Billionaires Battle Over Launch Site

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

The Orlando Sentinel has an update on the battle to control mothballed space shuttle Launch Complex 39A. In a dream match up made in NewSpace heaven, the battle pits billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX against fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, whose bid is supported by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which has made billions launching U.S. defense satellites.

Musk wants the pad all to himself to launch astronauts to the International Space Station should his company win the ongoing NASA competition to do so.

Bezos is pushing for a multi-use facility from which several companies could launch rockets, saying this arrangement would make better use of the asset and save money in the long run through cost sharing.

There’s some additional tidbits of news in the story:

Sources on Capitol Hill and within NASA said Blue Origin’s protests forced the space agency to announce a competition for the pad in May. The dispute also has drawn the attention of two members of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

In a July 22 letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said “NASA appears to be racing to lease LC-39A” and urged a closer review.

“Given that taxpayers have invested hundreds of millions, if not a billion dollars, to develop this launch complex, there are serious questions of fiscal responsibility and transparency,” they wrote.

It’s rather heartwarming that our elected officials are so concerned about “fiscal responsibility and transparency.” It’s rather a shame that their willingness to raise “serious questions” doesn’t extend to uber-expensive programs like the Space Launch System. But, what are you going to do about it?

All cynicism aside, Wolf and Aderholt actually did NASA a favor here. They’ve got two billionaires bidding to operate am asset. Every government agency should have such problems. This is a great bargaining position to be in. They’ll be able to extract very favorable terms if they play their hand right.