Boeing Frontiers
June 2002 
Volume 01, Issue 02 
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Space and Communications
One world, one platform

For Sea Launch's multinational crew, a cruise on the Pacific Ocean means getting ready for a rocket's liftoff


XM-1 “Roll” satelliteLife can be calm on the 11-day voyage from Sea Launch Home Port in Long Beach, Calif., to the equatorial launch site about 3,000 miles away. There may be an international ping-pong match or a basketball game, though these contests are all in fun and not for Olympic medals. Other times voyagers enjoy solitude on deck, gazing at a gorgeous sunrise or a peaceful sunset. And as for the night sky: billions of stars sparkle with breathtaking brilliance.

This tranquil exterior belies a buzz of activity just below the surface from nearly every corner of these unique vessels — the Sea Launch Commander and Odyssey Launch Platform. The people of Sea Launch are engaged in a serious business, and preparation for launch is a 24/7 operation.

After two years of discussion and study, Sea Launch was formed in April 1995. At that time, Boeing became a 40 percent partner in Sea Launch, together with companies from Russia, Ukraine and Norway. The partnership, now called Sea Launch Company LLC, is the only enterprise on the planet that offers commercial launch services from a floating platform on the equator.

"To say it simply, this is the one and only project of its kind in the world; a truly unique multinational project," said Arnt P. Danielsen, the Norwegian captain of Sea Launch Commander — the assembly and command ship.

A true testament to the successful melding of multiple cultures, languages and disciplines, the Sea Launch partners all deliver essential components to the system. Using its systems integration expertise, Boeing unites the partners and their technologies, and manages Home Port, where the vessels are moored and where payload processing activities occur. Boeing also manages launch operations at sea. As Sea Launch Mission Director Steve Thelin points out, "This is what Boeing does best: large-scale system integration."

quote"We work in a multinational, multicultural environment, leading the integration and operation of a high-technology business that spans both aerospace and marine technologies in a highly competitive market," said Don Carter, vice president of operations and general manager of Home Port.

"The Norwegian partner built and now manages the floating launch platform as well as the assembly and command ship. The Ukrainians make the first and second stages of the Sea Launch rocket. The Russians add the upper stage — the Block DM — to the launch vehicle," continued Carter.

What's life like in such an international organization? "It is simply like working in the average Russian, Ukrainian, Norwegian and U.S. two-ship, ocean-based satellite-launch service provider with ships crewed by Norwegian, Dutch, UK, Polish, Swedish and Filipino crew members," said Sea Launch Director of Security Tod Milton, "nothing special at all."

Sea Launch PartnersWhat this global team has accomplished is more than the launching of satellites; it's helped to launch entire businesses — such as XM Satellite Radio and Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Co.

"I have had the opportunity to be involved with Sea Launch since 1996," said Kelly Coen, director of payload operations. "In those development days we would ask ourselves, can we actually launch a Ukrainian rocket from a Norwegian oil platform from the middle of the Pacific Ocean?" Despite some uncertainties, the process has proved to be easier than anticipated. In fact, after assuming that the partners and their respective cultures would be extremely different from one another, many are amazed at the similarities.

"What surprised me most about working with so many cultures is how much we all have in common and how easily we communicate with one another," said Jim Maser, president of Sea Launch. "Physics and mathematics are the same in all cultures, it's just that we each use a different route to get to the same solution."

In addition to its string of successful launches, Sea Launch is undertaking initiatives to maintain its competitive position. The Sea Launch team currently is increasing its rocket performance capability from 5,250 kg to 6,000 kg (11,550 lb to 13,200 lb). Boeing Launch Services, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., markets the Sea Launch vehicle as well as the Delta family of rockets, offering either launch system as a backup option for the other to provide schedule assurance to commercial customers.

Odyssey Launch PlatformAt press time, Sea Launch was in full preparations to add the launch of the Galaxy IIIC satellite to its growing list of missions. Built by Boeing Satellite Systems for PanAmSat, this 702 model spacecraft will provide Internet, video, audio and data services to areas of the United States and Latin America. Three additional launches are planned before year's end. In 2003, Sea Launch will schedule as many as six missions.

The company continues to hold its own in a flat commercial launch market that reflects a decrease in satellite manufacturing orders. Sea Launch signed seven firm launch contracts in 2001, representing 30 percent of the year's market share. There are now 17 launches on its manifest.

"Sea Launch's success is the result of a world-class, global team providing responsive solutions to our customers and meeting our commitments," said Maser. "Our international workforce makes our work environment truly diverse and has contributed to our success."

Growing success record

The Sea Launch has recorded six successes out of seven launches, including a string of four in a row.
  • DemoSat, March 27, 1999: first commercial launch from a sea-based platform
  • DirecTV-1R satellite, October 10, 1999: accuracy provided extra years of life on orbit
  • PAS-9, July 28, 2000: transmitted Summer Olympics from Australia
  • Thuraya-1, October 20, 2000: heaviest commercial payload ever launched
  • XM-2 "Rock" on March 18, 2001: first of two digital audio radio satellites
  • XM-1 "Roll" on May 8, 2001: second of two most powerful commercial satellites in orbit
Not judging a culture by its cover

In the early days of Sea Launch development, Boeing employee Marc Nance (now the director of Launch Services for Sea Launch) was participating in conceptual discussions in Moscow. Nance relates a surprising cultural-education experience he had at the meeting.

"In 1994 Boeing engineers began meeting in earnest with Sea Launch Partners RSC Energia and SDO Yuzhnoye to discuss the development of a sea-based system that would truly revolutionize the launch industry. Although each of us came to the table with our own cultures and biases, we were all eager to roll up our sleeves and get to work. One of the things we Americans noticed was that our Russian and Ukrainian counterparts tended to be older males, with little female participation. Based on this observation, we deduced that women were not that involved in the technical sciences in Russia and Ukraine.

"During one meeting in Moscow, a fairly large group of us were gathered together going over a variety of challenging subjects that Sea Launch would have to face. One of these challenges was weather, and how it would affect a large marine-aerospace system in the middle of the ocean. As we were going through the daunting agenda, a [Russian meteorologist] was quietly serving cookies and the traditional Russian tea, Chai, as they call it. I think she may have been the only woman in the room.

"When it came time to discuss the complex subject of weather, the leader of the delegation introduced the woman, who promptly put down her tray and gave an excellent and thorough discussion of the weather impacts associated with Sea Launch. … Now that was sure a cultural experience. As we continued development of Sea Launch, we quickly learned that women are just as integral to our Russian and Ukrainian technical communities as they are in America. We also learned, once again, that things are not always as they appear."

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