The Pacific Adventure
In a move to meld innovative maritime design and the latest shipbuilding techniques with space engineering technology, two remarkable vessels that will form the basis of a sea-borne satellite launching system are scheduled to be delivered to their Long Beach homeport in July and August.
The 46,000-ton displacement launch platform Odyssey and 50,000-gt assembly and command ship (ACS) Sea Launch Commander comprise the marine infrastructure of Sea Launch, the multinational consortium which plans to undertake the first-ever ocean launch of a commercial satellite on October 30, 1998. Launches into geostationary orbit will take place from an equatorial location some 240 miles east of the Kiribati Islands, with rockets following an eastward trajectory.
The entire program has been conceived as a competitive alternative to operations from established ground launch sites, providing a more affordable as well as reliable and convenient service to meet growing demand from manufacturers of telecommunications satellites.
An equatorial launch location enables the earth's rotational forces to be used to optimum effect, permitting higher payloads to be carried for a given rocket size, while an ocean platform brings the added advantage of permitting a launch into any orbit from the same mobile pad. Sea Launch place itself at the competitive end of the market where launch prices for satellites of around 5,000 kg destined for geostationary orbit tend to be in the range of $70-$ 100 million. With market analysts having gauged some $50 billion in projected satellite manufacturing and launch activity through the turn of the century, the founders of Sea Launch saw significant opportunity for a cost-efficient new launch system that could be brought to market rapidly, and offer customers more flexibility, capability and convenience than existing arrangements.
Full-scale preparations for the initial launch are in hand at Long Beach, where a 16-acre site previously used by the U.S. Navy has been adapted as a state-of-the-art satellite processing center in which spacecraft will be tested, fueled and encapsulated in the Boeing-built fairings. Four shipyards in Scotland, Norway and Russia — three wholly or majority- owned by the Kvaerner Group have brought the project for the unique vessels to fruition, as key elements in a program involving U.S., Norwegian, Russian and Ukrainian co-venturers.
The scheme breaks new ground in both marine and commercial space technology, entailing the construction of the ACS mothership at the Kvaerner Govan yard on the Clyde, and the reconstruction of the launch unit Odyssey from a former North Sea drill rig at the Stavanger premises of Kvaerner Rosenberg.
Subsequent installation of some 3,000-tons of rocket handling gear on Odyssey was carried out at the Kvaerner Vyborg yard in Russia. Under the contractual arrangements, Sea Launch Commander also transferred to Russia for more than 600-tons of electronics and communications equipment to be fitted at the Kanonerskiy Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The ACS has the dual role of a floating factory for rocket assembly and payload integration while in port, and as an accommodation and mission control ship for commanding launches at sea.
All vessel design work was handled by the diversified technical consultancy firm Kvaerner Maritime, with offices at Lysaker, near Olso.
Kvaerner Group, Europe's largest shipbuilding organization, with extensive interests also in engineering and construction, has a 20 percent stake in Sea Launch. In addition to undertaking the design and construction of Sea Launch Commander, and the adaptation of Odyssey, it has also been entrusted with all maritime operations. It has linked-up with Barber Ship Management to create Kvaerner Barber in Oslo, specifically for the crewing and husbandry of the two vessels. With its 40 percent equity involvement, The Boeing Company has the largest shareholding in the venture, to which it is providing first-line marketing and support, handling mission operations, and producing the payload fairings and interface struc-organization also has responsibility for establishing the homeport facilities in Long Beach, where close proximity to major U.S. satellite manufacturers facilitates transportation and encapsulation operations for customers.
RSC-Energia, responsible for Russia's space program, has a 25 percent holding in Sea Launch. The Moscow-domiciled enterprise supplies the Block DM component of the system, the final stage of the rocket which positions the satellite in its final orbit, and is also responsible for mission launch support.
The Ukrainian co-venturer KB Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash, with a 15 percent stake, is the source of the Zenit rocket forming the first two stages of the launch vehicle.
The partnership has a substantial forward workload, through commitments from U.S. companies to 18 launches, plus a number of options. The opening dispatch from the Pacific into geostationary transfer orbit will be of a Hughes HS702 communications satellite. Designated Galaxy XI, the satellite will become part of the PanAmSat constellation, serving customers throughout the western hemisphere. Galaxy XI is the first of 13 launches booked by Hughes Space & Communications of Los Angeles, while five have been contracted by another Californian firm, Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto.
The precise cost of the Sea Launch program has not been disclosed, the joint venture company conceding only that it is in excess of $500 million.
