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Long Beach rocket venture files bankruptcy

Sea Launch fires satellites into space from a floating platform at sea and a land facility in Kazakhstan. Its owners include Boeing as well as Russian, Norwegian and Ukrainian partners.

June 24, 2009

Sea Launch Co., a Long Beach-based rocket venture that is 40% owned by aerospace giant Boeing Co., has filed for Bankruptcy Court protection, citing recurring losses from operations.

The unusual company, which includes Russian, Norwegian and Ukrainian partners, said lower demand for lifting commercial satellites into space and a recent inability to secure financing to pay a $52-million arbitration ruling against it led to the Chapter 11 filing.

The venture, which launches rockets at sea from a floating platform, said in a statement that it "intends to maintain all normal business operations."

"Subject to court approval, Sea Launch will initially use its cash balance to meet operational requirements during the reorganization process," it said. It has about 130 employees based in Long Beach.

In the filing, Sea Launch listed assets of up to $500 million and liabilities of more than $1 billion.

A company spokeswoman said Sea Launch has a backlog of 10 rocket launches, eight of which are slated to happen at sea. The remaining rockets are scheduled to launch from its land facility at the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.

In a Times interview in 2006, a Sea Launch executive said the company would need to do six launches a year to break even and seven to turn a profit.

But since a platform explosion in early 2007 destroyed a commercial satellite, the company has averaged about four rocket launches a year. In April, the company lost an arbitration case in which it was ordered to pay a satellite provider $52 million over a disputed launch contract.

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peter.pae@latimes.com

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