One gets the impression that the Sea Launch cosmodrome, promising from many points of view, was ahead of its time. Since its inception, various kinds of reproaches have been raining on him from all sides, and sometimes completely undeserved ones. However, the truly royal gift to detractors of the Sea Launch was the failure of the launch of 1 in February 2013 of the American satellite Intelsat-27.
During the stormy debate, when discussing the reasons for the unsuccessful start, a lot of inaccuracies and simply unreliable information were thrown into the information space. Let's sort everything in order. We group all sorts of statements and opinions in the order of their appearance.
№ 1. It was announced about the earlier failures of the floating cosmodrome. In particular, the version was voiced that during the Zenit accident that occurred at the Sea Launch 31 in January 2007, the carrier exploded near the ship, causing significant damage to it.
In fact, the launch vehicle (PH) at the start rose only twenty centimeters, and did not come out of the starting device. Then she slowly went down, carrying a gas deflector in her path. The launch vehicle exploded already on the surface of the ocean, right below the launch platform. At the same time, “Sea Launch” did not receive any significant damage (not counting the loss of the gas deflector, damage to the oxygen drainage mast, and minor, if one may say so, trifles like melted lamps and smoked equipment). For such an accident, losses, it must be said, are minimal, inexpensive to eliminate, and in the duration of recovery. A similar crash of the Zenit launch vehicle at Baikonur 4 in October 1990, which took off already on 50 meters and also fell vertically into the gas duct of the newly constructed launch facility, did lead to significant damage to it, incompatible with the continued operation of the site.
Here, the Odyssey launch platform returned home to the base port under its own power, thereby confirming its reliability and resistance to the most severe of the accidents at launch - the failure of the carrier rocket engines at the beginning of its rise from the launch pad.
№ 2. It was announced that after the above-mentioned accident, the Boeing company abandoned the Sea Launch and it stood for two years without starting, after which the Russian private company RSC Energia bought it out and repaired it with its own money. the program.
However, in reality, this was not the case. In mid-February, the Odyssey 2007 platform returned to the port. Having inspected all the equipment and the platform itself in March, the Sea Launch Company (Sea Launch), assessing the upcoming costs, in May began repair and restoration work and ordered the manufacture of a new gas-reflector. And just seven months later (31 August 2007 of the year) after the incident, the repaired Odyssey was ready for new launches. Already 15 January 2008-th (exactly one year after the accident), the first successful launch of the Thuraya-D3 was performed. It was followed by five more successful launches (the fifth of them - 20 of April of 2009). That is, in just over a year, six launches were carried out. And only then, in 2009, Sea Launch company began the reorganization procedure under the protection of the 11 article of the US Code, having failed to find working capital to finance current activities without support from Boeing and Kvarner. The Russian industry didn’t actually suffer any damage from the 2007 accident. On the contrary, I received an order of several million dollars for the manufacture of a new gas deflector weighing more than two hundred tons. Insurance companies compensated “Sea Lonchu” for the damage caused by the accident.
№ 3. According to some experts, the Boeing company has invested more than one billion dollars in the Sea Launch project. According to one of the leaders of the Russian space industry, anything can be built for such money.
However, according to experts, everything is not so simple. At the initial stage, Boeing (USA), RSC Energia (Russia), Kvarner (Norway), Yuzhnoye Design Bureau (Ukraine) invested in the Sea Launch project, intended for launching into mass near-earth orbits up to six tons, up to 100 million dollars as a contribution to share capital - a very small amount for a project of this magnitude. But at the same time, on the initiative and under the guarantees of Boeing and Kvarner, about one billion dollars of borrowed funds (six billion rubles in 1997 prices of the year) were attracted to the project to build and retrofit an assembly and command ship, to repair, modify and retrofit the launch platform , construction of infrastructure facilities at the base port in Long Beach, modification of the Zenit LV, upper stage and others. Is it a lot or a little? For example: according to some estimates, the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome will cost our state more than 600 billion rubles.
№ 4. Repeatedly and from various stands, the opinion was expressed that “Sea Launch” is about the same as an old suitcase without a handle, which is inconvenient to carry, and it is a pity to throw it away.
In practice, according to a number of experts, the Sea Launch has become hostage to a very long (from the beginning of 90-s) period of the formation of the Russian launch vehicle development strategy by Roscosmos.
At the same time, RSC Energia persistently suggested a development direction that implies the possibility of reducing the time needed to create the necessary launch vehicles with minimal resources by using technologies obtained in the framework of the project of the reusable space system Energia-Buran (first of all, the RN project Energy "), supported and improved in the project" Sea Launch ".
There are various examples of success / failure of projects initiated by one or another agency. We give only one.
