WASHINGTON — While NASA has made some progress finding outside money to maintain surplus space shuttle infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the historic launch center will inevitably shrink in the post-shuttle era, as an Aug. 23 solicitation for demolition services shows. 

NASA wants to demolish 46 structures covering some 17,000 square meters of property at the Kennedy and nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Kennedy covers about 600 square kilometers of Florida coastline. The much smaller Cape, which is just southeast of the NASA center, covers about 5 square kilometers. NASA estimates the cost of the envisioned fixed-price contract — including four options that would stretch its performance period to 2.5 years — will be between $5 million and $10 million. Responses to the solicitation are due Sept. 20. 

The base contract calls for a complete stripping down of office space in Towers D, E and F of Kennedy’s Vertical Assembly Building, after which only bare concrete flooring would be left in those spaces, according to NASA’s request for proposals. The Vertical Assembly Building itself will be maintained for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket NASA is building and plans to launch from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39B. 

The base period also includes demolition of one of the three buildings at Kennedy’s Hypergolic Maintenance Facility, a three-building complex about 13 kilometers south of the Vertical Assembly Building. The Hypergolic Maintenance Facility is where the space shuttle orbiters’ reaction control thrusters — which were used for fine maneuvering and deorbit burns — were processed and stored. A concession building and a waste water treatment facility are also slated for demolition, under the base contract. 

Also up for demolition are Cape Canaveral’s Hangar AF and Hangar S. In the early days of the U.S. crewed space program, the first U.S. astronauts were quartered at Hangar S. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, both stayed at Hangar S before their historic flights. 

In 2012, NASA decided it would not spare Hangar S from the wrecking ball by designating it as a historic place. The decision sparked local outcry in Florida, which has not prevented NASA from seeking proposals for tearing the building down.

The center’s shrinking footprint is only beginning to reflect the radical drop-off in work done there. Today, the Kennedy Space Center employs 2,085 civil servants and 5,771 contractors and tenants, NASA spokeswoman Amber Philam wrote in an Aug. 29 email. At the end of 2008, when the shuttle program was still going strong and the international space station was still being built, Kennedy supported 2,194 civil servants and 12,710 contractors and tenants.

Rescued From Razing

Since January 2011, NASA has been looking for ways to avoid demolishing idle infrastructure at Kennedy by finding someone else to pay for its upkeep. One notable success includes turning one of three shuttle Orbiter Processing Facilities over to Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency. In 2012, Space Florida sublet Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to Boeing Space Exploration of Houston, which plans to construct its CST-100 space capsule there. CST-100 is one of three NASA subsidized spacecraft competing to replace the shuttle as the agency’s means of sending astronauts to the international space station.

The infrastructure preservation effort that began in 2011 also birthed the lately contentious plan to lease Pad 39A, one of two disused shuttle launch facilities at Kennedy, to a commercial user.

In May, NASA released a call for proposals to lease Pad 39A that was answered by both Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., and Blue Origin, Kent, Wash. 

SpaceX, which has flown two contracted cargo delivery missions to the space station for NASA and amassed a large backlog of commercial satellite launches with its Falcon 9 rocket, wants exclusive use of Pad 39A. The pad is a potential launch site for the Falcon Heavy launcher SpaceX is developing. Blue Origin, which is working on orbital rockets and spacecraft but has so far tested only suborbital craft, would turn 39A into a pay-to-play multiuser facility. 

Under SpaceX’s proposal, all but one commercial user wishing to launch from Kennedy would share Pad 39B with SLS. Under Blue Origin’s proposal, SLS would get 39B to itself and commercial users would share Pad 39A — something SpaceX has said it would not do.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has said Pad 39B is better suited to be a multiuser facility, but that has not stopped Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) — whose district is nearby NASA’s lead SLS center, the Marshall Space Flight Center — from questioning the wisdom of a one-customer lease at 39A.

Aderholt, along with House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), wrote Bolden in July to express their concerns. The lawmakers said SLS would need a backup launch pad if it did not have exclusive control of Pad 39B, and that Pad 39A would not be an option if SpaceX were awarded an exclusive lease.

An official response was delivered Aug. 2 in a letter from L. Seth Statler, NASA’s associate administrator for intergovernmental affairs, who said SLS’s prelaunch operations would be significantly streamlined, compared with the shuttle’s, and that the big rocket required no backup pad.

“Unlike the Space Shuttle, Space Launch System payloads, including the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, will be integrated with the rocket before the rocket is rolled to the pad,” Statler wrote in his letter. “Accordingly, even at launch rates considerably higher than forecasted for SLS, [Pad] 39B will have a considerable amount of availability for other uses, and a second pad for SLS is not needed.”

Statler added that, one way or another, NASA would decide what to do with Pad 39A before Oct. 1, after which the agency will no longer pay to maintain the facility.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...