launched Thursday from the Odyssey ocean platform.
Sea Launch AG President Kjell Karlsen said the cause of the failure is unknown and the company is working to evaluate it. An affiliate of Russia's RKK Energia state-controlled rocket manufacturer owns 95 percent of stock in Sea Launch, with the remainder being held indirectly by Boeing Co. and Norwegian Aker ASA. The Zenit booster is manufactured by Ukraine's Yuzhmash rocket plant."

Read more: 

The ship is designed similar to a conventional merchant marine "RORO" (roll on roll off, note ramp in upright position at stern)

                                                    SEA LAUNCH PLATFORM "ODYSSEY",
ODYSSEY is a self propelled semi submersible vessel similar to the well established designs used in mobile offshore drilling units (MODUS). Both photos are by:  Frank Leuband,  taken at the Port of Long Beach, CA on April 17, 2004 used under GNU Free Doc. Lic:

  SEA LAUNCH is a commercial space launch service that uses the semi submersible self propelled launch vessel ODYSSEY pictured above for equatorial launches of commercial payloads into outer space, low earth orbit. In many ways corporate commercial space launch services are the start of the evolution of a "Merchant Marine" of outer space. That's not an original turn of phrase so much as an adaptation. When Pan AM first began to develop regular passenger air travel including transoceanic routes via their famous "flying boats", the company adopted nautically influenced air crew uniforms and even began to advertise themselves as "The Merchant Marine Of The AIR". As space exploitation/travel begins its very early commercial stage it's interesting that like Pan Am's flying boat connection there is a very traditional merchant marine connection to at least one commercial launch service. Not only is the launch platform the ODYSSEY technically and legally a ship, but every launch is actually a two ship operation, and one is very recognizable as a very typical modern ship design. THE SEA LAUNCH COMMANDER is the rocket /payload assembly ship and launch command vessel. The COMMANDER is based on the design of a conventional "RORO" (Roll on Roll Off") commercial ship. The rocket and pay load are assembled on the Commander,then both ships proceed to the launch site. At the launch site the rocket and payload are transferred to the ODYSSEY launch vessel and made ready for launch. The crew of the ODYSSEY then transfers to the COMMANDER where the launch is controlled. It was expected that this shipboard launch system coupled with an equatorial launch site would make space launches for certain sized commercial pay loads most often communications satellites very economical.  The company's profits have probably suffered more from a turnaround learning curve and occasional slack demand than any failure to realize the expected efficiencies from the the maritime system.

  The company has twice fallen on hard times and each time it emerges from bankruptcy /reorganization more of the owner ship is taken over by a government we find positively ominous. There is a market for commercial space launch, and travel services but it is not quite large enough for companies that are not capitalized with large cash reserves to survive. The United States has no coherent maritime policy and this has resulted in the demise of our deep sea merchant marine. We also have no comprehensive space policy and have gradually dropped out of the manned space flight game. We say we believe in private industry in space but we are unwilling to lend any kind of governmental hand to insure the survival of innovative American corporate space industries unless they are part of the production line for NASA projects. But that old bear, the thug state Russia has no problem dipping into the public purse to support corporate space endeavor, as long as they end up with the controlling corporate interest. The Sea Launch company being a case in point.