In addition to the funding inputs from the partners, debt financing for the scheme has been arranged by Chase bank, with the participation of the World Bank. Sea Launch Co. has been registered in the Cayman Islands as a limited duration corporation, with offices in Oslo and Seattle, plus the Long Beach marine base.
Sea Launch Commander was expected to sail from St. Petersburg on June 10 for Long Beach, its 105-ft. (32-m) beam, one of the design parameters, permitting access through the Panama Canal.
Due to put out of Vyborg and into the Gulf of Finland on June 15, the platform will make the entire transit to California under its own power, using a multi-thruster installation permitting speeds of up to 12 knots. Depending on anticipated southern hemisphere weather conditions, and on comparative costs, the voyage options were via the Suez Canal, or by way July, 1998 of the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn, with envisaged homeport arrival in August.
First and second stages of the Zenit rockets are being manufactured in the Ukraine at Dnepropetrovsk, with the third, or upper stage, known as the Block DM, coming from Moscow, while payload fairing and interstage structure is supplied from Seattle. An initial inventory of inert, unfueled rocket components will be transported to Long Beach aboard the ACS on its positioning voyage. Subsequently, componentry transfer to the homeport in California will be made using an adapted, German-owned RoRo vessel.
From buffer storage at the Long Beach terminal, rocket components will be moved aboard the Circle 278 on Reader Service Card ACS as needed, for assembly in the vessel's cavernous, below-decks factory area.
The launch customers' satellites will be processed in the purposebuilt payload handling facility at Long Beach. The craft will be loaded with hypergolic fuels, encapsulated within a payload fairing made of advanced aerospace composites, and prepared for mating with the Sea Launch rocket. In a system which differs from conventional practice by effecting integration in a horizontal rather than a vertical position, the encapsulated payload will subsequently be rolled-out to the ACS, and combined with the launch vehicle on the ship. Subsequently, the ACS will be moved around the finger pier and stern to the launch platform, and the complete, integrated unit will be transferred from the command vessel by means of an onboard crane. The convoy will put out for the ocean launch location with the rocket and satellite housed during transit in the platform's large, environmentally-controlled hangar. A mobile transporter and erector system will be employed to roll-out and hoist the rocket into launch position prior to fueling and dispatch. Storage capacity and system design aboard the Odyssey is such as to ensure sufficient rocket fuel and oxidizer for two launches, such that each mission will have fuel enough for a second attempt in the event of a launch having to be aborted. The designers of the system say that the semi-submersible will allow for launches in wave heights up to 10 ft. (3m), and that studies indicate a weather availability for the launching of 95 percent-plus for the area concerned. Environmental data is continuously being gathered from a weather buoy positioned in the launch area. The multifunctional ACS, which will take personnel off the Odyssey in the period immediately preceding the launch, incorporates a state-of-the-art mission command room equipped for remote control of the rocket launching procedure and for mission monitoring. Such is the colossal rate of dispatch that the rocket will be in orbit over South America only 32 seconds after lift-off on the Equatorial belt in the Kiribati region.
Kvaerner Maritime had initially considered a Norwegian-built 42,000-gt RoRo vessel type as the possible basis for the Sea Launch Commander, but subsequently opted for a tailor-made, entirely original design in the light of the specific and unique needs of the project. One of the most astonishing aspects of the resulting, 667-ft. (203-m) ACS is its huge internal volume used as a hangar and mating point for rockets and satellites, subdivided by partial transverse bulkheads and sliding doors into four compartments, for rocket assembly, spacecraft handling, third stage processing and fuelling. The hangar hold has been dimensioned for secure storage of three rockets, accessed via a 157.5-ft. (48-m) long stern ramp and watertight door, both supplied by Kvaerner Ships Equipment.
The ramp can be adjusted to suit varying wharf heights and has a minimum 26.2 ft. (8 m) driveway width to accommodate a 190-ton load. The fine hull form, with a block coefficient of 0.57, and main machinery comprised of two eightcylinder Wartsila 46 engines delivering a total of some 21,000-bhp through reduction gearing to a single controllable pitch propeller, should ensure speeds up to 21- knots. For station-keeping, two Kamewa bow thrusters and a retractable compass thruster are operated by electronic signals through the dynamic positioning system, while manoeuvrability is also considerably enhanced through the adoption of a Becker rudder. Two independent, highspeed digital radio communication link systems are installed for remote launch operations from the ACS, potentially with the mothership at a distance of 20-km from the platform.