After the collapse of the USSR, at the beginning of the 90s, the Zenit was going to be repeated, since the launch complex was almost ready for it at the Plesetsk cosmodrome, and the production plant remained in Ukraine. The Ministry of Defense has announced a competition. Three companies participated: the GKNPTS named after MV Khrunichev, the RSC Energia named after S. P. Korolev and the SRC named after V.P. Makeyev. The first company chose as a guideline a ready-made, approved draft of the Zenit carrier. Two others offered promising media projects that they could do. These plans were significantly different from the concept of "Zenith" and demanded a radical rework almost ready launch complex.
Of course, the project went to the one who promised the minimum alterations - the GKNPTs. But military customers were punished for their choice, because there is still no carrier or complex. Initially, the promising carrier was given the name "Yenisei". The SCRPC spent with him for four years (from 1992 to 1995), but the desired result was not achieved. To somehow get out of the situation without losing face, the Angara project was proposed. But this carrier has not yet taken place. Thus, the Angarsk epic stretches from 1995 (eighteen years, however). Call such a period of creation of the RN to Sergey Korolev, he would have turned over eighteen times in his grave.
№ 5. Repeatedly, and again, from various tribunes, data on the low reliability of the Zenit carrier and the complex as a whole were voiced.
We give some statistics.
Let's start with the veteran - the carrier rocket P-7 (now "Soyuz"), flying from 1957-th. Her age is 56 years. During this time, 1825 launches were performed, of which 88 just ended with crashes. For the first seven years of life, PHs from 56 25 launches are deemed unsuccessful. However, even with such a large number of carriers, the launch cost remains very high today - 70 million dollars at the cost price of the 25 rocket.
Next - the Proton launch vehicle (heavy class, elderly by age - 48 years). "Proton" from 1965-th happened to fly 383 times. Of these, 46 launches are deemed unsuccessful. In the first six years of the Proton, he made 29 takeoffs, of which 10 ended in a fall. The cost of a PH for customers ranges from 80 to 100 million dollars.
And, finally, the carrier "Zenith". His age is 28 years. With 1985, 81 launched Zenith. Nine of them are recognized as unsuccessful. For the first eight years of their biography, Zenith has launched 19 times. Only three launches were unsuccessful. It is worth the PH "Zenith" approximately 80 million dollars.
The carrier “Zenith” and the eponymous ground complex created for it in the middle of the 80-s were impressed by the specialists. No one could even imagine that it was possible at all to create a robot complex for a carrier with a carrying capacity of 14 tons in a fairly short time (in just seven years). The complex earned 13 on April 1985. It was operated exclusively by military experts.
"Zenit" in automatic mode in just two and a half hours is installed, prepared and launched with almost no manual operation on the media. The number of all connections — fluid, gas, electrical, and mechanical — has been optimized. For a carrier of this class, these are just four liquid, four gas, six temperature control lines and nine Butane connectors providing electrical circuits for 1820. All communications are grouped in just three automatic mechanical devices, two of which are undocked in advance before the carrier is lifted and only one is undocked at the moment of lifting. Nodes of a single action are missing. This is not on any foreign media so far. 28 years have passed, the carrier "Zenith" together with its complex remains unsurpassed.
Now, “Zenit” want to give Kazakhstan in return instead of the newly created “Baiterek”.
According to the testimony of numerous experts, the Sea Launch launch site in technical perfection has no equal. The cosmodrome area is about nine hectares, including all technical facilities in the base port. Of these, the launch platform itself occupies the entire 0,9 hectare. Only one space center with an area of about 11 hectares, created in the XXI century by SpaceX for the American PH Falcon 9 (“9 Falcon”) on the basis of the launch site of the Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, USA), can compare with it.
"Sea Launch" is, according to experts, a kind of prototype of the space transport systems of the XXI century. A number of innovative solutions were implemented in this complex. The perfection of this cosmodrome, experts say, lies in its compactness, rationalism and economic efficiency (when implementing the planned number of launches per year). It is enough to compare the areas occupied by the Sea Launch launch site and the Zenit complex, which served as its prototype. They differ by two orders of magnitude in favor of the Sea Launch. At the same time, the safety of the cosmodrome turned out to be higher than the ground version due to the application of reasonable technical safety standards used on sea vessels.
Thanks to this cosmodrome, an innovative idea was born related to ensuring equal safety of the person working with the equipment, regardless of where it is installed. The equipment itself should play the main role in ensuring the safety of the spaceport, and not its location. A person should feel equally safe next to this equipment, no matter where it is - on the ground, on a ship or on an airplane. The application of this principle allowed the designers to build a launch facility at the NARO cosmodrome (Republic of Korea) in 2007, based on the principle of equal safety. Because of this, it has become the most compact ground-based cosmodrome in the world and the cheapest for the state budget of Korea.
But in Russia, this idea in 2008, when attempting to create a compact complex at the Vostochny cosmodrome (for the Rus-M carrier, which was abandoned later), got stuck in a bog of outdated regulatory and technical documentation (mainly construction). None of the leaders of the space industry has supported these initiatives.