 Sea Launch was established in 1995 as a consortium of companies from Norway, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States managed by the American Boeing Company with participation by all of the stockholders. Commercial customers lined up and Sea launch successfully lofted payloads for clients such as ECHO STAR, DIRC TV, XM SATELLITE RADIO, and PAN AM SAT. The ODYSSEY and SEA LAUNCH COMMANDER operated out of Long Beach California. The failed launch described in the quoted and linked story at the top of this posting was not the company's first launch failure. In those early days of the company there were three failed launches and one "partial failure" (probably failure to achieve optimum orbit). There were only a total of little over thirty launches so three failures put the predicted success rate at roughly 90%+.  Not bad in the history of space launches generally but that is pretty much a history of governmental endeavor in massive projects carried out by the lowest bidders. When you expect to get paid for doing something, a commercial endeavor customers are less patient than tax payers. In June of 2009 Sea Launch Co.LLC filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in a U.S. court. It emerged in October 2010 reorganized with a majority ownership by ENERGIA OVERSEAS LTD, a Russian corporation. This most recent launch failure isn't the first trouble since  October of 2010. It won't be the last either but there is no sign that ENERGIA is throwing in the towel. In fact the company is starting up a second launch site ashore. The Russians are in the commercialization of space to stay. In early 2013 we serialized a group of essays that we called "Space as an Ocean" which you can read in our Maritime Literature Section where it is being evolved into a book tentatively titled "PROTOCOLS". In that series of posts we compared the present age of space exploration with the earlier age of European Ocean exploration. During that early stage of commercialization of newly "discovered" areas the first corporations had heavy governmental support and governmental like powers. These were the famed "East India Companies". As the era of space exploration passes into commercialism Russia has an evolving East India type organization and we, well we have no policy, few space craft of late , no manned space flight capability. As our own giant catfish buddy would say:

"Thug states One, English Speaking People Still in the starting blocks."

However that is only true so far as the present clueless and incompetent U.S. Federal Government is concerned. Innovative American Companies are moving ahead with commercial launch capabilities, the development of manned space flight vehicles, even a manned mission to Mars, and at least one is not going broke. While these American private space businesses aren't prospering from governmental attention, funding, or consistent and intelligent policy they do compete for what NASA projects are out there but also compete on a global basis for military and commercial payloads. "Space x" (Space Exploration and Technologies Corporation)  with its (so far)  privately funded goal of a manned Mars mission looks like a front runner for the "East India" corporate model at some point. Their ultimate corporate Mars vision is really a planet sized real estate venture, terra forming the planet to human habitation standards. 

Space Exploration and Technologies Corporation "SPACE X"

Back in 2008 Space X successfully launched the first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket, the Falcon 1 to reach orbit. In December of 2010 Space X became the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover ( by their Falcon 9 rocket) a space craft (Their Dragon 9 vehicle) In 2012 Space X became the first private company to send an unmanned space craft (again the Dragon  theInternational Space Station And in 20 13 Space X became the first private company to send a satellite into  geosynchronous orbit (3 December 2013).

  NASA has awarded Space X a contract to develop and demonstrate a human rated Dragon  vehicle as part of NASA's  Commercial Crew Development program for transport of crews and supplies to and from the International space station..    

Space X management believes that other space launch services are over priced largely due to to unnecessary bureaucracy. The corporation has adopted as a goal a ten fold reduction in costs with a net improvement in safety and reliability for space launch services. 

 Space X is under contract with NASA to demonstrate a crew carrying vehicle in time for the U.S. to resume manned space flight to the International space station by 2017.  Two other companies Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation received similar development contracts. There are two separate but related space races going on. China has entered space with manned orbital capability and is working towards a moon landing. The United States landed on the moon more than 40 years ago, long enough for an entire generation to have no memory of it. A moon landing would be quite a propaganda win for the Chinese but their space program resembles NASA's 1960s era.  Russia, Europe , and the United States are in a race to see how fast space can be commercialized in the hopes not of abandoning space exploration and exploitation as a national goal but of transferring some of the massive costs to private for profit enterprise. When it comes to exploring and exploiting new worlds mankind had one previous experience in the era of the nation state. It started in the 1400s and eventually evolved into a government / corporate partnership best exemplified in the East and West India Companies. Some time ago we published a series of posts called "SPACE AS AN OCEAN" when they were complete we moved them to our Maritime Literature Section where we have been working on them in full public view with the hope of some public input . We will shortly begin publishing revised versions of these essays currently carrying the tentative collective title of "PROTOCOLS in our daily blogs. We believe that we are seeing the very early stages of the evolution of a "Merchant Marine of Space", and that there are some historic models that show us both human organizations that work in that context and many that doesn't as well as the many pitfalls of contact with other worlds inhabited or not.


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