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Bolden: Florida should be home of private spaceflight

Posted: February 7, 2010

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Speaking to reporters at Kennedy Space Center this weekend, NASA chief Charles Bolden said he will try to lure potential operators of commercial space taxis to use processing and launch facilities at Cape Canaveral.

Bolden speaks to the media on Saturday. Credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now
"My plea to the commercial industry is, look, don't build more infrastructure," Bolden said. "Come here to the Space Coast, at least see what we have to offer, and then work with us to find ways that we can modify it to your needs so that you can use what's here."

Last week, KSC director Robert Cabana said NASA will upgrade existing infrastructure at the spaceport over the next few years, in hopes a private company will rent the facilities for new rockets and spacecraft for human space transportation.

On Saturday, Bolden echoed Cabana's statements, saying he hopes the Space Coast remains at the vanguard of space exploration.

"The Space Coast is where I hope we will always launch humans in space," Bolden said. "That's something we have to discuss among the entities in the government because somebody could decide that we can launch humans out of Dallas, Texas. I don't think so, but that's the discussion we need to have."

Kennedy Space Center's two launch pads, the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building, space shuttle hangars and payload processing bays will all soon be vacant. The Constellation moon program was designed to use many of the facilities, but NASA is scrapping those plans under the White House's budget proposal unveiled last week.

According to Bolden, it makes sense to move commercial operations to the government-run space center.

"We can get where everybody wants to go a lot quicker if we adapt what's here, as opposed to trying to build all new. There will be some requirements for new construction, but I'd like to utilize the facilities that we have here," Bolden said.

The cavernous VAB is large enough to process several different launch systems, according to NASA officials. Bolden said the agency could "modularize" the monolithic structure to support different types of rockets.

Under President Obama's 2011 budget request, NASA would receive nearly $2 billion over the next five years to modernize buildings, equipment and technologies at KSC.

In his first formal press conference as the head of NASA, Bolden fielded questions on safety, the agency's plans for exploration, space industry jobs and Congressional criticism of the new space policy announced last week.

Bolden, a four-time space flier, took responsibility for what he called a "screwed up" announcement of the sweeping policy shift.

"You're looking at the guy who's responsible," Bolden said. "I will take the heat. I thought I knew better, to be quite honest. We rolled out the budget, we rolled out everything in the matter that we did, and was it screwed up, yes, it was."

Lawmakers representing key space constituencies have already come out against the new plan, which scraps the Constellation program, emphasizes commercial partnerships for human spaceflight, and defers exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

Congress inserted language in legislation last year saying lawmakers must approve any attempt to terminate the Constellation program.

Bolden is touring several NASA centers to address the mounting concerns of space workers, many of whom stand to lose jobs with the retirement of the space shuttle later this year.

"If [private companies] are going to help us with the job market here, they need to come to town to live. That means they've got to bring some things here, assembly, maybe production. We have an incredible amount of infrastructure that can be used," Bolden said.

It remains to be seen whether industrial human spaceflight operators will come to Florida. NASA is still at least several months away from finalizing procurement procedures, but several frontrunners for the commercial space contracts plan to launch from Cape Canaveral.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, is basing their Falcon 9 rocket from Complex 40 at the Air Force station adjacent to KSC. United Launch Alliance, which operates the Atlas and Delta rocket fleet, has two launch pads in Florida.

The location of human launches would be up to the winners of the commercial crew competition.

Bolden also said some technologies from the canceled Constellation program may survive in future space exploration architectures.

"It's our intent that we're going to take advantage of their years of expertise and labor and knowledge, and try to utilize as much of it as we can in the emerging systems that we develop," Bolden said.

Although the Ares 1 crew launcher is being shelved in favor of procuring commercial human-rated spacecraft, other systems being designed under the Constellation umbrella could be used in the future, whenever NASA decides to develop a heavy-lift rocket or begin exploring beyond low Earth orbit.

"How do we evolve there? We take the lessons learned from Constellation. If I'm able to negotiate with Congress appropriately, we may actually end up carving out some subsystems that are in the current Constellation program because they are advanced technology. And they are things that we'll need to develop any heavy-lift launch system," Bolden said.

"While we will phase out the Constellation program per se, I don't want to throw away the baby with the bath water, if you will. We want to try to capture technologies and capabilities that are resident in the present Constellation system and use them as we migrate toward a new heavy lift launch vehicle," Bolden said.