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Debt-free Sea Launch emerges from bankruptcy

Posted: October 28, 2010

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After winning court and regulatory approval of its Chapter 11 reorganization under majority Russian ownership, California-based Sea Launch emerged from a 16-month bankruptcy process Wednesday with plans to resume satellite delivery missions in 2011.

File photo from Sea Launch's last ocean campaign in April 2009. Credit: Sea Launch/David Hutsell
Sea Launch's plan of reorganization was approved July 27 by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware and cleared the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment on Sept. 8, leading to the reshaped company's effective date of Oct. 27, the firm said Wednesday in a press release.

"We are thrilled to have successfully emerged from Chapter 11 with a solid financial structure and a healthy manifest of future launches," said Kjell Karlsen, Sea Launch president and general manager. "Completing this transaction will represent a significant accomplishment in the final steps toward re-entering the market as a strong and competitive commercial launch service provider."

Sea Launch, which was previously owned by a contractor coalition led by Boeing Co., will now be led by Energia Overseas Ltd., a subsidiary the Russian aerospace giant Energia, which builds the Block DM upper stage for the Zenit 3SL rocket.

Now rid of crippling debt that followed the company for much of its existence, Sea Launch plans to resume flights in the first three months of 2011 with a Zenit rocket mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

That flight, conducted under the Land Launch banner, will carry the Intelsat 18 communications satellite into orbit.

Land Launch missions are managed by Space International Services Ltd. of Moscow. The land-based variant of Sea Launch's Zenit rocket has flown four times since 2008.

Missions from Sea Launch's ocean-based Odyssey platform will resume in the third quarter of 2011. Sea Launch plans two flights from their Pacific Ocean site next year, officials said.

The Odyssey platform is based at Sea Launch's home port in Long Beach, Calif. It is a two-week journey from Long Beach to the launch site on the equator at 154 degrees west longitude.

"We are now planning for our return to launch operations in 2011, building on the continuity of our collective expertise and proven experience of our launch system and our team," Karlsen said.

According to Karlsen, Sea Launch's future business can be profitable with two missions per year.

"We had an opportunity to systematically analyze all the existing processes and operations, both internal and external, and as a result, we are talking about an overhaul of the business at all levels," said Dennis Shomko, a spokesman for Energia Overseas Ltd. "For customers, that means transparency, reliability and predictability. We are confident that we can deliver a competitive level of 'business comfort' to them, while ensuring that our suppliers are managed appropriately."

One of the chief uncertainties before Sea Launch's mid-2009 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection was the Ukrainian Zenit rocket supply chain. According to court filings, the global financial crisis, a catastrophic launch mishap in 2007, and late equipment deliveries and cash payments triggered several serious delays.

An Energia affiliate in Moscow will oversee the supply chain in Russia and Ukraine, according to Sea Launch. Energia Logistics Ltd., a U.S. corporation, is taking over management of rocket and satellite operations in Long Beach.

Sea Launch's contract backlog includes deals to launch Intelsat, Eutelsat, AsiaSat and EchoStar communications satellites. Officials have not announced payloads for the two Sea Launch missions in the second half of 2011.