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Sea Launch in the Press

RIA Novosti Interview with Serguei Gugkaev, CEO

Serguei Gugkaev: "Sea Launch" is looking for replacement to the Ukrainian Zenit rocket

Translation from the original Russian language interview with Elizabeth Isakova of RIA Novosti on February 04, 2015:

The RIA News Agency met with Sergey Gugkaev, the CEO of Sea Launch SA located in Nyon, Switzerland. Mr. S. Gugkaev who told us about when the Sea Launch System will be coming out of layup, where the Home Port might be relocated to and whether Vladivostok might become the new location for the Home Port.
International commercial program Sea Launch ("Sea Launch") that provides launch services in orbit placement of the satellites by using Ukrainian "Zenit-3SL" ILV is considering the possibility of switching to a Russian built LV.  Following the successful launch in late May of 2014 the Sea Launch System was placed in layup. Elizabeth Isakova, the head of the RIA Novosti News Agency met and talked to Sergey Gugkayev, the Sea Launch SA CEO about when the Sea Launch System will be coming out of the layup, when we might see a replacement rocket to the Ukrainian "Zenit-3SL, where the new location of Home Port might be and whether Vladivostok may become a new home for the Sea Launch System.
Q: Sergey Vladimirovich, the Sea Launch program was started in 1995 as the international program. However, it already had a few reorganizations. Who is a primary owner of it now?

A: Legally Sea Launch SA belongs to the Luxembourg company Sea Launch SARL, the 95% of which is owned by the Russian company Energia Overseas (EOL), which is affiliated with Energia Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC "Energia").

Q: What is the current status of the program? What is the condition of the program now?

A: Following the successful launch in May 2014, the Sea Launch System was placed into the layup up mode which pertains mostly the SL vessels - the Launch Platform (LP) Odyssey and the Assembly-and-Command Ship (ACS) Sea Launch Commander.  
The ACS, that is the ship, is in so-called "warm layup", i.e. when ship's generators are running to produce electric power, we have people - marine crew, special purpose personnel living onboard. And the LP is in so-called "cold layup" - it's when the power producing generator is turned off, there are no people living onboard the LP, but the LP is under continuous scheduled monitoring with measuring required parameters of its systems and equipment, etc. This is what we call "placing the ships into layup". But the layup mode also assumes "taking the ships out of the layup mode", that is when we will commence active operational activities in preparation to mission work when all these systems will be deployed to their nominal operational readiness condition.
In the past the Sea Launch System was placed into this type of layup. Considering the fact that the SL System is quite flexible form the point of view of its systems and operations, we use the layup mode to reduce costs or simply get rid of unnecessary cost items such as purchasing huge amounts of fuel to run ships' generators.

Q: And when are you planning to take the SL System out of layup?
A: Right now this particular question is one of the agenda items for the Board of directors of Sea Launch SA where decisions on future operation of the SL Systems have to be made. When we were entering the layup mode we planned that realistically we would be coming out of layup in 2016. It is yet to be seen how the situation might develop, - time will tell, - as you know there have been lots of changes including political situation, certain hardware production challenges…
Q: Are you referring to the Zenit-3SL production in Yuzhmash, Ukraine?
A: Yes, we are getting information that the manufacturer of these launch vehicles "The Yuzhny (Southern) Machine-Building Plant of A.M.Makarov" ("Yuzhmash") in Dnepropetrovsk is having serious production and financial problems, some of their production personnel is laid off, there is no support provided by the government of Ukraine. So right now, there's some uncertainty with our key supplier of the LVs.

Q: Are there are any plans to replace "Zenit-3SL"LVs with Russian made rockets, say with the newest Russian rocket of the "Angara" family? To what extent it is plausible?

A: The subject of potential flight hardware substitution is being discussed. However, there were no decisions or resolutions made by the Board of Directors. We believe that a feasibility study on LV replacement may take a month or two. At the moment there are a few of various studies.

Q: For instance, how about the "Soyuz" LV? 

A: I do not think so. First of all, the "Soyuz" LVs are already used for equatorial launches under the Kourou program. Also, the "Soyuz" LVs' performance is quite limited even launching from the equator -- if I am not mistaken it's capable of injecting a mere 3½ ton of payload to the GTO. However, we believe that from the commercial point of view of the market it is important to have a 6 ton capability.   So, it's either two 3 ton SC or a single 6 ton SC capability. We believe this is where our competitive advantage should be.

Q: Then what are the options on possible replacement of "Zenith-3SL"that are being considered right now?

A: Virtually any rocket can be launched from "Sea Launch".  It is necessary to carry out serious adaptation of this rocket to the LP and the ACS, i.e. to replace systems, new interfaces and so on. Two main questions, though: how much time will all this work take and much will it cost?

Q: Is it possible to resolve challenges that are taking place at Yuzhmash?

A: We are in continuous contact with our Ukrainian colleagues. However, a question of the future of "Yuzhmash" to the greater extent depends on the decisions made by the Ukrainian government. We sincerely wish nothing but success to this enterprise and its people.

Q: And what are the current relocation plans? And to what extent is it prudent to relocate the launch platform from Long Beach to a different place?

