No Contest for Pad 39A? SpaceX Appears To Be Only Bidder

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) appears to be the only company that put in a proposal to NASA to take over one of the space shuttle’s mothballed launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. 

NASA declined to comment on how many bids it received in response to a solicitation that closed on July 5, but a survey of U.S. launch companies by SpaceNews shows only SpaceX saying it put in a proposal to take over Launch Complex 39A.

United Launch Alliance, which flies the Delta and Atlas rockets, and ATK, which has been developing a shuttle-derived launcher called Liberty, said they passed on the Pad 39A solicitation. 

Orbital Sciences Corp., which this year completed the first test flight of its new Antares rocket to fly cargo to the international space station, launches from Wallops Island, Va. Company spokesman Barry Beneski said he did not know of any plans to expand to Florida. 

Likewise passing is Space Florida, the state-backed economic development agency that has been selected to take over operations and develop the shuttle’s runway for commercial operations.

NASA is looking for a commercial partner to lease Pad 39A, and intends to keep the second shuttle launch pad, 39B, for its heavy-lift Space Launch System. The design for 39B also would accommodate commercial users. 

California-based SpaceX already flies its Falcon 9 rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of Kennedy Space Center, and is preparing for launch of its first rocket from a newly developed site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 

The company has been on the hunt for a third site, preferably one that would be overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, not NASA or the military. An environmental assessment of a potential site in Texas is under way.

Documents posted on NASA’s solicitation website shows the agency wants to have a commercial operator for Pad 39A in place by Oct. 1, 2013, when funding for maintenance is slated for termination.