Report examines KSC commercial space launch activities
On Thursday, Oct. 23 NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a 33-page report detailing an audit of the agency’s efforts to transform Kennedy Space Center (KSC) into a multi-user spaceport. So far NASA has leased about half of the 23 facilities at KSC which are no longer in use following the end of the Space Shuttle Program. The report examined progress made by the agency, cited problems with NASA’s process for soliciting and awarding leases of under-utilized assets and provided recommendations for addressing issues with the leasing process.
Earlier this month NASA announced an agreement with Boeing to modify Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) bays 1 and 2 to service the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B spacecraft. Boeing had previously reached an agreement with NASA for use of OPF-3 to service its CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft.
Another step in the transition in making KSC a multi-user spaceport was the leasing of Pad 39A to SpaceX on April 14, 2014. The OIG report approved of this development but noted that KSC’s initial approach when soliciting interest in the facility and inconsistent communications with potential tenants created confusion.
The report questioned NASA’s rational for rejecting Space Florida’s request on the behalf of the state of Florida to transfer land in the area of Shiloh with the goal of developing a commercial spaceport. NASA stated that the land is needed as a buffer zone between its operations and nearby communities and that the land is a potential site for future requirements. The OIG stated in its report that KSC personnel were unable to provide any details about the need for a buffer zone or any planned future mission requirements involving the land.
The OIG’s interviews with representatives of commercial companies revealed four main obstacles to operating at KSC:
(1) Possible conflicts between their operations and Federal missions.
(2) The time consuming and bureaucratic nature of the Space Center’s safety review
(3) Issues with getting personnel timely access to facilities.
(4) Difficulty obtaining services such as specialized launch support equipment or technical consulting. While the companies that were interviewed stated that they were not discouraged from attempting to lease assets at KSC, the center could become less competitive as the number of domestic launch sites increases.
The OIG recommended in its report that NASA develop additional guidelines specifying when competition is appropriate when leasing assets to the agency’s commercial partners and clarifying the procedures that should be used in such competitions and provide a clear statement of evaluation criteria.
Secondly, the agency should develop a clear communication strategy which ensures that all potential commercial partners are aware of changes to lease terms and conditions that may affect the development of proposals. The report also suggests that NASA can better facilitate commercial activities at KSC by examining ways to amend policies and practices that govern commercial space activities with the goal reducing costs and burdens on commercial partners interested in doing business at KSC while ensuring appropriate levels of safety and security.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.