From the operational point of view, Sea Launch is a friendly complex for service personnel, which is achieved thanks to full robotization and automation of all operations and processes in preparation for the launch of the Zenit launch vehicle. For the operation of this cosmodrome at sea, only about three hundred people are needed, including customers, sailors, apparatchiks, rocket engineers and land engineers. At Baikonur, any launch of a PH (whether it is Soyuz or Proton) requires many times more maintenance personnel. For foreign specialists, the reduction in the number of service personnel is one of the main criteria for creating modern space centers.
The Sea Launch launch site is optimal in many respects. None of the existing or emerging domestic cosmodromes or complexes can compare with it either in economic efficiency or in reasonable technical sufficiency. The entire 36 months were spent on the design and creation of the cosmodrome. This result, which can be proud of its creators, is unattainable for today's "wise men".
What to do?
During 2012, four projects appeared at once, called the novelties of the Russian space technology: 1 - reusable space rocket system (MRKS), 2 - RN Amur of heavy duty class, 3 - oxygen-hydrogen block (KVTK ) and 4 is the out-of-competition medium-class Energia-KB LV of a middle class with increased payload, in which it was proposed to make maximum use of the work experience and backed up by the Energia LV technology. The first three ideas are the product of the Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center. It is believed that GKNPTs won them on a competitive basis - according to a tender held by Roskosmos.
The fourth idea is from RSC Energia. And although the analysis of the loads put into orbit speaks in favor of the launch vehicle offered by the corporation, Roskosmos is not in a hurry to announce a competition for the creation of the most popular carrier today.
For example, the Phobos-Grunt interplanetary station weighed 13,5 tons, the modern Spektr-R radio telescope - 4,5 tons, the Dragon transport ship with a payload of seven tons and seven people in a manned one weighs only 6 tons, not to mention satellites smaller .
According to independent analysts, it is necessary to start with the creation of a new transport space system (as part of a reusable spacecraft in manned and cargo variants, carrier of the middle class, inter-orbital tug and ground complex) to ensure continuous, cheap and safe delivery of cargo and astronauts to near-earth orbits.
And this is the way of rational development of technologies for the creation of promising high-performance means for removing medium, heavy and super-heavy classes that will be in demand in the foreseeable future, which is confirmed by the development trends of the global space rocket building industry.
Nobody needs to catch up and overtake today. You just have to choose your path.
The reorganized Sea Launch Company (Sea Launch) made commitments to customers who made advances on 14 missions prior to reorganization. These orders are currently being processed. Intensive negotiations are underway with customers on the appointment of spacecraft for launch from the Sea Launch under existing contracts, as well as with new customers. The agenda includes the modernization of the complex, an increase in the carrying capacity when placing up to seven or more tons into geo-transfer orbit (an indicator not achievable for launches from Russian latitudes by existing carriers) in order to meet the new market requirements.
The Sea Launch Project - Key Dates
April-July - development and preparation at NPO Energia (today RSC Energia) project ideas, inviting Boeing and Kvarner companies to work on a sea-based rocket and space complex.
November - An agreement was signed on the joint creation of a sea-based rocket and space complex between NPO Energia (Russia), Boeing (USA), Kvarner (Norway).
May - The RSC Energia, Yuzhnoye, Boeing and Kvarner firms signed the Sea Launch Company (Sea Launch) agreement in Seattle (USA).
December - the first contract was signed with the Hughes company on launching the spacecraft.
January - development of design documentation for components: an assembly-command ship (Kvarner-Govan shipyard, Glasgow, England), the Odyssey launch platform (Kvarner-Rosenberg shipyard, Stavanger, Norway) and equipment for the rocket segment.
August - the beginning of the construction of the base port in Long Beach (California, USA).
December - the assembly-command ship was launched.
May - the launch platform came to Vyborg Shipyard for the installation of rocket segment equipment.
July - the Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation “On the provision of guarantees by the Russian Federation under the international project of creating the Sea Launch rocket-space complex based on the Russian Federation” was signed
December - the assembly-command ship arrived in St. Petersburg at the Kanonersky ship-repair plant for the installation of rocket segment equipment.
April - the Sea Launch company’s acceptance of the first flight set of Zenit-2SL carrier and the DM-SL upper stage at the plants of the Yuzhmashzavod Production Association (Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) and RSC Energia (Korolev, Russia).
May - carrying out complex tests of the assembly-command ship in the port of St. Petersburg and loading of two flight sets of Zenit-2SL carrier and the upper stage DM-SL.
June - the completion of installation and testing of equipment on the launch platform in Vyborg and the assembly-command ship in St. Petersburg.
June 21 - the launch platform left the Vyborg Shipyard and headed for California (USA).
January - carrying out complex tests of the Sea Launch launch site near the California coast.
March 27 - the first launch of a demonstration satellite from a floating space center.