Russian Government Mulls Takeover of Troubled Sea Launch as Company President Resigns

Sea Launch Zenit booster

UPDATE: Sea Launch President Kjell Karlsen has resigned “to pursue other opportunities outside space industry. After his departure, the Company’s senior executive team will carry out Mr. Karlsen’s former duties and responsibilities.  Mr. Karlsen has been with Sea Launch since 1999, serving as the President since 2008 and member of its Board of Directors since 2010.”

Space News reports the Russian government is mulling a takeover of the troubled Sea Launch company.

Moscow has asked the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and Russian manufacturer RSC Energia, which holds 95 percent of Swiss-registered Sea Launch, to submit an overview of the financial situation of the maritime launch services company, Rogozin said in remarks posted on the Russian Cabinet website. The Russian government holds 38 percent of Energia, which supplies the upper stage of the Sea Launch rocket.

Should the government go forward with the deal, it likely would move the oceangoing rocket pad and command ship from Long Beach, Calif., to a Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, Rogozin said. “Something tells me that if we go for it, then the base will definitely be outside the United States,” he said.

The government could potentially use the company to carry out some of the federal launch contracts and would not be inclined to ship sensitive spacecraft to the Unites States to undergo preparation for launch, Rogozin said.

Sea Launch uses Zenit launchers whose first stages are built in Ukraine and whose upper stages are manufactured in Russia by RSC Energia. Another company, Land Launch, operates Zenit boosters from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Sea Launch has a troubled history. It was established in 1995 as a commercial launch consortium for communications satellites managed by Boeing and including RSC Energia and partners from Norway and Ukraine.

The company struggled in the market, and the Zenit booster suffered several failures. Sea Launch filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and it emerged the following year under 95 percent majority ownership by RSC Energia.

The company has continued to struggle to attract sufficient business to make a profit. The Zenit booster suffered another failure last year after its first stage malfunctioned, sending the rocket and an Intelsat communications satellite into the Pacific Ocean.