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Nov 29, 2007

Unusual ocean conditions force Sea Launch to call off launch

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Sea Launch Co.'s oceangoing launch platform and control ship were sailing back from the equator to their home port Tuesday after unusually strong Pacific currents and winds stymied the company's attempt to put a commercial satellite into orbit for the first time since a damaging rocket explosion in January.The launch of the mobile voice and data services satellite for Abu Dhabi-based Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Co. will be rescheduled, Sea Launch spokeswoman Paula Korn said.Sea Launch is owned by Boeing Co., RSC-Energia of Moscow, Aker ASA of Oslo, Norway, and SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.The vessels had been at the Pacific Ocean launch site since Nov. 10, initially aiming for a Nov. 14 blastoff.But the countdown was repeatedly put on hold because ocean currents up to twice as strong as normal and high winds did not allow the self-propelled Odyssey platform to maintain its launch position."We were just using up fuel trying to stay still," Korn said.The countdown was finally stopped and the decision was made Monday to bring the vessels back to Long Beach, Calif."We determined we would come back, resupply, realign ourselves and reschedule the mission," Korn said.The Sea Launch system is designed to take advantage of physics that allow a rocket launched from the equator to carry a heavier payload into orbit than it could if the launch point was elsewhere on the Earth's surface.The vessels have been sailing to the equator for launches since 1999."We've never had conditions like this before," Korn said.Among unusual observations noted by the captains were a drop of sea temperature by several degrees while the vessels were at the equator, she said, noting that the Pacific is in the grip of the La Nina phenomenon.During La Nina, cold water that usually lies along South America moves out across the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean, altering global weather.A successful liftoff of the Boeing-built Thuraya-3 satellite would have put Sea Launch back on track.The Odyssey had to undergo repairs after the January accident in which one of its Zenit 3SL rockets blew up seconds after ignition during Sea Launch's 24th mission.The platform remained seaworthy, but its massive gas deflector, an approximately 300-ton steel structure suspended below the launch pad, was lost in the blast and had to be replaced, among other repairs.The cause of the rocket failure also had to be determined - debris in a liquid oxygen turbopump - and corrective action taken to prevent it from happening again.The Odyssey has a crew of 67 and the control ship Sea Launch Commander has about 240 people aboard. The ship will reach California next week; the slower platform will arrive in about two weeks.