Sea Launch vessels set sail for port following explosion
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: February 5, 2007
Sea Launch's command ship and its slightly wounded rocket platform are sailing back to port, just days after the heart-stopping explosion that destroyed a Zenit 3SL booster and its communications satellite cargo at liftoff.
The Sea Launch Commander, housing the control center and all personnel, was positioned a few miles uprange from the Odyssey launch platform when disaster struck the 20-story rocket. No one was hurt in the blast.
But the converted Norwegian oil-drilling platform that carries the rocket from California to the equator and serves as the floating launch pad felt the fury as the booster exploded in a fireball. Remarkably, the platform survived without sustaining major damage.
"We're very, very pleased to have the vessels underway," said Sea Launch spokeswoman Paula Korn. "To be able to see those vessels sailing is big for us."
The voyage typically takes a couple of weeks. The platform has been staffed with a crew of 55 to 60 for the journey home, Korn estimated.
The partner firms comprising the Sea Launch venture, including the Ukrainian Zenit rocket teams and Russian engine builders, are in the midst of investigating what went wrong as the vehicle was igniting for liftoff carrying the 13,000-pound NSS 8 communications spacecraft.
Sea Launch has established its Failure Review Oversight Board to study the partners' findings, conclusions and recommendations. Kirk Pysher, vice president and chief systems engineer for Sea Launch, will chair the board.
It could be a few weeks before the investigation is completed and the information is presented to the oversight commission, officials said.
Speculation is rampant on some Internet sites about what system should be blamed for the explosion. Sea Launch, however, isn't releasing any official information until the investigation runs its course.
The next Atlas 5 launch is scheduled for February 22 to deploy a cluster of research satellites into space for the U.S. military. The Sea Launch incident hasn't delayed preparations for the flight thus far.
Sea Launch had hoped to fly six commercial satellite deployment missions this year. When flights can resume will depend on the investigation findings and repairs to Odyssey.
"We've gotten just enormous support from our customers and the whole community. It is just an outpouring," Korn said.
"It's been incredibly supportive. It's hard to even describe it because it's so moving."
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