NASA Chooses Musk’s SpaceX to Negotiate Launch Pad Lease

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. won the battle of the billionaires to lease a Kennedy Space Center launch pad once used to send astronauts to the moon, NASA announced today.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it had selected Musk’s SpaceX over Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin LLC to negotiate the rights to lease and use the launch pad, which was mothballed after the U.S. retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.

“This is a big win,” Chris Quilty, an analyst with Raymond James and Associates in St. Petersburg, Florida, said in a phone interview. “The requirement for launch access hasn’t slowed them down up until this point, but on a going forward basis they need regular access to launch pads and launch windows.”

Both SpaceX and Blue Origin have received NASA funding to develop vehicles capable of sending astronauts into space.

“SpaceX is pleased to have been selected by NASA to enter into final negotiations for the use and operation” of the launch pad, Emily Shanklin, a spokeswoman for the Hawthorne, California-based company, said in an e-mail.

The company “will gladly accommodate other commercial providers interested in using” the site, Shanklin said.

14th Richest

Today’s announcement came a day after the Government Accountability Office rejected a protest by Blue Origin over how NASA was seeking a private company to take over the launch pad.

“We hope that NASA will preserve options to make this national asset available for multiple commercial users,” Robert Meyerson, president and program manager of Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin, said in an e-mailed statement.

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 Dec. 12.

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. A second company, Orbital Sciences Corp., is scheduled to launch its first supply mission this month.

Since 2008, SpaceX has received NASA contracts valued at about $1.61 billion to transport cargo and to work toward carrying astronauts to space, according to agency figures provided in September.

Separately, SpaceX has gotten about $930 million in non-contract funding from NASA for work on space vehicles, 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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