A challenge to Ilon Musk

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By November 2018, the Zenit-3SL rocket is scheduled to be delivered and assembled at the Port of Long Beach, California, for the first launch from the floating spaceport

The S7 Group, owned by husband and wife Alexander and Natalia Fileva, has closed the deal to buy the Sea Launch spaceport from the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia for 6.28 billion rubles.

“Today, on April 17, the deal for the sale of Sea Launch project assets to S7 Group by the Energia Group has been completed,” reads the announcement posted on the RSC website. The subject of the deal was the Sea Launch Commander ship, the Odyssey platform with the rocket segment equipment installed on them, ground equipment in the base port of Long Beach (USA) and the Sea Launch trademark.

The approval documents received from the state authorities of Russia and the USA made it possible to complete the transaction, make appropriate entries in the ship registry about the transfer of ownership rights for the Sea Launch ships to the buyers and dispose of the equipment to the new owner.

“Final settlement has been made with the sellers,” RSC Energia noted.

The Corporation promised to continue its participation in the Sea Launch project as a supplier of components and assist S7 Group in the operation and maintenance of the complex. RSC Energia will also carry out development work to adapt the Soyuz-5 medium class rocket for launches from the sea launch site.

Sergei Sopov, General Director of S7 Space (a subsidiary of S7 Group), has confirmed to RIA Novosti that from now on S7 is the rightful owner of the property complex and intellectual property of Sea Launch. “The acquisition of the Sea Launch cosmodrome is an ‘entrance ticket’ for us to the space industry,” the S7 Space CEO said.

He said that until the appearance of the new medium-class carrier Soyuz 5, the Zenit rocket will be used for launches. The contract for 12 first and second stages of Zenit has been signed, two rockets are ready and are awaiting delivery of engines and control system. By November 2018, it is planned to deliver the components to the port of Long Beach, California. And there conduct the final assembly of the Zenit-3SL for Sea Launch to launch the rockets at least four times a year starting in 2019.

Sopov said the port of Long Beach is just 14 kilometers from the office of American billionaire Ilon Musk’s SpaceX. “Our project will have to exist in a highly competitive environment with American space companies,” stressed the head of S7 Space, calling the price and quality of services the main competitive advantage of Sea Launch. “We need to make sure that the launch customer is warm, cozy and comfortable when working with us, and fulfill all its obligations on time with proper quality and within the money we have agreed on,” Sopov said.

The fact that the S7 group of companies bought the floating spaceport Sea Launch became known on September 27, 2016. At that time, the deal was planned to be closed in spring 2017, subject to approval by the Defense Trade Control Directorate (DDTC) and the Committee on Foreign Investment of the United States (CFIUS). In early 2017, S7 Space received a license to conduct space activities in Russia. Obtaining U.S. approvals took a year and a half.

In the fall of 2016, the buyer of Sea Launch, Vladislav Filev (a graduate of the Mozhaisky Academy of Military Space Forces and former military engineer in the Strategic Missile Forces) promised to start launch operations in late 2018. For now – in December 2017 – S7 Space became the launch operator for the spacecraft into orbit, preparing for RSC Energia to integrate the Angosat satellite with the space rocket system. The Angosat satellite was successfully launched into its target orbit.

Billionaire competitors

S7 Space was the first Russian private company to be able to prepare a large commercial satellite for launch. Worldwide, the first private company to put a commercial satellite into orbit was SpaceX in 2009.

It was SpaceX, founded in 2002, in 2015, received a contract with NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and has held more than two dozen successful missions. In the future, the company will also deliver astronauts to the ISS. In SpaceX said they have a package of contracts for the launch in the next few years, more than 70 missions. Their total value is about $ 10 billion. A manned mission to the ISS using the Falcon 9 carrier rocket and spacecraft Dragon, created by Musk, is scheduled for May 2018.

But Vladislav Filev will have to compete not only with Musk. Three other billionaires from the United States and Great Britain have entered the private space race. Among them is Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, founder and head of Amazon. He has been financing the Blue Origin project since 2000. Bezos’s team plans to use reusable launch vehicles (the New Shepard reusable rocket made a successful controlled landing in late 2015). In this sense, Blue Origin is a direct competitor to Ilon Musk’s SpaceX.

In 2004, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, created Virgin Galactic, a company aimed at developing space tourism. He has already secured the support of hundreds of people who want to go on a suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic at a cost of more than $200,000. About 800 people have booked tickets, including actress Angelina Jolie and singer Lady Gaga.

Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen founded Vulcan Aerospace, whose first spacecraft, Stratolaunch, is now under development.

It is planned that a heavy Stratolaunch aircraft with almost twice the wingspan of the Boeing 786 Dreamliner will rise to an altitude of about 9 kilometers, where it will launch a rocket suspended under the wing of the booster aircraft. The company expects that the machine will provide a cheaper and more flexible way to launch satellites into Earth orbit.

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