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Space Florida Letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden: Launch Complex 39A

Status Report From: Space Florida
Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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July 31, 2013

The Honorable Charles Bolden
Administrator
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
300 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20546

Dear Administrator Bolden:

This letter is written to express concern regarding recent events and their implications on what has been an ongoing, transparent and competitive process leading to the disposition of excess NASA launch infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center – specifically Launch Complex 39A.

Recently, key members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice and Science appear to have inserted themselves into a competitive process already underway, and moreover, are taking the role of advocating the merits, feasibility and timeliness of a multi-use launch pad where deconfliction around launch may be problematic to meet multiple customer requirements. This is a concept that has been proposed for decades and yet has never been implemented successfully by the government, much less the more cost conscious and deeply competitive private sector. There are many valid technical reasons for this, but the impact of this attempt to influence the ongoing process, is to slow the process towards turnover of this excess asset to commercial operators that are attempting to be market responsive in a timely and cost-competitive way.

Chairman Wolf’s letter of July 22, 2013, on the issue of the disposition of Launch Complex 39A runs counter to what has been a continuing chorus from the Congress, on the issue of cost effectiveness and expedient use of taxpayer funds for many years, and blunts planned efforts to divest the agency of expensive excess space launch infrastructure and other assets. The planned KSC divestiture approach is consistent with the Commercial Space Launch Act of 2004 (Pub. Law 108–492), as well as with recommendations made by the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) in its February 2013 report, entitled “NASA’S Efforts to Reduce Unneeded Infrastructure and Facilities” (Report No. IG-13-008).

Congressional oversight is a Constitutional imperative for the proper and effective management of government for the good of the people and the taxpayer. However, there are existing protocols and regulations that must be followed to govern the disposition of these facilities. From the perspective of Florida, and the nation as a whole, we believe the best course of action is to allow the planned KSC process to play out and permit that result which will bring the most value, jobs and launch activity the soonest. This will best assure the highest return on investment on those taxpayer owned assets, and also will promote an environment where the US aerospace industry can most effectively compete in the global marketplace in the fastest possible manner.

Chairman Wolf has long been a champion of a strong and vibrant US space program and we have no doubt his intentions are well founded. However, the nature of this letter, and particularly the subsequent explanatory correspondence provided by Representative Aderholt’s staff, seem uncharacteristically random and offer a number of implausible assertions that serve only to obstruct the ongoing KSC process. I believe the Chairman is being poorly advised to follow this course of action.

Additionally, much of the motivation and rationale for this intrusion finds its origins in launch vehicle communities that will stand to benefit from slowing the rapid progress that the commercial space industry is making. This at the same time as several other Congressional voices are actively seeking to transfer the budget responsibility for the development the ground support infrastructure at KSC to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama. It is this budget line that also supports NASA efforts to further accommodate the growth of the nation’s commercial space activity, which is primarily centered at KSC. This too would constitute a step backward for NASA and this nation’s commercial space competitiveness.

Space Florida has been at the forefront of partnering with both NASA and the Department of Defense in the innovative transfer of facilities and assets to the benefit of the federal government, private industry and taxpayers for over 15 years. To date, Florida has invested over $500 million in key space infrastructure at the Cape to strengthen our nation’s capabilities. Our willingness to assist further in these efforts will certainly grow as the nation’s civil, military and commercial space programs respond to new commercial opportunities and the new challenges presented by a dramatically constrained federal budget in the years ahead. We should accelerate this process, not place obstacles to the continued emergence of the commercial space transportation industry.

We strongly advocate for allowing NASA to continue to transfer its underutilized infrastructure to commercial operators in a fair process with terms and conditions that support a commercially driven business approach. NASA’s planned approach on Pad 39A for partnership with private industry will accelerate the capability to deliver not only cargo, but also crew, and quickly end our dependence on other nations to transport our nation’s crew to the International Space Station.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Frank A. DiBello
President and CEO, Space Florida

Original letter. (PDF)

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