SpaceX has signed a contract with Nasa to rent a historic launch pad used for the first lunar landing lift-off.
Launch Complex 39A, located at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida has served throughout the Apollo and Space Shuttle era and was abandoned after the last Space Shuttle Discovery flight in 2011.
According to the new deal, SpaceX – currently the biggest commercial space transportation provider – will use the launch pad for its commercial launch activities.
The signing represents an important step in Nasa’s effort to turn the government funded facility into a 21 century space centre serving private and public customers alike.
"It's exciting that this storied Nasa launch pad is opening a new chapter for space exploration and the commercial aerospace industry," said Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden. "While SpaceX will use pad 39A at Kennedy, about a mile away on pad 39B, we're preparing for our deep space missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The parallel pads at Kennedy perfectly exemplify Nasa's parallel path for human spaceflight exploration - US commercial companies providing access to low-Earth orbit and NASA deep space exploration missions at the same time."
Under a 20-year agreement, SpaceX will operate and maintain the facility at its own expense.
Launch Complex 39A witnessed many events of a truly historic significance. It was this site, from where Apollo 11 lifted off for its first lunar landing mission in 1969 and it was again here, from where Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched in July 2011 for its final flight, marking an end of the Space Shuttle era.
"Kennedy Space Center is excited to welcome SpaceX to our growing list of partners," Center Director Bob Cabana said. "As we continue to reconfigure and repurpose these tremendous facilities, it is gratifying to see our plan for a multi-user spaceport shared by government and commercial partners coming to fruition."
At the same time, NASA and Lockheed Martin are assembling the agency’s first Orion spacecraft in the Operations and Checkout building while preparing Kennedy's infrastructure for the Space Launch System rocket, which will lift off from the centre's Launch Complex 39B and send American astronauts into deep space, including to an asteroid and eventually Mars.