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A delegation of Marcus Nance and Viola Brady from the Boeing Commercial Space Company/Sea Launch recently visited Kiribati Government and this is what it was all about.

There is a proposal to launch commercial satellites from international waters just outside Kiribati's Christmas Island EEZ. 46,000 tons of 1980s kerosene and LOX-fueled Russian rockets will crash back into the Pacific with each launch, producing 36 tons of carbon monoxide in the lower troposphere on the way up and a kerosene slick several kilometers wide as about 4.5 tons of kerosene fall unburned on the way down.

The Environmental Assessment (EA) is now open for comment. The closing date for comments (by mail) is May 26.

A source who gave us this information has the draft EA but says there are huge holes in it. But the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation who has set a thirty day comment period, ending on May 26, proposes a finding of no significant impact. This means there will be no official impacts investigation - ESI.

Briefing notes as follows:

It is a U.S./Russian/Ukraine/Norwegian venture.

They are using 1980s ZENIT Russian rockets. The launch pad is a modified North Sea oil rig. The service ships are being custom-built by Kvaerner Maritime, a Norwegian company. Sea Launch itself is based in the Cayman Islands, and also has a 15-acre site at Long Beach on the U.S. West Coast.

They propose to launch the satellites on top of the Russian rockets from the launch pad. The ships will retire 5 kilometers before any launch. Only the satellite will make it to space. The rest of the rockets will crash back into the ocean. Each rocket is 440 feet long with a 46 thousand ton displacement. They are made of aluminum and graphite epoxy. The draft EIA says historically approximately 3,489 kg and 1,060 kg of kerosene falls unburned in the rocket's fuel tanks.

Sea Launch's overhead said the fuels being used are "environmentally friendly." When questioned they said the overhead was wrong. It should say "environmentally friendlier." The rocket is fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene -- more than half of that being kerosene. The draft EIA says approximately 44,700 kg of liquid oxygen (LOX) and 17,000 kg of kerosene would be burned below 2,000m. Approximately 36,100 kg of carbon monoxide (CO) would be produced into the troposphere near sea level. The draft EIA also says the nitrogen produced would cause a "substantial, temporary reduction" of stratospheric ozone.

Viola Brady, a Sea Launch legal officer, said "If it weren't for the obvious environmental and safety and other issues we could launch right on the beach (Long Beach)."

Marc Nance: "Why are we using the boat rather than renting an island? Launching from sea greatly reduces the close proximity of environmental effects you get on land. In Australia, for example, off Cape York, you get a lot of crocodiles. In the ocean you tend to have less of those life forms."

He said that they wanted to launch from the equator, partly because there's less pull from the earth at the equator so it's more efficient, "and it's away from land mass and peoples and away from environmentally sensitive areas."

He went on to say "The launch area ecosystem is resilient and relatively low in biological productivity, and far removed from sensitive coastal margins....All the research we've done suggests there are not a lot of higher forms of life there. Fish tend to be in waters that are shallower."

He said the Pacific Ocean waters and atmospheric processes would overwhelm the Sea Launch material and heat inputs to the environment.

The draft EIA contains no discussion of the possible impacts on life forms like whales, other marine mammals and fish, or birds, any of which could conceivably be in the ocean or flying overhead. The rockets will be traveling through major flight paths for migratory birds.

The draft EIA does discuss the effects on plankton of the 4,500 kg of kerosene sprayed out of the fuel tanks as they descend and crash into the ocean. Each launch would result in a kerosene slick several millimeters deep in the center and several square kilometers wide. Overall, the report says, the effect on plankton would be minimal since population densities are at a maximum density at around 30 meters below the surface.

It does not consider the noise of the launch would damage life forms in the oceans. This noise would be 150 decibels at 378 meters, and a predicted 75 decibels in the water at the same distance. "Little to no impact to the environment is expected from these levels due to the small number of launches per year and the relative absence of the higher trophic level organisms that would typically suffer injury from a loud sound."

Tamsin Vuetilovoni Media Officer Greenpeace Pacific Private Mail Bag Suva, Fiji TEL: 679 312 861 FAX: 679 312 784 Email:

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