Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 137

Russian space officials–and some Western ones as well– undoubtedly heaved some sighs of relief last week after the successful launch of a Zenit space booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Aboard were six satellites from Russia, Australia, Chile, Germany, Israel and Thailand. Touted as the world’s most automated launch vehicle, the Ukrainian-built Zenit has had a spotty record, having failed seven times in twenty-eight launch attempts. Russia’s Military Space Forces–now part of the Strategic Missile Forces–took no chances with the latest launch. Originally scheduled for June 23, it had been postponed five times as technicians fiddled with balky components. The Zenit finally blasted off on July 10, following a final forty-two-minute delay.

There was a lot riding on the launch–not least of all the five foreign satellites. The Russians are eager to gain a larger share of the international launch business, and both Australia and Thailand were first-time users. Further, the international Sea Launch program is built around a modified Zenit launch vehicle: Had last week’s launch failed, that ambitious venture would probably have been set back significantly. On July 13, the Sea Lunch Commander–the ship that will control the Zenit launches from the project’s floating platform–arrived in Long Beach, California with two boosters on board. The platform itself is due to arrive in September. The two vessels will then sail for a Pacific Ocean launch area–where the first launch is scheduled for October.

Before then, the Zenit will need to pass another hurdle. In mid-August, the Russians plan to use this booster to launch twelve Globalstar telecommunications satellites in another important foreign venture. A failure would be a disaster for the Global Star project and would probably also have a negative impact on Sea Launch. (Russian and Western media, July 10, 13)