NASA Takes Bids To Rent Or Sell Historic Launch Pad
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In what can only be considered a sign of the times, NASA has announced that it will begin accepting bids to rent or buy its Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center from a “commercial company or consortium.”
A combination of cuts in government funding and the burgeoning private space exploration industry could mean that the pad will find a new user fairly quick.
“We remain committed to right-sizing our portfolio by reducing the number of facilities that are underused, duplicative, or not required to support the Space Launch System and Orion,” said Kennedy Center director Bob Cabana.
The launch pad has sat unused since the mothballing of NASA´s space shuttle fleet almost two years ago, and the agency asserts that losing the pad to other interests will have no impact on their future plans.
“Launch Complex 39A is not required to support our asteroid retrieval mission or our eventual missions to Mars,” Cabana explained. “But it’s in the agency’s and our nation’s best interest in meeting our commitment and direction to enable commercial space operations and allow the aerospace industry to operate and maintain the pad and related facilities.”
NASA has requested that interested parties submit expressions of interest by next Friday. The agency said interested parties should state whether they would like exclusive or shared use of the pad and its operation.
Some observers said the private space exploration entities United Launch Alliance and SpaceX are the prime candidates to become users of the pad. With NASA expected to stop paying for the pad´s maintenance by September, the agency said new users would be responsible for any necessary renovations.
In a statement, NASA said it hopes commercial entities would “encourage commercial space activities along Florida’s Space Coast and fully use the historic launch complex.”
Built in 1966 for the Apollo program, the launch pad was last used for the final shuttle launch in July 2011. While Launch Pad 39A was initially designed to support NASA’s Apollo rockets, it was modified ahead of the first space shuttle launch on April 12, 1981. In 2011, NASA spent more than $21 million to operate and maintain the pad.
NASA is currently preparing the Kennedy Space Center´s other launch pad 39B to support both government-sponsored and commercial launches, including NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft.
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is envisioned as the space shuttle´s replacement. The rocket-based system is designed to lift 130 metric tons into space. A successful launch would make it the most powerful rocket to ever lift off. NASA said they plan to use the SLS for taking crew and cargo to orbit, the Moon, Mars and asteroids in conjunction with the Orion spacecraft.
Being built by Lockheed Martin for NASA and Astrium for the European Space Agency, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle“¯(MPCV) is a spacecraft that is designed to travel beyond Earth´s orbit. NASA is currently planning to launch an unmanned test flight of the spacecraft, called the Exploration Flight Test 1“¯or“¯EFT-1, in the spring of 2014 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force base.