The Moscow Times reports that Russia’s space conglomerate/space agency Roscosmos has announced that the Sea Launch operation, which has been moribund for several years, has now been sold to an as yet unidentified buyer. Sea Launch’s principal asset is its “Ocean Odyssey” floating launch pad which was converted from an oil rig. This allows launches close to the equator which provide the optimum benefit of the Earth’s spin for Eastward launches. The pad also allows launches to be made thousands of miles away from land masses – a factor that at one point led to speculation that Israel might bid for the structure as their geography prevents Eastward flights from Israel-based launch sites.
Currently the pad is designed to fly Ukranian supplied Zenit 3-SL launch vehicles, albeit that a significant number of components are Russian supplied. It is not known if this launch vehicle supply will be included as part of the deal, or whether it will be refitted for new rockets.
The firm, which began as a Boeing/Energia/Kvaerner/Yuzhnoye project in 1995, fell mainly (85% shares) into the hands of RSC Energia – now a subsidiary of Roscosmos – in 2009 after Sea Launch fell into bankruptcy protection due to a combination of low flight rates, legal actions and unreliability. Launches were resumed but the last one was in May 2014 and with an empty order book along with political difficulties over the supply of Zenit 3-SL rockets after Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine, operations were suspended.
Update on 1st April: Russian media sources report that the Russian airline group S7 is in negotiations to buy the Odyssey pad which will be based at Christmas Island in the Pacific.