Rubio: NASA Should Dispose of Underutilized Facilities

Marco Rubio

In an effort apparently aimed at supporting the development of a commercial space facility in Florida, the Senate has approved a budget amendment introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that urges NASA to dispose of underutilized property and facilities in order to save money and promote commercial space activities.

“NASA currently has underused facilities and property which are beyond their design life or outdated and costing billions of dollars to keep and maintain,” Rubio said in a press release.

“It is important that we maintain the excellence of NASA and our space programs, and we should start by re-allocating infrastructure that could be utilized by commercial users and state and local entities, resulting in savings for NASA and a reduction in the federal government’s burden to fund space operations,” he added.

Florida officials want NASA to turn over title to 150 acres of land at the north end of the Kennedy Space Center for the development of a commercial launch facility. The property includes the former citrus community of Shiloh.

The federal government denied the request last year, saying the land doesn’t meet the definition of excess property. Discussions are continuing between state and federal officials on other arrangements for development the site.

Florida is competition with groups in Texas, Georgia and Puerto Rico to host a facility that would be used by SpaceX for launching commercial payloads. Blue Origin also is interested in using the proposed Florida site.

Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida, praised the legislation in a press release.

“Space Florida continues to pursue opportunities to both transition infrastructure from NASA programs to more commercial activities, and to develop a purely commercial space launch capability,” DiBello said. “We are grateful to Senator Rubio for his assistance in enabling NASA to more effectively dispose of underutilized facilities. This amendment is a meaningful step in growing this nation’s commercial space capability.”

Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Michael Lopez-Alegria also praised the move.

“Many of the most difficult challenges in spaceflight development require solutions that involve a partnership between NASA, state governments and private companies. Senator Rubio’s amendment, which would encourage a streamlined process for companies and local public entities to lease or obtain NASA’s facilities, will strengthen the public-private partnerships that help us achieve our national goals of science, exploration, and continued leadership in space,” stated Michael Lopez-Alegria. “The measure would also ensure the government gets the most bang for its buck in today’s tight fiscal environment.”

The fate of Rubio’s amendment is uncertain as the House and Senate thrash out a compromise on two very different budget plans.