In a victory for Elon Musk and a blow to Jeff Bezos, NASA said today that it has entered negotiations with SpaceX to hammer out an agreement that would allow the spaceflight company to lease the historic Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The news comes just one day after the Government Accountability Office ruled that Blue Origin, the spaceflight company backed by the Amazon founder, had lost a protest that blocked NASA from proceeding with the deal.
Blue Origin, which recently passed the 300 employee mark, filed the protest over comments made by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who said in July that the agency was closing in on a deal that may have involved one company’s exclusive use of the pad, which squared with a proposal filed by SpaceX.
Blue Origin said that its original reading of NASA’s request for a corporate tenant was that the space agency favored an approach, that would allow multiple companies to use the launch pad, which originally played host to launches of the Apollo missions and some Space Shuttle launches. Blue Origin, based on Kent, Wash., said it made that type of proposal as a result.
However, the GAO ruled that the original request didn’t favor a multi-user approach, but simply said that companies would need to meet different requirements, depending on whether they were securing exclusive rights to the pad or not.
NASA said it was prohibited from entering an agreement while the protest was still outstanding, it continued to evaluate the proposals from both companies, and chose SpaceX. However, in a statement today, Blue Origin said that it hopes NASA will make sure others can use the launchpad.
“We hope that NASA will preserve options to make this national asset available for multiple commercial users,” Robert Meyerson, President and Program Manager of Blue Origin said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.
SpaceX is the first private company to make supply runs to the International Space Station under a contract with NASA. As is his wont, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had some choice words regarding Bezos’ company in an e-mail sent to Space News earlier this year when the challenge was originally filed.
Citing the fact that Blue Origin has not yet launched a “reliable suborbital spacecraft” despite spending 10 years in development, he said that it seemed unlikely that Blue Origin would get any use out of the pad, but that SpaceX would be willing to let the company use Pad 39A if they had a need for it.
“If they do somehow show up in the next 5 years with a vehicle qualified to NASA’s human rating standards that can dock with the Space Station, which is what Pad 39A is meant to do, we will gladly accommodate their needs,” Musk said. “Frankly, I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct.”
SpaceX was not immediately available for comment on the NASA decision.