NASA Officially Leases Old Shuttle Launch Pad to SpaceX

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WASHINGTON — As expected, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will get control of the Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch pad 39A under a 20-year lease, NASA said in an April 15 press release.

The agency first made the announcement April 14 in a press briefing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The event was timed to coincide with a SpaceX cargo launch to the international space station that was slated to occur that day but wound up being rescheduled.

SpaceX will use the pad, originally built for the Apollo program and later used by the space shuttle, for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. NASA did not disclose the financial terms of the lease, although the agency did note that SpaceX will maintain and operate the pad at its own expense.

In 2013, Pad 39A was the object of a brief and highly political tussle between SpaceX and Blue Origin of Kent, Wash. SpaceX wanted exclusive use of the pad, while Blue Origin — whose case was supported by business partner United Launch Alliance — wanted to make the pad a multiuser facility.

Amid indications that NASA was preparing to lease the pad to SpaceX, Blue Origin lodged a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, arguing that its multiuser approach better satisfied NASA’s solicitation for a tenant. GAO ultimately agreed with the agency’s assertion that the solicitation favored no particular approach and denied Blue Origin’s protest, clearing the way for NASA to negotiate a lease with SpaceX.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy vehicle, now slated for a test launch in 2015, figures to be a big part of the Hawthorne, Calif., company’s attempt to wrest U.S. military launch business from ULA, which enjoys a virtual monopoly in that market.