According to a corrected story in Space News, both SpaceX and Blue Origin have put in a bid for the Kennedy Space Center’s Launchpad 39A. While SpaceX’s possible interest in the pad has been widely reported, the apparent last-minute participation by perpetually mysterious Blue Origin adds a bit of speculative intrigue to what looked like a one horse race.
Although with so little known (at least publicly) about what Blue Origin is doing or how far it had progressed, it is difficult to gauge how the massive Apollo and Shuttle pad may fit into its plans, some basic facts do stand out. First, while the crawler transporter assembly is parked at the pad, it is not considered a part of the pad infrastructure and is not part of the lease. Second, the lease price, $0.00 is a pretty good deal, although power and fuel will be charged separately. The latter point may be the most relevent considering that unlike SpaceX’s RP-1/LOX architecture, Blue Origin is developing a hydrogen / oxygen system, so 39A fits in that regard, even if the scale is much smaller.
As for the rare opportunitity to operate out of one of the nation’s most iconic places, there are a few things both SpaceX and Blue Origin will need to take into consideration. In its response to an unattributed question and answer session regarding the bid, NASA states that it cannot say what is has spent on pad maintainance since the Shuttle was retired, but seems to assure the bidder that their own costs are going to be much lower (unless they have a Shuttle of their own. ) A more serious issue may the lack of indemnification for any prior environmental contamination. From the relevant section:
d) Will the US Government indemnify the tenant under Public Law 85-804 for any liability resulting from any LC 39A Environmental Condition existing: (i) prior to 30 September 2013, regardless of source, and (ii) before, on and/or after 30 September 2013 if resulting from conditions outside the LC 39A fence line (such as surface drainage, runoff, seepage, groundwater plumes, or other means from NASA’s operations outside of LC 39A)?
Also on the subject of liability, NASA states that in the case of damage to 39A occurring from “launch operations from facilities outside of LC 39A, such as government or commercial launches from other NASA launch facilities and/or launch facilities at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Bas” that while “Liability for damage caused by the federal government will be the subject of negotiation of the lease agreement. NASA accepts no responsibility for damage caused by third parties.”
One other curious note, also from the Q&A regarding historic artifacts.
The following is a listing of NASA identified Artifacts. NASA will require access to these artifacts with proper coordination, and they cannot be damaged or modified during the term of any agreement:
• Orbiter Access Arm (OAA) U70-0503-99 – Attached to the Fixed Service Structure ~195’ level
• Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm (GOX) U78-0001 – Attached to the Fixed Service Structure ~207-227’ level
• Emergency Egress Bunker J8-1708– Rubber Room and Blast Room
NASA would like to lease the pad no later than October 1, 2013.