Bezos Space Firm Loses Protest Over Launch Pad Proposal

Billionaire Jeff Bezos’s space company lost its challenge of how NASA handled its search for contractors seeking rights to use the historic Kennedy Space Center launch pad.

Blue Origin LLC, founded by Inc.’s chief executive officer, had protested to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO, which arbitrates contract disputes, announced its ruling today on its website.

The decision paves the way for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to evaluate bidders’ proposals and award the contract, which had been delayed by the challenge from Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin.

“Given today’s GAO ruling, NASA is looking forward in the near future to selecting an industry partner for negotiations to lease and operate” the launch pad, said Allard Beutel, an agency spokesman. “Permitting use of this valuable national asset by commercial entities will ensure its continued viability and will allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities.”

Billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and based in Hawthorne, California, also covets the Florida launch pad. The site was mothballed after the U.S. retired its shuttle fleet in 2011.

SpaceX initially had sought an exclusive lease and later said it was open to sharing the site. Blue Origin wanted to share the site from the start.

Blue Origin filed its protest on Sept. 3 after NASA began seeking proposals to lease the launch pad.

Shared Pad

The company suggested NASA’s solicitation preferred multiple users. It objected to Administrator Charles Bolden’s comments that it said showed the agency favored picking a contractor with an exclusive hold versus a shared approach.

The GAO disagreed and said NASA’s announcement requesting proposals didn’t prefer one approach over the other.

The space agency’s solicitation “merely requires different information depending upon which approach is being offered,” said Ralph O. White, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law.

Brooke Crawford, an account director for Seabrook, Texas-based Griffin Communications Group, which coordinates Blue Origin’s media relations, declined to comment.

Emily Shanklin, a spokeswoman for SpaceX, declined to comment.

Space Race

Bezos, the new owner of the Washington Post newspaper, is No. 14 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s wealthiest people, with an estimated net worth of $34.5 billion through today.

Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc. and co-founder of PayPal Inc., is No. 162, with an estimated net worth of $7.8 billion.

SpaceX last year became the first company to dock a commercial craft at the International Space Station, and it has begun ferrying cargo.

Since 2008, it has received NASA contracts valued at about $1.61 billion to transport cargo and to work toward commercial transport of crew, according to agency figures provided in September.

Separately, SpaceX has gotten about $930 million in non-contract funding from NASA for its work on vehicles capable of carrying cargo and astronauts, according to the agency.

Blue Origin has received $25.7 million in funding from NASA to design its own spacecraft to carry astronauts.

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