Ship as a Mobile Platform to Launch Satellites

by OldSailor on November 26, 2007


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Having seen ships being used as a Hospital, University, Museum, promoting fashion, its time now to see a ship being used as a Platform to launch satellites. Sea Launch is preparing to launch a Zenit-3SL rocket with a Thuraya-3 communication satellite shortly from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. To view live web telecast click here.

The Sea Launch is the world’s first ever commercial international project to develop and operate a sea-based space launch system. The main objective of this project is to launch satellites from a mobile sea-based launch platform. Its founders were America’s Boeing Commercial Space Company, Russia’s Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, Norway’s Kvaerner Maritime AS, and Ukraine’s aerospace companies: Yuzhmashzavod and the Yangel Yuzhnoye Design Bureau.The project assumes that most of the satellites will be launched into the geostationary orbit from an equatorial launch site located in the Pacific Ocean near Christmas Island.


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The Sea Launch rocket and space system is designed for launching various-purpose spacecrafts. These launches are carried out from an off-shore platform using integrated launch vehicle Zenit-3SL with upper stage Block DM-SL.The key advantages of the Sea Launch system over ground launch sites are as follows:

  • Ability to launch directly from the equator thus reducing unit costs of their delivery to the target orbit.
  • Ability to launch with any azimuth from open sea, thus making launches free of political risks.
  • Compactness, no need to have a well-developed ground infrastructure and its associated social support (roads, power, hotels, schools, hospitals, etc.), which radically reduces the numbers of personnel participating in the work, and, therefore, the cost of operation.
  • Ability to process spacecraft for launch on the US territory (Long Beach, CA), virtually in an “urban” environment, not far from assembly shops of Hughes Space & Communications and Space System/Loral, the major commercial spacecraft manufacturers outside Russia (up to 80% of the total numbers built in the world).

Sea-based space launching system Sea Launch consists of the following segments.

  • Rocket segment
  • Spacecraft segment
  • Payload unit with spacecraft
  • Marine segment
    • Launch Platform
    • Assembly and Command Ship
  • Home port


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Launch Platform Odyssey:



The first commercial launch was done on October 9, 1999. In total, there have already been 24 launches. Three of them ended in accidents and involved the loss of rockets and payloads, occurring in March 2000, June 2004 and January 2007.

The Launch Platform Odyssey is a self-propelled semi-submersible, catamaran-type, floating rocket launch system. The platform is based on an off-shore oil drilling rig and was built at Rosenberg shipyard (Stavanger, Norway). It is equipped with a launch pad, a launch vehicle erector, systems for filling with propellant components, and other systems that support the integrated launch vehicle pre-launch processing and launch. The installation of the rocket systems, launching and support equipment was performed at the Kvaerner-Vyborg shipyard at Vyborg (Russia).

The platform has a hangar, inside which a launch vehicle Zenit-3SL integrated with the payload is transported to the launch site. The hangar has an air conditioning system which operates throughout the entire transit period. There is a special transporter/erector to roll the launch vehicle out of the hangar and erect it on the launch pad. There are rooms equipped for propellant component storage (kerosene and liquid oxygen). A remotely-controlled rocket fuelling system and an automatic launch system allow to conduct pre-launch operations without any persons present on board the platform.

Launch Platform Odyssey can accommodate 68 persons of crew and launch support personnel.The accommodations include living quarters, a canteen, and an ambulance room. The home port of the launch platform is Long Beach port located in south-western US (California).

Launch Platform Data:

  • Displacement, ton:
    • In transit :27400
    • Semi-submerged:46000
  • Length, m:
    • By pontoons:133
    • By the deck :78
  • Width (by deck), m:66.8
  • Main deck elevation, m:42
  • Height (up to the helipad), m:71
  • Speed, knots:up to 12
  • Draft, m:
    • In transit:7.5
    • Semi-submerged:21.5
  • Electrical power available from the generator plant, kW:8000

Assembly and command ship:



Assembly and command ship (ACS) was built at a Kvaerner shipyard in Glasgow, Scotland. ACS design was developed on the basis of a Roll On/Roll Off (RO/RO) cargo vessel. The installation on the ACS of the rocket segment systems and equipment was performed at Kanonersky shipyard (St. Petersburg)

When at port, ACS serves as an assembly shop, and when at sea, it serves as a control center for the launch vehicle pre-launch processing and launch, also providing accommodations for the crew, specialists who service rocket and space hardware and control launches, and customer representatives. ACS is outfitted with systems and equipment which allow to conduct on its board integrated tests of the launch vehicle and the upper stage, fill the upper stage with high-boiling propellant components and gases, assemble and test the integrated launch vehicle. ACS houses a command station for controlling the upper stage flight, and facilities for receiving and processing telemetry measurements.

  • Overall dimensions, m:
    • length:203
    • width:32.2
  • Operating draft, m:8
  • Height (including deckhouse), m:43.6
  • Displacement, tons:30800
  • Speed, knots:19.6
  • The number of rockets that can be serviced:2

The ship can accommodate up to 240 people, placing at their disposal a conference room, a movie theater, a cafeteria, lounges, rooms for recreation and exercise, a swimming pool, and a first aid clinic. ACS home port is Long Beach port located in south-western USA (California).

Integrated Launch Vehicle:



Integrated Launch Vehicle (ILV) Zenit-3SL consists of: launch vehicle Zenit-2S, upper stage Block DM-SL, and Payload Unit containing a spacecraft. The developers and manufacturers of Zenit-2S launch vehicle are Design Bureau Yuzhnoye and Production Association Yuzhmashzavod (Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine). Upper stage Block DM-SL was developed and is mass-produced by S.P.Korolev RSC Energia (Korolev, Moscow region, Russia) in cooperation with Russian companies. Development of the payload unit, which includes payload fairing and structural adapters connecting spacecraft to the upper stage, is the responsibility of Boeing Commercial Space Company (Seattle, Washington, USA)

Integrated Launch Vehicle Zenit-3SL is a state-of-the-art launcher featuring operational simplicity and full automation of pre-launch processing and launch. It operates on liquid oxygen and kerosene, producing water and carbon dioxide as combustion products. This makes it environmentally safe. It has been modified to adapt it to sea launch conditions.

Home Port:



Home Port is situated on the US West Coast (Long Beach, Los Angeles area, California) as satellite manufacturers are mostly situated in southern California. Its purpose is to process spacecraft, store launch vehicle stages and upper stages, provide mooring for the launch platform and assembly and command ship, fill them with propellant components and gases, support integrated launch vehicle assembly and testing.

OldSailor wishes all the best for the launch of Thuraya-3 Satellite Launch, to take place shortly. To view the live web telecast click here.

Update: January 16, 2008.

Sea Launch has successfully launched Thuraya-3 satellite on January 15.

Update: July 16

The Sea Launch has successfully launched the EchoStar XI broadcast satellite at 05:21 GMT on July 16.  Read more from RIA Novosti.

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