Boeing Wins Judgment Against Sea Launch Partners

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)
Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

As if the Russian government didn’t already have enough difficulty unloading its trouble Sea Launch venture, there will soon be a massive legal judgment hanging over the launch services company.

A U.S. District Court has ruled in favor of Boeing and against its Russian and Ukrainian partners in the Sea Launch commercial-launch company, saying the partners breached their contract obligations by not reimbursing Boeing their share of Sea Launch expenses.

The court’s decision sets up what is likely to be a brief non-jury trial, scheduled for Nov. 10, during which Boeing appears all but certain to be awarded the $356 million it has long sought. But collecting the money from entities owned by the Russian and Ukrainian governments will be another matter.

In a ruling dated Sept. 28, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said the ties that bound the Sea Launch partners were clearly written into the company’s founding documents.

The entities in question are RSC Energia of Russia and Yuzhnoye of Ukraine. Sea Launch is majority owned by RSC Energia, which in turn is owned by the Russian government.

Russian officials have been trying for years to sell Sea Launch, which uses Russian-Ukrainian Zenit to launch communications satellites from a floating platform towed to an equatorial position. Media reports indicate they have held talks with Brazil, Israel and China.

Sea Launch has been long troubled by launch failures and weak sales. It went through a bankruptcy from which it later emerged with RSC Energia with a majority stake.

  • Dennis

    Heh, in the Netherlands we have this saying “Van een kale kip kun je niet plukken”, which translates to “You cannot pluck a bald chicken”. Seems kinda fitting here.

    Where the hell is that $356M supposed to come from? :S

  • Douglas Messier

    Vladimir Putin’s bank account. He supposedly has $40 billion socked away.

    Or from the sale of the company maybe. I think that would be a lot harder to do with a big judgment hanging over everything. I imagine if the Russians and Ukrainians don’t pay up, Boeing could put a lien on the company and lay claim to the proceeds of any sale.

    The Russians have said they’re not going to use Zenits anymore. That’s a bigger blow to Ukraine which makes the first stage. Meanwhile, RSC Energia is stuck with the company it doesn’t want flying boosters the Russian government says it doesn’t need.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I don’t know how expensive that SeaLaunch hardware is to operate, but it sure would make for a nice sea based launch platform for Space X. There are a lot of parallels between the transport and strongback operations of Zenit and Falcon 9, both reach back to my fav satellite launch vehicle, Thor.