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NASA seeks to lease or sell space shuttle facilities

NASA wants to lease or sell space shuttle facilities at the Kennedy Space Center before they waste away.

January 06, 2013|By Scott Powers
  • Even parts of the huge Vehicle Assembly Building are up for sale or lease by NASA now that the space shuttle program has ended.
Even parts of the huge Vehicle Assembly Building are up for sale or lease… (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel )

ORLANDO, Fla. — Does anyone need a 15,000-foot landing strip? How about a place to assemble rocket ships? Or a parachute-packing plant? A launchpad?

Make us an offer, says NASA, which is quietly holding a going-out-of-business sale for the facilities used by its space shuttle program.

The last shuttle flight was in July 2011, when Atlantis made its final touchdown. That orbiter, like its sisters Discovery and Endeavour, is now a museum piece. As soon as some remaining cleanup is finished at Kennedy Space Center, the shuttle program will be history.

That has prompted NASA to advertise a long list of space center facilities and equipment available for use, lease or, in some cases, purchase by the right business.

Times-lapse video: Endeavour rolls through L.A. streets

Among them: Launchpad 39A, where shuttles took off; space in the Vehicle Assembly Building, the 526-foot-tall structure first used to assemble Saturn V-Apollo rockets; the Orbiter Processing Facilities, essentially huge garages where the shuttles were maintained; Hangar N and its high-tech test equipment; the launch control center; and various other buildings and chunks of undeveloped property.

A lot of the stuff needs to be transferred by the end of 2013, when federal maintenance money will run out. When it does, machinery will start to rust, and buildings will deteriorate in the harsh coastal-marsh environment of Cape Canaveral.

"We have a lot of things in discussion, realizing that these major facilities have been funded by the space shuttle program," said Joyce Riquelme, NASA's director of planning and development at the space center. "And the facilities out here can't be in an abandoned state for long before they become unusable. So we're in a big push over the next few months to either have agreements for these facilities or not."

The process is mostly secret because NASA has agreed to let bidders make their proposals out of the view of competitors and the public. NASA has at times published official notices seeking proposals and spelled out that they should be space-related, although the agency will consider alternative uses.

But information about who wants to do what may not be revealed until agency officials select finalists.

"The first deals should start coming together in the next six months. We look at what's available, the prospects for commercial space businesses moving into Kennedy facilities and the possible effects on the space center," Riquelme said.

Space Florida, the state's public-private space agency, has made proposals for some of the facilities. Its president, Frank DiBello, thinks the most attractive are those that can support launches that don't use the existing pads at the space center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

DiBello said value would be set by the marketplace. And NASA's success will be driven by whether there is an economically viable future for commercial space, as he hopes there is. Various facilities at the center, such as one with satellite processing capabilities, "have a real value for the next generation of space activity," DiBello said.

Times-lapse video: Endeavour rolls through L.A. streets

But some facilities, such as the launchpads, might not attract interest, he said. Companies may prefer to build their own, tailored to their rockets.

Space Florida wants to play go-between, bringing commercial space companies to the center, so it has put together proposals for some of the facilities, including the shuttle landing strip.

NASA already has deals with Space Florida and Boeing, which is leasing one of the shuttle garages. Boeing, under a Space Florida contract, intends to assemble and refurbish its planned CST-100 capsules that might be used to take up to seven astronauts at a time to the International Space Station.

Boeing also has a partnership with Bigelow Aerospace, which is seeking to build and launch its own space stations.

smpowers@tribune.com

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