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Lancaster Loses NASA Launch Site Bid

Aerospace: State officials instead pick dry lake bed near Barstow. California is competing against 14 states.

April 22, 2000|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALMDALE — A dry lake bed in San Bernardino County has been chosen over Lancaster by state officials as the best launch site for the space shuttle's heir apparent, the Lockheed Martin VentureStar, state commerce officials said Friday.

The California Trade and Commerce Agency also considered Merced and Vandenberg Air Force Base as possible sites, but chose Harper Dry Lake Bed, six miles north of Barstow, as ideal because of its remote location and proximity to Palmdale.

California is competing against 14 states for the $5-billion VentureStar program, which is expected to create as many as 3,000 jobs.

"The Harper Dry Lake site is close to Air Force Plant 42, the Palmdale development and production facility for the VentureStar prototype," spokesman Norman Williams said. "It also is 3,000 feet above sea level, which allows larger payload to be delivered into space."

The winning proposal, submitted by San Bernardino County, calls for construction of a remote launch complex with plans to tow the wedge-shaped spacecraft 60 miles from its Palmdale assembly area to the high desert launch grounds.

Lancaster officials said they believed their proposed launch site, just south of Edwards Air Force Base, would have provided the best economic benefits because of its proximity to Plant 42.

"We would have liked to have been selected. We took our best shot," Lancaster Assistant City Manager Dennis Davenport said. "But we wanted a site in California, so we are supportive of the decision to locate at Harper Dry Lake. We are looking for production work that will create aerospace jobs throughout the Antelope Valley, including Lancaster."

The California Space and Technology Alliance is studying the costs of creating the tow route as part of a larger $8.5-billion study of infrastructure that the state needs to support commercial space endeavors.

NASA and Lockheed Martin officials have not announced whether there will be one or two national launch sites.

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is counting on VentureStar to cut the cost of space flight tenfold--from $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound--and replace the fleet of aging shuttles, which it is looking to replace after 2012.

Testing of one of the VentureStar prototypes, the X-33 rocket plane, has been beset by a series of problems, the latest coming in November with problems involving the craft's hydrogen fuel tanks.

Before the mishap, the X-33's first test flight was scheduled for July. But sources have said it could be delayed six months or more.

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