For nearly 15 years. the large ComSat launch market has been dominated by three companies; Arianespace, which operates the market leading Ariane V, International Launch Services of Reston, Va., which markets the Russian built Proton heavy lift rocket, and Sea Launch, which operates the Ukraine/Russian Zenit-3SL. Although the Proton has certainly had its share of problems in recent years, (all occurring on separately contracted Russian government missions) Sea Launch has faced the greatest struggle, remaining a distant third.
Following emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010, original partner Boeing exited the ownership structure, and ultimately filed a $356 million lawsuit against the company’s new owner, Russian aerospace giant RSC Energia. Energia however, which now owns a 95% stake in Sea Launch, is itself 38% owned by the Russian government. Now, according to a report in Space News, the Russian government is considering a full takeover of Sea Launch, a move which would likely entail a change of venue from the Port of Los Angeles to the Russian Pacific Coast.
At the same time, another report states long term President and General Manager Kjell Karlsen is leaving the company. One way or another it would appear, significant changes may be coming to Sea Launch, which is currently making preparations for a return to flight with the launch of Eutelsat-38, scheduled for April. A full Russian takeover of Sea Launch would set up an interesting situation, giving the company access to Russian federal missions, and possibly stabilizing the long term issue which has dogged it from the beginning, the lack of sufficient launch opportunities to cover its overhead.
Generally considered to be the least expensive of the three heavy satellite launchers, a rejuvenated Sea Launch could prove an interesting variable in a market which is already anticipating the debut of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy.