Commercial launches of satellites have become big business. Companies in the United States, France, Russia, and China are competing hard to meet a market demand estimated to be S50 billion over the next few years. Sea Launch, using its Russian-built Zenit-3SL launch vehicle, offers one of the heaviest payload capabilities in the world—11,000 pounds to a high orbit 23,000 miles above the earth. This company made its first successful launch of a commercial satellite in October of last year. (See N. Polmar, "Satellites From the Sea," April 1999 Proceedings, pp. 94-95, for a full description of the Boeing-led Sea Launch consortium.)
The company's home port is at the former Long Beach, California, Naval Station. In addition to shoreside support facilities, two vessels—the Sea Launch Commander (assembly and command ship) and the Odyssey (launch platform)—are based here. The ships form a mobile, self-contained spacecraft assembly, test, and launching complex.