Russian Aviation Company to Acquire Sea Launch

Sea Launch launch
Sea Launch, idle since a May 2014 launch, could resume operations from California, and using Zenit-3SL rockets, in late 2018 if a sale of the venture's assets to a Russian aviation company goes through. (Image credit: Sea Launch)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — A Russian aviation company plans to acquire the assets of Sea Launch from RSC Energia with the hopes of resuming launches in about two years.

S7 Group, Russia's largest private aviation holding company and owner of S7 Airlines, signed an agreement to acquire all the main assets of Sea Launch, including its two vessels, in a ceremony during the International Astronautical Congress here Sept. 27.

Vladislav Filev, chief executive of S7 Group, said the value of the deal was about $150 million. He added the agreement was subject to approvals in several countries, including the United States and Russia. The companies expect the effort to obtain those approvals to take six months.

In the case of the United States, that process includes export control agreements with the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and an approval the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, according to a statement released by S7 Group.

Sea Launch has been idle since a May 2014 launch of a Eutelsat satellite. Filev said that Sea Launch could resume operations in about 18 months after receiving final approvals for the deal. "We believe that the life of this asset is 15 years, and we propose to have something like 70 launches over those 15 years," he said.

Despite reports that Sea Launch could move its ships from its current home port of Long Beach, California, and use launch vehicles other than the Zenit-3SL, Filev said there were no plans to change Sea Launch's operations. "It's a reasonable decision for the moment," he said. "Our basic position now is that we will operate as-is."

RSC Energia's Vladimir Solntsev (left) and S7 Group's Vladislav Filev discuss the Sea Launch deal during a Sept. 27 press conference at the IAC. (Image credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust)

The future of the Zenit-3SL has been in question not only because of Sea Launch's problems but also because of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, where the lower stages of the Zenit are built. Filev said he believed it was "common sense" that the companies involved work out a deal to continue to produce the vehicle.

It's unclear if one of the conditions of the deal is the resolution of a lawsuit Boeing, an original Sea Launch partner, filed against Energia. Boeing won a judgment valued at more than $320 million in the U.S. District Court for Central California, but recent legal filings in the case indicated that Boeing and Energia were negotiating a settlement.

Vladimir Solntsev, general director of Energia, declined to say if the agreement to sell the Sea Launch assets to S7 Group depended on a resolution of the case. "Today we're signing papers between S7 and Energia, and Boeing is not a part of this deal," he said through an interpreter. "So, it's not appropriate to talk about that right now."

Filev, in a company statement, said S7 Group saw Sea Launch as their best opportunity to move into the space business. "The acquisition of Sea Launch is a 'ticket' for us to enter the space industry," he said. "In our view, it is a very exciting area of business, with good long-term prospects."

Originally published on SpaceNews.

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Jeff Foust
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter.