Blue Origin Files Protest Over Lease on Pad 39A

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

Florida Today reports Blue Origin has filed a formal protest over what it says is a plan by NASA to award an exclusive commercial lease to SpaceX for use of mothballed space shuttle launch pad 39A.

Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., had proposed to take over and modify pad 39A to support launches by multiple rocket companies, though its own orbital launch vehicle won’t be ready until 2018.

The protest could impact who ultimately uses the pad, but at a minimum will delay any lease award until the GAO reaches a decision, expected by mid-December.

NASA had hoped to transfer the historic former Apollo and shuttle pad by Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year that does not anticipate funding to maintain the facility, estimated at $1.2 million in 2013.

“Several major American space launch companies have come forward with interest in operating commercially from (launch complex) 39A and support this multi-user approach,” Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said in a statement. “This is an important issue of national policy and we look forward to working with NASA to expand the use of LC 39A and its return to flight.”

NASA must respond to the GAO within 30 days of the protest filed Tuesday .

Blue Origin’s bid for a multi-use pad is backed by SpaceX rival ULA, which operates the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles. Elected officials from states where Blue Origin, ULA and Space Launch System contractors have facilities have protested NASA’s potential exclusive deal with SpaceX.

Instead of a exclusive 20-year lease, some elected officials have suggested that exclusivity be limited to five years. Blue Origin expects to have its orbital launch system operational by 2018.

For its part, NASA wants the other space shuttle launch facility, pad 39B, to be a multi-use facility for launches of SLS and other rockets. The agency believes that scheduling will not pose a major problem because SLS will not fly that frequently.

If it cannot find a company to take over pad 39A, NASA has said it plans to abandon the facility to the elements.  Maintaining the facility would cost the cash-strapped agency $1.2 million.