On Friday morning, the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee held a hearing on NASA infrastructure. One of the topics that came up in the hearing was NASA’s plans to transfer control of Launch Complex 39A to a commercial entity, a process that has raised concerns among some in Congress about allowing a single company to control the pad, versus making it a multi-user facility. A few members of the subcommittee raised just those concerns in the hearing, although NASA officials testifying could say little about the process since the procure is still open (and being contested by Blue Origin to the GAO.)
However, not everyone in Congress is opposed to potentially turning over LC-39A to a single entity (in this case, SpaceX.) Earlier this week, the Florida Congressional delegation released letters calling on NASA to continue the process to transfer the pad, without explicitly siding with any particular company. When it was his turn to question the witnesses at the hearing, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) attempted to enter those letters into the record.
He was stopped, though, by subcommittee chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS). “I’m going to reserve the right to object to the inclusion of the material in the record until my staff and I have the time and opportunity to review it,” he said. That was an unusual move: typically letters and other documents are routinely entered into the record by committee members without objection.
Posey looked a little stunned by Palazzo’s move. “Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, I will yield to that,” he said after a pause of several seconds. “I have never heard of that rule before.”
“Neither have I, until the last minute,” Palazzo said.
Posey did read several lines of the House letter that he and the rest of the state’s House delegation has signed. “I think you’ll be pleased to include the letter when you the opportunity to read it, or your staff does,” Posey said to Palazzo.
After Posey’s five minutes of questioning ended, Palazzo did indicate that the letters had been entered into the record without objection, and reminded members to provide copies of documents they wish to submit for record to his staff. “I thought we had supplied you with copies of them,” Posey said, noting that several other members of the committee had received them. There is no mention of the Florida letters in the section of the hearing charter about LC-39A, although it does note a letter by five senators opposed to any exclusive use deal for the pad.
Update 9/21: SpaceX provided a statement on Friday evening regarding its interest in Launch Complex 39A, indicating it would be open to a multi-user arrangement. “SpaceX has nearly 50 missions on manifest to launch over the proposed 5 year lease period and we can easily make use of the additional launch site,” the company stated. “At the time we submitted the bid, SpaceX was unaware any other parties had interest in using the pad. However, if awarded this limited duration lease on 39A, SpaceX would be more than happy to support other commercial space pioneers at the pad, and allow NASA to make use of the pad if need be.”