The U.S. State Department suspended work July 27 on an international project aimed at launching communications satellite-carrying rockets from a floating launch pad near the equator, fearing American technology secrets may have been compromised, according to The Washington Post.
The Sea Launch venture, 40-percent owned by Boeing Co., uses a Zenit rocket made by Ukrainian manufacturer KB Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzmash for the first two stages and a third-stage rocket from Russian RSC-Energia, integrated with a Boeing-made payload fairing.
Apparently, U.S. officials fear Boeing may have given inappropriate advice to the foreign companies by trying to help them with the difficult integration of the rocket and the third-stage device.
Reuters Russian bureau reported Energia’s general manager denied receiving any technology hints from Boeing.
Sea Launch intends to launch rockets from a modified oil drilling rig at a spot in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator, where the earth’s rotational spin is greater, allowing rockets to reach orbit more quickly and with less fuel.
No word has come from Boeing as to whether the suspension will delay the intended maiden launch, set to take place early next year by Hughes Electronic Corp.
The suspension immediately drew comparisons to the controversy about whether Loral Space & Communications Ltd. transferred sensitive satellite technology to the Chinese. However, Russian rockets long have been considered superior to their American counterparts, whereas Chinese rockets are deemed inferior.