In May, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center issued an announcement for proposals regarding Launch Complex 39A, a Space Shuttle launch pad no longer needed by NASA (which plans to use neighboring pad 39B for future Space Launch System launches). The agency hoped to attract a commercial user who could take over use and maintenance of the launch site, which, the announcement stated, would fulfill an agency mandate to support commercial use of space while also preserving the pad, since the agency has no budget to maintain the facility.
Two companies responded to the announcement: SpaceX, which reportedly is seeking exclusive use of the pad for its launch vehicles; and Blue Origin, which is proposing making the facility a multi-user pad both for its future launch vehicles and for other customers. While NASA has yet to make a decision on who would take over pad 39A, Blue Origin has preemptively filed a protest with the GAO. The rationale of the protest hasn’t been disclosed by the company, and the GAO listing for the protest provides only the filing date and the decision due date, December 12.
Several members of Congress have lined up in Blue Origin’s corner of this dispute. Earlier this month, five senators sent a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, opposing any deal that would provide one company exclusive use of 39A. “Aside from the serious fiscal concerns,” the letter states, “blocking use of the pad to all but one company would essentially give that company a monopoly, stifling competition in space launches and therefore raising costs.” The letter’s signatories include Sen. Parry Murray (D-WA), representing Blue Origin’s home state, as well as Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Earlier this summer, Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and James Aderholt (R-AL) expressed similar concerns in a letter to Bolden.
The Florida congressional delegation is now weighing in. In letters signed by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and by the state’s entire 27-member House delegation, they call on NASA to continue the ongoing process to lease the pad, without explicitly taking sides on whether the lease should be exclusive or multi-user. “Given KSC’s expertise, it should be within their purview and judgment to determine what factors to consider and outcomes to render,” the September 16 letter from the House delegation states. “We urge you to proceed with these plans.”