Hughes Space and Communications International Inc. on Monday became the first customer of Sea Launch, a floating rocket launch platform built by a Boeing-led group to hurl satellites into space.
Hughes placed a $1 billion order for 10 launches over five years, beginning in the second quarter of 1998, said spokesman Don O’Neal. It also took an undisclosed number options for more launches.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
“This makes Sea Launch a real business, and it gives our people something definite and tangible to work toward,” said Ronald Olson, general manager of the international Sea Launch consortium.
Sea Launch plans to convert a 31,000-ton oil drilling platform into a self-propelled floating launch pad that would stretch 1,250 feet. It could be towed by a 650-foot command center.
“Hughes has a backlog of 41 satellites to be launched, most of which are our large HS 601 and 702 models. We need a varied supply of rockets so our customers can be assured of getting into space on time and meeting their business plans,” said Hughes chairman Donald L. Cromer.
Sea Launch will be based in the Port of Long Beach, creating 400 jobs that will give a boost to the local economy in the aftermath of the closure of the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.
Sea Launch Co. is an international consortium led by Boeing Commercial Space Co. Boeing’s partners in the venture are RSC-Energia of Russia, NPO-Yuzhnoye of Ukraine and shipbuilder Kvaerner a.s. of Norway.
The three-stage Sea Launch vehicle combines Yuzhnoye’s two-stage Zenit rocket with Energia’s Block DM upper stage. It is capable of carrying Hughes’ largest satellites to low, medium or geostationary Earth orbits.
The proximity of Long Beach and Hughes’ El Segundo satellite plant will cut Hughes’ costs of shipping satellites cross-country or overseas for launch.
“We don’t have to go to South America, China, Russia or even to Florida” to launch satellites, said Steven D. Dorfman, president of Hughes’ Telecommunications & Space Co. group. “We can just go down the street to Long Beach Harbor.”
Kvaerner’s Stavanger, Norway, shipyard will convert the 430-foot-long rig, while Kvaerner’s Glasgow, Scotland, yard is to build the 650-foot rocket assembly and command ship that will accompany the platform to Pacific launch sites.
“This order from Hughes is clearly our most important event to date,” said Olson.
The Sea Launch platform typically would be towed thousands of miles out into the Pacific so that the rockets could be launched from off Kiribati, a small island nation on the equator formerly known as the Gilbert Islands.