Russian Revivals: Sea Launch, Tourists Around Moon

Zenit lifts off with communications satellite. (Credit: Sea Launch)

While Russia retired its Soyuz-U rocket with one final flight on Wednesday after 44 years and 787 launches, a couple of other programs — Sea Launch and tourists trips around the moon — have resurfaced.

The new owners of Sea Launch, the Russian private airline S7, was granted a license to begin launches of the company’s Zenit boosters again. Sea Launch last flew in 2014 when the company was majority owned by RSC Energia.

Operations were suspended due to a lack of business. Sea Launch has been plagued by failed launches and a bankruptcy since it was founded 22 years ago.

The first flight under the new ownership will actually take place from land. A launch will be conducted from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan sometime later this year.

Sea Launch uses a floating platform towed to the equator to launch communications satellites. The platform and a command ship have operated out of California.

Meanwhile, RSC Energia hopes to sign a final settlement soon with Boeing on a lawsuit over Sea Launch’s previous bankruptcy. The two companies founded Sea Launch in 1995 as part of a consortium that included Norwegian and Ukrainian partners.

Boeing won a $330 million judgment against RSC Energia in U.S. court. Part of the settlement has included five seats aboard Soyuz spacecraft headed for the International Space Station. Boeing is looking to sell those spots to NASA.

Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)

In other news, RSC Energia is once again talking up a plan to send tourists around the moon using modified Soyuz spacecraft.

The Russian company developed the plan with U.S. space tourism firm Space Adventures many years ago. However,  planned flights have been repeatedly pushed back. The latest estimate coming out of RSC Energia is the 2021-2022 time frame.

The plan calls for sending two tourists and a pilot on a flight around the moon. Tickets have been priced at $150 million apiece.