On the same day of Sea Launch’s most recent launch failure event which lost the Intelsat 27 spacecraft, on 1 February, Boeing filed a lawsuit against the firms RSC Enegria and Yuznoye at the US District Court in Los Angeles demanding the payment of $356 million. Boeing alleges it is owed the money according to agreement it made with its Sea Launch partners during the setting up of the joint firm which noted that should the firm fail or be restructured, Boeing woud be paid its part of its investment back.
Sea Launch command ship in front of Odyssey launch pad. Courtesy: Sea Launch
For several years the firm has been struggling to make its operation work under the extra costs involved in regularly having to move its converted oil rig launch pad Odyssey to an equatorial position in the Pacific Ocean.
The final straw came when the cash strapped firm fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 after it found it could not pay an arbitration award of $52 million to Hughes Network Systems for a launch fee refund. Hughes Network Systems felt forced to move its launch of its Spaceway 3 satellite from Sea Launch to Arianespace alleging breach of contract after Sea Launch found it could not make the planned May 2007 flight due to the need to repair the Odyssey pad following a launch failure in January 2007.
Nevertheless, with the support of operators such as Intelsat who wanted extra competition in the launch market, Sea Launch eventually emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2010 in a restructured form with its shares 95% held by RSC Energia (with Boeing and Aker holding the remainder). Recently there have been some unofficial reports that RSC Energia has asked the Russian Government to take over its shareholding in the firm, presumably meaning that it would also take over its liabilities.
Comment by David Todd: While some commentators are writing off the chance of Sea Launch surviving following this move and its recent launch failure, the show may not be over yet. Recently, the Sea Launch firm had the filip of being cleared of any blame after some satellites built by Space Systems/Loral had been found to have had their solar arrays damaged by an inadvertent pressurisation design fault during their launches on Sea Launch and Proton flights.
In addition, while Sea Launch has not received any direct new orders recently, it had entered into agreement to be a back up launch provider for satellite operator Asiasat. It and other satellite operators remain concerned that its SpaceX Falcon 9 booked launches could be delayed.