December 15, 2013
NASA Selects SpaceX To Begin Launch Pad Negotiations
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The decision came after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced last week 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.
“Permitting use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of US space activities,” NASA said in a statement announcing the decision to negotiate with SpaceX.
According to the space agency, it had continued to evaluate proposals for use of the launch pad as the GAO was deliberating the protest from Blue Origin. After the GAO decision was handed down, NASA said it had completed its evaluation and selection process.
Blue Origin had filed a protest with the GAO over NASA’s process for awarding rights to use a historic Kennedy Space Center launch pad – objecting to NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s comments that the company had shown 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 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,” a statement released by the accountability office said. “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.”
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.”
NASA said it notified all proposers on Friday of its decision, offering each proposer the opportunity to discuss the agency’s findings with respect to the proposer’s individual proposal.