December 13, 2013
Amazon’s Bezos Loses Wrangle Over NASA Launch Pad
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced on Friday that it had ruled against a challenge to NASA plans brought by Blue Origin, a private space exploration company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The company had filed a protest with the GAO over NASA’s process for awarding rights to use of an historic Kennedy Space Center launch pad – objecting to NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s comments that Blue Origin said the agency favored picking an exclusive contractor. The Bezos-owned company had proposed a shared-use approach.
Blue Origin’s main competitor for Launch Pad 39A appears to be Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX – which is owned by Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of electric car company Tesla Motors. SpaceX had initially sought exclusive rights, but later voiced support for a shared approach.
The GAO found that NASA has not indicated a preference for either shared or exclusive rights.
“NASA took the position that neither approach was favored,” read a statement released by the accountability office. “GAO agreed with NASA, and in its decision concluded that there was no preference for either approach, and that the (call for proposals) merely requires different information depending upon which approach is being offered.”
“Given today’s GAO ruling, NASA is looking forward in the near future to selecting an industry partner for negotiations to lease and operate” the launch pad, space agency spokesman Allard Beutel said. “Permitting use of this valuable national asset by commercial entities will ensure its continued viability and will allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities.”
Both Blue Origin and SpaceX had sent in proposals to NASA for the rights to maintain and conduct operations at Launch Pad 39A, but before NASA was able to make a decision – Blue Origin filed a protest, claiming its multi-user proposal was better fit for NASA's declared intentions for the pad. After the protest was filed, Musk said he would welcome the use of the launch pad by other companies during SpaceX’s proposed five-year lease, Reuters reported.
"I think it's kind of moot whether or not SpaceX gets exclusive or non-exclusive rights for the next five years. I don't see anyone else using that pad for the next five years," Musk told Reuters in September.
"I think it's a bit silly because Blue Origin hasn't even done a suborbital flight to space, let alone an orbital one,” he added. “If one were to extrapolate their progress, they might reach orbit in five years, but that seems unlikely.”
Last week, Blue Origin announced it had successfully tested its new, hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled engine, which is designed to take a ship, crew and cargo into sub-orbit. For its part, SpaceX has already been launching rockets from a leased launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
NASA had stated plans to turn over the Kennedy Space Center pad to a commercial user by October 1. The protest from Blue Origin has delayed those plans – at a cost of approximately $100,000 per month, agency officials said.