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Florida Today | Lease on Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39 may be near, Bolden says

August 1, 2013
In The News

 

Lease on Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39 may be near, Bolden says

By James Dean | Florida Today | August 1, 2013

 

A long-term lease of a mothballed Kennedy Space Center launch pad may still be near, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden suggested Wednesday.

At least one company and some members of Congress have asked NASA not to award a single company exclusive use of pad 39A, saying it should be made available to multiple launchers.

But Bolden said it was the neighboring pad 39B, which NASA is overhauling to support its own exploration rocket, that the agency has always envisioned for shared use.

“We would prefer that the multi-use facility be 39B, and it’s built that way now,” Bolden told the NASA Advisory Council during a meeting at NASA headquarters. “It’s got a flame trench, a blast deflector in it that’s mobile. We think we can handle all takers on 39B.”

NASA had been close to a deal with SpaceX to take over pad 39A until Blue Origin submitted a competing bid.

Although Blue Origin doesn’t expect to launch its own rockets from KSC until 2018, the company has proposed to modify and manage pad 39A to serve any interested launcher.

Bolden said NASA has no use for 39A, which supported the Apollo and shuttle programs, and planned to demolish it unless there was private sector interest.

Now, he said the agency does not want to continue spending the “couple million bucks” it would cost each year to keep the seaside pad from rusting away.

“The problem is, we cannot afford to maintain a facility while the world thinks about it,” he said. “We’re either going to demolish it, or we’re going to let somebody use it and pay for it.”

NASA wants to unload responsibility for the pad by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Patricia Grace Smith, a member of the advisory council’s Commercial Space Committee, offered Bolden a “cautionary comment” suggesting the agency consider a lease shorter than 20 years, as reportedly was contemplated.

She said there seems to be growing interest — “maybe not yet nailed down and identified, but coming” — in a non-exclusive arrangement.

Bolden said Woodrow Whitlow, NASA’s associate administrator for NASA’s Mission Support Directorate, would make the final decision on a “long-term lease.”

He said a response was on its way to U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Frank Wolf of Virginia, who opposed an exclusive lease.

In their letter, Aderholt and Wolf said launch companies “have raised strong concerns about being forced to share” pad 39B with NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which is targeting a 2017 test launch.

Bolden said NASA had talked to United Launch Alliance about launching crews from pad 39B instead of modifying its existing Atlas V launch pad at the Cape.

He wasn’t sure if a final decision had been made.

“We would like to have multiple vehicles (there),” he said. “Interestingly, no one yet has expressed a desire to take us up on that offer.”

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