Zenit 3SL

   General Information
Marketing Arm:

Maiden Flight:
Number Flown (Failures):
Reliability Rate:

Reported Launch Price:
Boeing Commercial Space Co.
Sea Launch Co.
Sea Launch Co.

March 28, 1999
7 (1)

US$75/85 million (1999)


Gross Lift-off Mass:
Main Diameter:
Two-stage hydrocarbon
+ hydrocarbon upper stage

472,000 kg
59.6 m
3.9 m
Launcher Architecture
Payload Accommodations
Industrial Team
Launch Log

  Boeing studies regarding the Sea Launch concept reportedly began in early 1994 based on the availability of two major elements: the 31,000-t Odyssey semi-submersible off-shore platform, which could be modified into a launch platform, and the Zenit 2 highly automated launch vehicle, designed to be launched with 48-hour notice. The concept was aimed at building a competitive advantage based on the reduction of infrastructure costs and the unique capabilities of the Zenit launcher from an Equatorial launch site as well as bringing back Boeing as a major player in commercial space transportation in order to prepare for commercial operations of its proposed semi-reusable Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).
   Boeing was not selected for the EELV in December 1996 and eventually entered the space transportation market by taking over McDonnell Douglas in August 1997. Nevertheless Boeing proceeded with Sea Launch.
Zenit 3SL vehicle is actually a derivative of the Zenit 3 concept developed by NPO Yuzhnoye and NPO Energiya in the late 1980s as a possible replacement to the vintage Proton K/DM vehicle. It features a reinforced two-stage Zenit vehicle with a modified Block DM upper stage inherited from the Proton and N-1 launchers.
   The Sea Launch venture was formed in April 1995 between Boeing Commercial Space Co., RKK Energiya, Kvaerner Maritime AS and NPO Yuzhnoye. It landed its first order for ten launches from Hughes Space & Communications in December 1995, followed by an order for five launches from Space Systems/Loral in July 1996.
   Refurbishing of the Odyssey launch platform and construction of Sea Launch Commander assembly & control ship lasted from 1995 to 1998 when they were transferred to Sea Launch’s Home Port in Long Beach, California.
   Total cost of the project has been reported at US$583 million in 1996. In mid-1996, about US$400 million in loans were arranged by Chase Manhattan. In 1997, the World Bank provided guarantee for up to US$175 million of loans (US$100 million in Russia, US$75 million in Ukraine) against political instability in the countries through 2012. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) provided similar guarantee for an additional US$65 million
   The first launch, initially slated for mid-1998, was delayed several times due to technology transfer issues and the loss of a Zenit 2 vehicle in September 1998. The planned payload for the maiden flight, PanAmSat‘s Galaxy 11, was eventually moved on an
Ariane 44L-3 vehicle and replaced by a mock-up, dubbed DemoSat, which was successfully sent into geostationary transfer orbit on March 28, 1999. The first operational flight, on October 10, 1999, lofted Hughes’ DirecTV-1R satellite.
   The Zenit 3SL experienced its first launch failure on March 12, 2000, on its third mission.
   Planned improvements of the Zenit 3SL include a better management of propellant margins in order to increase the payload capability to geostationary transfer orbit to about 5,500 kg by early 2002 and over 6,000 kg by late 2002. Structural limitations of the current vehicle design are reportedly 6,200 kg for GTO and 7,000 kg for low Earth orbit.
   Space analysts expected Boeing to withdraw from the Sea Launch venture circa 2003/2004 after the introduction of its
Delta 4 family of launchers but Sea Launch announced in September 2000 that it was studying a mutual back-up between the Zenit 3SL and Boeing’s Delta 4. A formal agreement was signed in March 2001.

 More on the history of the Zenit family (soon to come) 

 Payload Performances

 From Odyssey Launch Platform:

(0°, 154°W)

Geostationary Transfer Orbit
(200 x 35,786 km, 0°)

5,250 kg
(to be upgraded to 6,000 kg)
Geostationary Orbit
(35,786 km, 0°)

1,840 kg
Medium Earth Orbit
(10,000 km, 45°)

3,965 kg
Low Earth Orbit
(3rd stage structural limitation)

7,000 kg
Interview with Amy L. Buhrig, VP Marketing, Sea Launch. 3rd World Summit on the Space Transportation Business. Paris, May 17-18, 2001.
Presentation by Wilbur Trafton, President & General Manager, Sea Launch. 7th Satel Conseil Symposium. Paris, September 6, 2000.
Interview with Amy L. Buhrig, VP Marketing, Sea Launch. 2nd World Summit on the Space Transportation Business. Paris, May 11-12, 2000.
Sea Launch Background Information. Sea Launch. March 1999.
Launch Services Market Survey. Euroconsult. Paris, August 1998.
Sea Launch User’s Guide (Revision A). Boeing Commercial Space Co. Seattle, July 1998.
Engines of Zenit Launch Vehicle. PO YuzhMash. Dnepropetrovsk, 1997.
The Zenit Space Rocket Complex. Sea Launch. 1997.

© Takyon International – 1997/2001