Star Wars: Major Players in Space Industry Battle Over Launch Pad Lease


The biggest challenges that commercial space flight companies Blue Origin and Spacex face this fall may not take place outside of the stratosphere, but rather right here on Earth.

As reported by the Waco Tribune, these two players of the fledgling industry are the sole competitors for a NASA contract to lease the historic Launch Pad 39a — a part of the John F Kennedy Space Center in Florida that was the point of departure for dozens of Space Shuttle missions. A review of the influence profiles of these companies points to a heavyweight showdown, as both groups have serious financial muscle to bring to bear on the issue.

Blue Origin is the brain child of CEO Jeff Bezos, who recently made headlines when he arranged to purchase the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos. Spacex is led by billionaire Elon Musk who started both PayPal and Tesla Motors.

SpaceX won government contracts to develop reusable space craft and a $1.6 billion deal to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. It plans to use the launch pad exclusively for its own flights. Spacex has spent $540,000 so far this year, much of it going to K Streeters lobbying NASA directly.

Bezos' Blue Origin has only spent $20,000 so far, hiring well-known firm K&L Gates to lobby on NASA provisions. Blue Origin, which has a more modest development deal from NASA, plans to sublet the pad to other customers, including NASA and the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

While Blue Origin hasn't invested much in K Street to date, Influence Explorer data shows that both members of the ULA partnership reported spending more than $30 million on lobbying from 2011 through 2012 — and both corporations are among the 20 players on K Street for 2013, according to a list compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. 

That may have turned some heads on Capitol Hill. A recent report from Space News states that a growing number of members of Congress are leaning toward the Blue Origin plan, citing concerns that NASA and others may need to make use of 39a in the future. 

Although NASA will ultimately decide which company receives the contract, they may have to wait for several more months as the U.S. Government Accountability Office adjudicates a compaint filed Sept. 3 by Blue Origin over an alleged problem with NASA's process in soliciting a contract. 

The GAO has until Dec. 12 to make a ruling on the matter. It is unlikely that NASA will award the contract before the ruling takes place.

Photo credit: Spacex' Dragon capsule, from