Satellite launched from ocean for first time; Earth's faster rotation at equator boosts rocket


LOS ANGELES -- Ushering in a new era in rocketry, a multinational company has launched a communications satellite into space from a platform floating in the Pacific Ocean, the first such launching from the sea rather than from land.

The 200-foot-tall rocket lifted off from the launch pad -- a converted offshore oil drilling platform -- Saturday evening from a site on the equator about 1,400 miles southeast of Hawaii.

The achievement is significant because the use of the offshore platform enables launchings from the equator, where the Earth's rotation is fastest. The rotation gives the rocket a boost, allowing it to use less fuel or to carry a heavier payload than a similar rocket launched from a higher latitude.

"Everything came off exactly the way we planned it," Allen B. Ashby, president of Sea Launch Co., said from the company's home port in Long Beach, Calif.

Sea Launch is led by the Boeing Co. The other partners are Kvaerner Maritime, a Norwegian shipbuilder, and rocket builders from Russia and Ukraine.

The launch is a welcome event for the satellite industry, which has found it more difficult recently to get satellites into space.

In the past year or so, there have been six major failures of U.S. rockets. And it has become cumbersome for U.S. satellite companies to use foreign rockets because of tighter national security restrictions that took effect after reports that two American satellite companies might have helped China improve its missile technology.

Telecommunications companies are planning to launch hundreds of communications satellites over the next decade to provide telephone, television, Internet and other services.

The achievement is also a bright spot for Boeing. It comes after the company's new Delta III rocket failed in its first two launchings.

Sea Launch has 18 launchings planned over the next five years. Thirteen are for Hughes Electronics, the nation's largest satellite company and the parent of DirecTV, owner of the satellite launched Saturday, and five are for Loral Space and Communications.

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