SEALAUNCH - A
An article written about
the Sealaunch Commander for a marine magazine in 1998 while it was under construction in Govan.
If you just want to look at the pictures scroll to the end of article or click here
THE 1998 TITLE > "HEY GUYS, ITS NUTTY WALT
Older readers of this magazine may remember the
American comedian Bob Newhart whose speciality was a monologue where he
was apparently talking to some-one, usually over the telephone, or
sometimes to some-one who would not be expected to answer because they
would be engaged in some particularly onerous task. In one of these
monologues he portrayed an American entrepreneur receiving a call from Sir
Walter Raleigh who has just discovered the wonders of tobacco.
"Hey guys" says Bob "Its nutty Walt
You imagine the entrepreneur in a busy office waving
for silence. He addressed himself to the telephone once more.
"OK, Walt, what have we got this time? You don’t
say - tobacco! And what’s tobacco Walt? What’s that. A leaf. And what
do you do with this leaf..... You roll it up. No don’t tell me, you
stick in you’re ear! No. OK Walt I was only kidding. What do you do with
You what? You stick it in your mouth......and then you
Put like that tobacco really does sound like a
joke, and it
would seem that Bob would have an ideal subject for the twenty-first
century in Sea launch, because, crazy as it seems now there is little
doubt that in years to come it will be regarded as a perfectly normal
This marine activity is the launching of satellite
carrying rockets from a former oilrig, now called the Odyssey, formerly
the ill fated Ocean Odyssey. The Odyssey will be based in Long Beach
California and will travel from there to the equator in the region of
Christmas Island and then launch the rocket. It will be supported by the
Sea Launch Commander, a substantial and unique vessel which has been built
to collect the rockets in pieces from Russia, assemble them on the way to
Long Beach, load them onto the rig and then accompany it out to the
location and act as the launch control.
The ship has, therefore to be a particularly versatile
craft. It has to act as a cargo ship to carry the rockets, an area for
their maintenance, a testing area for the associated satellites and an
assembly hanger. Once all this has been done it has to be able to transfer
the completed rocket, it stages connected and its satellite in place, to
the launch platform, act as a support unit connected to the launch
platform by a bridge, and then finally take on board all the staff from
the Odyssey and move off to carry out the launch process.
With this basic concept Kvaernar Consultants were given
the task of designing the ship, and Kvaernar Govan were given the task of
construction. Probably it would take the Americans to think of it, the
Norwegians to design it and the British to build it. There is no doubt
that considering that it is an entirely unique vessel, it is a wonderful
It has its strengths and weaknesses. It can be seen
that the spaces provided for storing and servicing the rockets are
spacious well designed and appropriate. The spaces provided for the
servicing of the satellites, including the offices conference rooms and
support areas are spacious are airy, and are positioned at upper deck
level. They are assigned to the clients, and the clients in the satellite
launching business are very important. Of course clients are always
important, but in this business they are right behind those doing the
carrying of the satellites all the time. In the shipping world it would be
like having the owner of the cargo on board all the time.
Commensurate with their importance the clients get
special spacious cabins just under the bridge. This gives them a chance of
seeing out round the numerous structures in the foredeck. The Captain is
displaced to a position two decks down and has no chance of seeing
anything out of his windows.
An important area of the ship is the means of
transferring the rocket to the rig, which from now on will be described as
the "launch platform". When seen on Tomorrow’s World a
computer simulation showed a sort of platform extending from the stern to
a point underneath the enormous gantry on the forward end of the launch
platform. It is not quite like this, but not too far away.
The reality is an extending ramp not unlike that fitted
to transatlantic ro-ro vessels but with an additional length so that fully
extended it is 60 meters long. It is so long that the multiple pulleys
connecting it to the upper deck of the ship cannot actually support the
weight of the ramp and the rocket and so the ends have to be supported
from the rig. Getting the ship into position alongside on Long Beach is
going to be a challenge, and the ambition to do the whole thing on
location is something of a dream, no matter what the advantages.
The ship is enormous. It first seemed to be a suitable
subject for an article in this magazine because it appeared to be
supporting an oil rig, or at least a former oil rig. The reality is that
the oil rig will be supporting the ship. Dimensionally the ship is 600
feet long and 100 feet wide and the rig is 400 feet long and 200 feet
wide. This seems to make the ship somewhat bigger than the rig, which is a
curious situation for a support vessel.
The rig really is nothing more than a launch platform.
Its purpose is similar to the vast concrete bowl with the gantry sticking
up above it from which the space shuttle is launched, and it is equally
re-usable. In reality the vast crawling device which carries the shuttle
to it is somewhat more important than the shuttle itself.
Why, one might ask, would anyone want to do this. To
find the reason one has to deviate a little from the ship talk and get
into the world of satellites.
There are many more people queuing up to launch
satellites than there are means of carrying out the launch. Apparently
there is at least one major conglomerate wishing to launch seven hundred
satellites into low orbit to facilitate internet communications. And there
are other conglomerates wishing to do the same thing. Additionally there
are more people wishing to launch satellites into higher orbit than there
are rockets able to carry out the task. So at least the Odyssey provides
an additional launch pad.
In addition it is not just an additional pad. The
equator is the best position from which to launch a rocket. \it can
achieve orbit with the least expenditure of fuel. or else it can lift a
bigger payload. This alone makes the systems worth operating.
This written in 1998 for Ship and Boat International
but not used, but has some interest as a bit of history, since I wrote the
piece after looking round the ship under construction in the yard. Since
then Sealaunch has gone into service and there have been rumours of both
successes and failures. I have ceased to follow its progress closely but
the Sealaunch website offers the information that there have been seven
launches. The pictures on the site indicate that the original ambition of
transferring the rockets at sea has been abandoned – its nice to be