Status Report

Memo From Rep. Aderholt Staffer Mark Dawson: “NASA Launch Pad 39A; what’s the big deal?”

By SpaceRef Editor
July 25, 2013
Filed under , ,

From: Dawson, Mark
Sent: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 5:02 PM
To: Dawson, Mark
Subject: NASA Launch Pad 39A; what’s the big deal?

Space LA’s and LD’s,

Some offices have asked me about this matter. The information below may be useful to you and your boss.

I see that at least one major news source depicted the situation as a struggle between two billionaires.

That is the sensational angle, but from the standpoint of the government’s stewardship of public property, the issue, actually, is a choice between two different management choices: should multiple companies have access to this taxpayer-funded, unique pad? Or should one company have it all to itself?

One thing not entirely clear from some stories is that this launch pad is one of only two, of this capacity, in the entire country. This is the pad that launched Shuttles and the Apollo program Saturn V rocket. It is a billion dollar investment by the taxpayer.

Exclusive use of Pad 39A seems to go against the grain of this Administration’s policy of promoting multiple launch providers. Even a “short” five year lease means that companies without access to the pad are disadvantaged in their bidding for U.S. and international launches, since launch plans (and thus, bids) are made years in advance (often five years or more). Multiple commercial space companies desire to have assured access to launch facilities so that they can competitively bid for launches, and in order to make viable plans for the next ten years.

NASA’s position is that it “can’t” afford to maintain the pad any longer (in its mothball status) and that it (NASA) has no use for the pad. One rumor circulating on the Hill was a figure of $20 million annually. That is incorrect. The FY12 budget figure for maintenance was $1.2 million. [NASA verified]. More than one company is willing to cover both the mothballing cost and the additional costs of systems needed to make the Pad an active site again. $1.2 million, a year, of mothball costs, therefore, are not a reason to rush into an exclusive lease contract in the next few weeks, before Congress has had sufficient time to review the matter.

Secondly, exclusive use of pad 39A would mean that there is no backup pad for launches of the nation’s largest rockets, whether commercial rockets or the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Pad 39B was selected for use by the SLS system. Although some sharing of the pad is possible, it is commercial companies who do not want sharing of the SLS pad to be the only option for their largest rockets.

Another idea I heard recently is that Pad 39B should be the multi-user pad, and that Pad 39A “cannot” be made multi-user. In the picture (see attachment), the pads look alike, don’t they? That’s because they are. Both pads are designed to be used by mobile launcher platforms. If 39A could not be used by more than one launch company, neither could 39B. Pad 39A can be developed for multi-company use.

How would use of Pad 39A affect astronaut launches to the International Space Station? Space X is one of three companies receiving federal funds to develop human spaceflight vehicles. Sierra Nevada and Boeing both plan to use the Atlas V by ULA as the rocket for their human spacecraft. Space X plans to use its own rocket. ATK’s Liberty rocket proposal is yet another possible launch vehicle which could benefit from having both Pad 39B and Pad 39A available. Having both pads available to four launch vehicles, instead of only one, seemingly would increase astronaut launch opportunities, not lessen them.

Finally, there are reasons to keep launch schedule options open for the SLS also. The SLS will be bigger than all the above-mentioned rockets, meaning that in addition to human transportation, it could transport rovers, planetary probes, and other science missions with less cost (those missions could be designed with more weight, and fewer needs for folding), depending on how often NASA made the rocket available for missions (both government and private). In the case of a long-range mission like Europa, travel time might be cut as much as 2/3, compared to any current or near-term planned, launch vehicle. Partnerships with commercial ventures, such as taking up the large modules planned by Bigelow Aerospace, are another reason to have these two, unique launch pads available to multiple users.


Mark Dawson
Legislative Director
Office of U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt
2369 RHOB
Washington, DC 20515
main: 202 225-4876 / fax: 202 225-5587

SpaceRef staff editor.