Dec 12 A commercial space company owned by
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has lost a challenge over
NASA's plans to lease out one of the space shuttle's dormant
launch pads in Florida, officials said on Thursday.
The company, Blue Origin, had filed a protest with the U.S.
General Accountability Office, which arbitrates federal contract
disputes. The GAO said in a decision it denied the company's
Blue Origin is vying against another company owned by Elon
Musk, co-founder of PayPal and chief executive of electric car
company Tesla Motors, to lease Launch Pad 39A at the
Kennedy Space Center.
Musk's company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX,
already flies rockets from a leased launch pad at Cape Canaveral
Air Force Station, just south of NASA's spaceport.
Blue Origin and SpaceX submitted proposals to NASA to take
over maintenance and operations of Launch Pad 39A so it could be
developed for commercial use.
Before NASA selected a winner, Blue Origin filed a protest,
claiming its proposal to develop a multi-user facility better
fit NASA's declared intention for the pad.
SpaceX, which launches its Falcon 9 rockets from nearby Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station, wants to use the pad as a second
Musk told Reuters after the protest was filed that he had no
problem if other companies use the launch pad if SpaceX was
awarded a five-year lease.
"I think it's kind of moot whether or not SpaceX gets
exclusive or non-exclusive rights for the next five years. I
don't see anyone else using that pad for the next five years,"
Musk told Reuters in September.
"I think it's a bit silly because Blue Origin hasn't even
done a suborbital flight to space, let alone an orbital one. If
one were to extrapolate their progress, they might reach orbit
in five years, but that seems unlikely," he said.
Blue Origin contended the NASA solicitation "provided for a
preference in favor of a multi-user (as opposed to an exclusive
use) approach to utilizing the launch pad," the GAO said in its
ruling on Thursday.
"NASA took the position that neither approach was favored,"
the ruling said.
"GAO agreed with NASA, and in its decision concluded that
there was no preference for either approach," the GAO added.
NASA had hoped to turn over pad operations to a commercial
user by Oct. 1, 2013. The delay is costing NASA about $100,000
per month, agency officials said.
SpaceX said it had not comment on the GAO ruling. Blue
Origin officials did not immediately reply to a request for