NASA Weighs Competing Blue Origin, SpaceX Proposals for Pad 39-A

Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)
Launch Pad 39A with the space shuttle Endeavour. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is evaluating proposals from SpaceX and Blue Origin for use of Pad 39A, which formerly launched space shuttles but is no longer needed for space agency missions:

NASA was close to an agreement on a 15-year lease of Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A to SpaceX, which could use it in the next few years for launches of astronauts to the International Space Station and for a planned heavy-lift Falcon rocket.

But Blue Origin, which has not yet flown a vehicle in space but may compete with SpaceX long-term, has instead proposed taking over the pad and equipping it to serve multiple launch providers, including SpaceX.

“We believe the fullest commercial use of that facility is as a multi-user pad, and we think we’ve got the long-term financial commitment and the technical ability to make it successful,” said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin….

Several U.S. launch companies did not submit proposals to use pad 39A, including ATK, Orbital Sciences Corp. and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture owned by The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

ULA, however, which builds Atlas V and Delta IV rockets in Alabama and is competing with SpaceX to launch NASA crews and potentially national security satellites, has written Blue Origin a letter supporting its concept for Launch Complex 39.

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  • mfck

    If I were Musk I would not use a competitor’s services to launch my rockets at this critical stage of market establishment. Trust no one.

  • mattmcc80

    Especially when it’s not necessary (they have other options), and enormously overkill for their present needs, and their needs with FH. They can move into Brownsville and have it made-to-order.

  • mfck

    Letting my conspiracy theorist monkey out, I would say that Blue Origin have by now realized they are far behind any viable competition in private space race, so what they want is access to the competitor’s technology via the launch services. Obviously ULA, who are feeling threatened by Private Space are supporting this.

  • Tombomb123

    It’s not one or the other they will likely have a launch site in Brownsville but they also need a falcon heavy/falcon 9 pad at the cape for the USAF which will likely be some other site instead of 39A because as you said it’s overkill for FH/F9. They are properly just wanting to lock down 39A till MCT come’s along.

  • delphinus100

    But would they really learn anything useful, by knowing more about their competitor’s pad support requirements?

    I’m only concerned about what this could do to scheduling for everybody.

  • mfck

    I dunno, but it will surely be more, than if they were watching it on the TV. Also sabotage and negligence are more likely when many customers using the pad that a third party manages. Yeah, yeah… A monkey, I’ve said that already.

    Musk can and should do it on his own.

  • disqus_bLgf3eYp57

    This is a classic case of extortion. We can easily draw a
    parallel between what is happening here and when the Association of Licensed
    Automobile Manufacturers(ALAM) essentially a cartel/monopoly, tried to halt
    Henry Ford’s progress and innovation by using the court to block his right to
    make cars on the basis that he owed them royalties. This is ironically similar
    to the cartel that is the ULA. Made up of two obsolete dinosaurs, Boeing and
    Lockheed Martin, they exert their influence through shady, underhanded means,
    old white senators who have no real bearing on the space exploration industry
    and shouldn’t have a say in this situation, and unfair attempts to block the
    progress of others. This is America. We are capitalists. The fact that SpaceX
    has the money, motive, and mission to maintain and operate from this dying
    space facility should mean they automatically get it. Only when Elon expresses
    interest in it does the malicious ULA jump into action, working through their
    red-headed step child of a partner, Blue Origin. This company, founded by
    online bazaar peddler Jeff Bezos, is not a space company. To the contrary, they
    have no orbital launch vehicles to date. No viable options in the foreseeable
    future. This is then clearly an attempt to strong arm the rights of a facility
    they don’t deserve, in an attempt to extort launch fees and contribute nothing
    to the aeronautics and space industry. Its like buying a house not to live in
    but to charge people to use the bathroom. This facility should go to the company
    who has proven themselves time and time again to be dedicated and reliable. As
    Bezos attempts to buy property to charge rent on, SpaceX is advancing the human
    quest for knowledge beyond the stars. As Blue Origin and the ULA try to
    hamstring and delay, SpaceX is designing, building, and testing. Progress is
    unstoppable. Space is for all just as Ford believed the automobile is for all.
    And as much as the dying giants try to cling and claw their way to stopping
    truly meaningful operations, they will fall by the wayside. Blue Origin will
    become as unknown of a name as ALAM. So, in closing, as a taxpayer and American
    patriot, I am hard-pressed to find any reason not to lease OUR facility(not the
    ULA’s) to a company that has shown itself to be committed and viable. I would
    hope our congress can see past the immense lobby and unfair practices of a
    fading cartel, and look to the future of safe, affordable space travel that
    SpaceX is rapidly on course to achieve. Lets leave space exploration to the
    REAL pioneers who will take us to the stars. Bezos, Champion of the
    Weasel-Look-Alike contest 7 years running, can handle the shylocking and home
    shopping network. After all, how can you reach for the stars if you’re too
    short to reach the launch button.

  • Douglas Messier

    I’m mystified by some of the reactions here. As a taxpayer, I think it great that a pair of billionaires are vying to run a public asset. If I’m NASA, I see my negotiating position having been improved by competition between two deep pocket individuals. If the agency handles the negotiations properly, it can get a better deal for itself and the taxpayers it works for. I mean, market forces, competition, multiple bids and proposals….This is what all the NewSpace, commercial space guys say they want.

  • disqus_bLgf3eYp57

    I agree. Blue Origin is far behind and seems to have ulterior motives in securing 39A. SpaceX is seeking to expand its operations, and is in need of viable launch points. This seems like an attempt by the ULA in conjunction with a fledgling company that has no use or need of this pad to block Private Space while furthering Bezos agenda in halting SpaceX’s growth and apparent dedication to the furtherment of humanity and space exploration.

  • disqus_bLgf3eYp57

    It allows the inefficient bureaucracy of a government agency to siphon funds that otherwise would be put toward beneficial r&d in the private sector and have it disappear into the black hole that is the federal budget. I would hope that NASA would not be motivated by capital at this point and rather would be looking for the most qualified, dedicated, and deserving company to be the custodian of 39A and use it to dramatically affect the private space industry. Anyone who doesn’t see the irony in the fact that the ULA is using Bezos’ side project that has no viable, or projected orbital launch vehicles, isn’t reading deeply enough into the issue. It’s simply one company trying to use the government means and their lobby to stop progress and a fair trade deal that would allow a pioneer company with the capital right now today to lease the pad that doesn’t belong to the ULA in the first place. Not only as a citizen but as a human being I would like to see the pad go to the company that will most use it for the benefit of mankind, I am not concerned about nickel-and-dime-ing them in the process. Just my opinion.