Tim Furniss/LONDON

Boeing managers are working to tighten security on sensitive technology going into the international Sea Launch vehicle. The move came after the US State Department suspended licences allowing Boeing to work with its Russian and Ukrainian partners on the multinational commercial satellite launcher project. The suspension took place on 27 July when Boeing disclosed that it had given information to its Eastern partners without full US Government approval. "Boeing underestimated the technical complexities of licensing issues," admits the company.

The State Department says that some work is still permitted but that no launch will be sanctioned, pending investigation. New guidelines are being established, but about 40 Russian and Ukrainian engineers have left Sea Launch's Long Beach, California headquarters.

Boeing is confident, however, that the first launch, due early next year, will stay on schedule. The lift-off, using a Ukrainian Zenit 2 with a Russian upper stage and carrying a Galaxy XI Hughes-built satellite, will take place from an equatorial-based site in the mid-Pacific.

The two major components - the Sea Commander control ship and Odyssey floating launch pad, are continuing their journeys to the Sea Launch base.

Security is a sensitive issue following other highly publicised concerns in Congress about the transfer of US high technology to China via the Long March booster to launch Loral and Hughes-built communications satellites.

Source: Flight International