Monday, September 16, 2013

Push Comes to Shove

On Friday September I wrote that Blue Origin had filed a protest trying to delay the leasing of Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A, presumably to competitor SpaceX.

Five senators, all with ties to Space Launch System contractors, sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden criticizing the selection process, and implicitly supporting the Blue Origin bid.

Today all twenty-seven members of Florida's House delegation, Republican and Democrat, rode to the rescue, sending Bolden a letter telling him it was their belief that NASA knows best how the pad should be used.

. . . [W]e understand that NASA is currently undertaking an open competitive process to transfer LC-39A to a private entity, with formal decisions relating to lease terms and duration to be determined through proper negotiation subsequent to award. Given KSC's expertise, it should be within their purview and judgment to determine what factors to consider and outcomes to render. We urge you to proceed with these plans.

The first signature was by Bill Posey (R-FL), who represents the Space Coast and the district where Kennedy Space Center is located. To my knowledge, this is the first time Posey has chosen to take a public stance on the battle between OldSpace and NewSpace.

Meanwhile, Space News reports that NASA has responded in writing to unsubstantiated allegations made July 22 by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL), both of whom have received campaign contributions in the past from OldSpace stalwarts Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

According to Space News, responded in writing on August 2 to the two House members.

While NASA seldom discusses ongoing procurements, the agency suggested in an Aug. 2 letter to lawmakers that any operating concept, single or multiuser, is preferable to tearing down Pad 39A, which NASA says it would have to do if it cannot find a commercial lessee.

“NASA believes that the argument for or against one operating concept is secondary to the demonstrated capability of any proposer to undertake the financial and technical challenges of assuming an asset of this magnitude,” wrote L. Seth Statler, NASA’s associate administrator for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, in an Aug. 2 letter to Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.).

Aderholt, who represents a district nearby the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala., was concerned that such a lease would leave NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket without a backup launch pad.

The Space Launch System is currently slated to launch from Pad 39B, Kennedy’s other shuttle launch facility. Statler, in his response to Aderholt and Wolf’s July 22 letter, said the big rocket did not need a backup pad. Furthermore, Statler added, the heavy-lifter could easily share Pad 39B with other rockets, even if its launch rate were higher than one mission every four years, as NASA now plans.

UPDATE September 17, 2013Jeff Foust at Space Politics has posted a letter by Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) which expresses the same sentiments as in the House delegation letter.

We support NASA's efforts to make the best use of its valuable infrastructure, as driven by the agency's current and future mission needs. NASA should apply its extensive expertise in this area and not yield to outside influence when determining what factors to consider in choosing partners to ensure that its selection process yields the best outcome for our nation's space program.

UPDATE September 18, 2013Space News reports the latest on the Florida delegation's letters supporting NASA.

Florida’s House delegation of 10 Democrats and 17 Republicans said they saw no reason to question the particulars of what they called NASA’s “open, competitive process.”

“Given the [Kennedy Space Center’s] expertise, it should be within their purview and judgment to determine what factors to consider and what outcomes to render,” the lawmakers wrote. Rep. Bill Posey, a Republican whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center, was the lead signer.

Three days earlier, Sens. Nelson and Rubio — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — lashed out against what they characterized as outside interference in Kennedy’s affairs.

Florida Today also reported on the delegation's action.

NASA had wanted to lease pad 39A for at least five years starting as soon as next month. The agency says it cannot afford to maintain the mothballed pad indefinitely at a cost of more than $1 million annually.

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