Launching rockets from an old oil platform

Sea Launch is one of the coolest things I’ve ever encountered. The whole concept is something I would have thought only existed in movies, not twenty miles down the freeway from me.

“Think cool as in a James Bond kind of cool.”

Imagine a derelict oil platform from the North Sea rescued by a Norwegian company and retrofitted into a semi-submersible, self-propelled floating launchpad that can be positioned for launch in almost any water in the world. Add rockets built by Ukrainian and Russian companies that were once designed to carry nuclear weapons, but are now perfect carriers for communications satellites.

Last, but not least, add Boeing as the satellite payload integrator and launch operator.

Put them together in an international partnership and you get the multinational company, Sea Launch.

Sea Launch was formed in 1995 to provide low cost commercial launch services for heavy payload satellites bound for geosynchronous orbit.  Basically, they deliver super heavy satellites into a fixed position orbit that follows the earths’ rotation.  And they launch from the equator because it has the most direct path to orbit, so it doesn’t require as much fuel to get there, saving the customer money.

The rocket is built and the satellite is integrated into it at home port in Long Beach, California. Once that’s complete, they load the rocket onto the Launch Platform which sails out to the the equator along with a support ship which serves as mission control.  Once in position, they launch the rocket, delivering the satellite into its intended orbit, and then turn around and sail back to Long Beach.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  And now you get to listen to your favorite XM Radio station in Tuba City, Arizona or wherever.  You get the idea.

Sea Launch broadcasts each of it’s launches live – either on the web or on the web and satellite TV.  That’s where I fit into the grand scheme of things.  I work as the Truck Producer during the launches.  To date, I’ve worked on 24 launches.

It’s always a bit nerve racking leading up to a launch. The rocket business is a high risk business and it’s never a 100% sure thing that a mission going to be successful. Occasionally it isn’t and makes for a very bad day at work, an explosion that would make Michael Bay green with envy, and the most popular youtube video for several days running (thanks to some rocket fan that recorded the broadcast and posted it). Sea Launch has an amazing launch record. Out of their twenty nine missions to date, twenty seven of them have been a complete success.

“It truly looks like something you would see in a movie, but it’s real.”

It’s spectacular to watch a rocket blast off from a floating platform and into the sky. It truly looks like something you would see in some action movie as part of an elaborate set, but it’s real.

How cool is that?

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