Much ado about, well, not much

Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel published an editorial about a NASA/KSC proposal to develop a new commercial launch site on space center property and the outcry it created. Early this year KSC held some public hearings about the proposal as part of an environmental study, and got nearly unanimous criticism from everyone from environmentalists concerned about placing a facility on property that is also part of a wildlife refuge to fishermen concerned that the facility would restrict their access to the coast. Members of Congress even got involved, reportedly pressuring NASA to instead work with the Air Force on obtaining access to unused launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station instead. Sunday’s editorial (with the snark turned up to 11) thanked NASA for opening a dialog with the Air Force on this.

With conflicting news about the status of the proposal (including a recent report that NASA was still considering the controversial sites for new launch facilities), I asked KSC director Bill Parsons about it after a luncheon address he gave yesterday on Capitol Hill, organized by the Space Transportation Association. It turns out there’s less to the whole proposal than has been reported. KSC started the environmental studies when Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) had a funded COTS agreement; their proposal included recovering their stages at the launch site. After RpK lost their COTS award last fall, KSC decided to keep the study going, but instead take on a broader scope. “Are there some sites we might use for commercial launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, and just identify them early to see if anything would be available,” Parsons said. “I think it got a lot of press, but in actuality it was really just a study, trying to understand where some good sites would be if, in fact, we ever got around to someone coming and asking us” about building a new launch site there.

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