In a move that surprised most observers, the U.S. State Department recently ordered the Boeing Company to suspend work on the international Sea Launch program. Boeing, using Russian and Ukrainian rockets, is the project manager for the scheme that hopes to boost commercial satellites into orbit from a sea-based platform. Investigators are checking to see if the company illegally transferred sensitive information to Russian and Ukrainian scientists working on the project at Boeing’s plant in Long Beach, California. The company has admitted that it had failed to obtain U.S. government permission before it shared some technical information with Russia’s Energia and its Ukraine partner Yuzhnoe.
Many analysts suspect any technology transfers would have been from the Russian and Ukrainian firms to Boeing and not the other way around. The Sea Launch booster is a Ukrainian-built Zenit two-stage rocket with an added Russian-built third stage. If any sensitive American technology were involved, it could have had to do with the process of mating this third stage with the Zenit rocket. An Energia spokesman denied that his company had picked up any technological secrets from Boeing. Valery Aliev, the company’s deputy general designer, called the hold-up a “bureaucratic formality” and said he expected Boeing to get the necessary paperwork in order quickly.
The project–an ambitious one–has run into some other delays. In the latest incident, the self-propelled floating launch platform suffered some damage in a severe storm en route to the Suez Canal. The platform is now scheduled to arrive at Long Beach in late September–several months later than originally planned. The project’s first customer, the American company Hughes, however, also wants to delay the first launch until early next year so that it can modify its satellite. (Russian and foreign media, August 7-11)
RUSSIA-U.S. SET SUMMIT DATE.