A: The Sea Launch System relocation issue has been on the agenda ever since the early days of the program, - as early as when Boeing and other companies were parties to the program. The distance between the Home Port in Long Beach and the launch site is nearly 5 thousand kilometers. And our vessels are big. We are talking about the LP and the ACS which are just like the regular production facilities are used for the flight hardware assembly, integrated testing of the LV and the Upper Stage. The vessels house all required command, etc. instrumentation and serve as a Launch/Flight Control Center. The amount of the special purpose systems and equipment installed on both vessels is huge. Besides, the LP has a significant wind area and it sails slowly. So, from the overall mission processing point of view any mission is quite a lengthy process. Therefore, economically speaking it would make much more sense to be at a much closer proximity to the equatorial waters to reduce the sea voyage time for the ships, to increase number of launches and reduce operating costs for the spaceport. But, as always there are pros and cons. The current location, - the city of Long Beach,CA is the place which has excellent sea port infrastructure. Besides, two spacecraft manufacturers (Boeing and Loral) are close to Long Beach and they can literally truck their SC to Home Port.  So, nonetheless, considering that we look into various aspects and components of what we can do to make this program cost effective to the maximum possible extent we are reviewing various countries that are located close to the equator. We are talking about the whole array of different countries that may be potential HP locations.

Q: Where would it make the most logical sense to relocate? There were options that included Brazil, Vietnam and even Vladivostok. What are other possibilities? 

A: We talk about a few potential countries. But it is too early to focus attention any specific option. Indeed, sea ports of the Russian Far East have been considered as one of the options. But from the point of view of the distance to the equator they are still ways out. Also, in winter time harbor water of the Russian Far East sea ports freeze and are covered with ice. That means that we would have to adapt our "summer" ships to these conditions. From purely economic point of view it makes more sense to be somewhere in the equatorial area.

Q: So, the main issue is in how to resolve logistics and the economic aspect of it?

A: From the point of view of a commercial aspect of the project— yes. But there is also a number of licensing and engineering/technical issues.
Q: There were a few representatives of the aerospace industry who made statements that Sea Launch can become a good test bed for developing and testing new technologies. What experimental efforts are they referring to? Can Odyssey be used for something other than rocket launching?
A: Sea Launch is the space program. And we view the program from the point of view of implementation of space and rocket technologies. We have not been seriously considering the use of the SL System for any other use than that. As far as new technologies goes, if we are going to use a new Russian LV then certainly there will be an array of new technologies, processes and technical solutions that will be implemented in this program. Here I refer to R&D efforts, testing, new launch processing, propellant loading, LV roll-out/erect, certainly LV mating/integration, etc. -- in that sense yes, - -there will be implementation of new processes and technologies.

Q: What reduced the value of the program? Earlier, it was reported that in 1995 the initial cost of the program was $ 3.5B, but by the end of 2014 it went down to $2B.

A: I cannot coffer any comment about the $3.5B, as I never saw that estimate. But in 2014 we worked with a very competent international company which performed an operational and technical assessment/appraisal of the SL System. That company took a number of the most recent LVs and LV launching systems and compared them to Sea Launch to assess how much would it cost to build not necessarily a sea-based launch system, but a system that is comparable to SL in terms of capability, performance, etc., and how long it would take.  By way of comparing various US, Russian, Brazilian launch systems, this company came to conclusion that development and implementation of a system similar to SL would cost approximately $2B and it would take between 5 to 8 years to build.
Q: Following the Russian Federal Space Agency reformatting into the State Corporation what, from your point of view, are the prospects of development of space-rocket technologies in general and the Sea Launch program in particular?

A: It is necessary to emphasize that throughout the entire existence of the Sea Launch program, the program has been using supplies and services of more than 50 companies of the aerospace industry and other industries of Russia.  The production chain is comprised of about 30 thousand employees working for various companies across  Russia —  we are supported by the companies located in Samara, Krasnoyarsk, Moscow, Korolev, Tomsk, St. Petersburg and other cities of Russia. So, we believe that the contribution made by the Sea Launch program to the Russian economy is quite considerable. It is quite difficult to predict how this industry will be developing in the future. But we believe that all the initiatives that target development of the better and high quality LVs are well needed and will be supported by international customers. This is very important, as now the main criteria for customers of launch services are the price, quality are and strict adherence to the mission schedule. Numerous failures which occurred in the recent years is a wake-up call for Russia as the international supplier of launch services considering that traditionally the Russian LVs have been famous for being inexpensive and reliable. And it is very important that Russia would continue retaining these competitive advantages.

Q: Does your company intend to participate in the RSFA new bids for launch services? 

A: We, certainly, would like to participate in launching all possible payload the Sea Launch System is capable of launching from technical and economic points of view. Considering that the launch service market also offers small and light SC, it's an overkill to use SL System for those types of SC. But when it comes to launching heavy SC or multiple SC we are definitely interested in that. 

Q: What countries Sea Launch is presently working with?

A: We are open for negotiations and further successful progress of the SL program with a number of the countries which are interested in cooperating with us.

Q: For example, with Israel to launch their SC?

A: We have temporarily suspended our negotiations with Israel because Israel currently is not producing any heavy SC that could be suitable for launch by Sea Launch. They [Israel] have other options to use different LVs that are and lighter than what we can offer. But it is quite possible that in the future we may continue negotiations with them.  On the other hand, there is a number of countries located near the equator and we are in negotiations with them. I am not going to quote any names here, but I think soon we'll be able to issue a few joint statements.

RIA Novosti news agency