Russian money to drive Sea Launch relaunch

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Russia's Energia Overseas has acquired a controlling interest in Californian satellite launch provider Sea Launch after the latter's reorganisation plan was approved by a US bankruptcy court in Delaware.

Reliant on commercial rather than government contracts, Long Beach-based Sea Launch filed for Chapter 11 protection in June 2009, citing knock-on effects from a January 2007 launch failure, cost overruns totalling $119 million and the global economic downturn. The company had begun providing satellite launches from a converted semi-submersible oil rig in 1999.

Under a reorganisation plan filed in May, Energia Overseas increases its Sea Launch stake from 25% to 85% and commits to provide $200 million in working capital, plus an equity investment of $140 million, while the other Sea Launch partners - Boeing, Norway's Aker and Ukraine's Yuzhmash/Yuzhnoye - forego claims totalling $2 billion.

The restructuring clears the path for Sea Launch to resume land launches from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan in the first half of 2011, with sea launches from the ocean-going platform following later that year.

Both the land and sea launches will use the Zenit rocket, the upper stage of which is produced by Energia, parent of Sea Launch's new majority shareholder. Yuzhmash/Yuzhnoye will continue to supply the first and second stages and Boeing the payload fairing, while holding reduced stakes in Sea Launch. Aker - which engineered the launch platform and command ship - assumes a negligible role.

Sea Launch has targeted an average of 4.5 launches a year at sea and two from land. The sea-based missions are more expensive but allow a much greater payload: up to 6,100kg (13,440lb), compared with 3,600kg.