A mothballed Nasa space-shuttle launch pad will be leased to commercial space exploration company SpaceX.
Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the pad where Apollo 11 lifted off from on the first manned moon landing in 1969, as well as the launch site for the first and last space shuttle missions, in 1981 and 2011 respectively.
The US space agency’s decision to lease out the complex to SpaceX followed a challenge by rival bidder Blue Origin, a startup rocket company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The rival firm had argued the language in Nasa’s call for bidders favoured a multi-user concept for the launch pad, such as the proposal put forward by Blue Origin, but on Thursday, the Government Accountability Office dismissed the claim saying Nasa was free to consider both exclusive and multi-use operational concepts for the launch pad.
The terms of the lease agreement with SpaceX were not immediately disclosed, but the bid was for exclusive use of the launch complex to support the company’s future crewed missions.
The GAO's review of the protest delayed Nasa's plan to turn over the launch pad by October 1, 2013, which the agency says has cost it about $100,000 a month to maintain the site.
"Nasa will begin working with SpaceX to negotiate the terms of its lease for LC-39A. During those ongoing negotiations, Nasa will not be able to discuss details of the pending lease agreement," the agency said in a statement.
SpaceX already is flying its Falcon rockets from a leased launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of the Nasa spaceport. It also has a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is considering developing a commercial complex in Texas.
The company, founded and run by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, has a backlog of more than 50 missions for Nasa and commercial customers.
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