GAO Denies Blue Origin's Protest Re NASA's Launch Complex 39A

GAO Denies Blue Origin's Protest Re NASA's Launch Complex 39A

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) had good news and not so good news for Blue Origin today.   On the good news front, GAO agrees with the entrepreneurial space company that GAO does indeed have jurisdiction over determining whether NASA is properly applying its Announcement for Proposals (AFP) as it evaluates proposals for the future of Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).  However, it then denies Blue Origin’s protest that NASA is misapplying the AFP.

NASA wants to establish a “Public-Private or Public-Public Venture (PPV)” through “a lease, a use permit or other form of property out-grant term” for future use of the launch pad once used for Apollo and space shuttle missions, according to the report.   NASA has two launch pads at KSC and envisions needing only one for the future Space Launch System (SLS).  It is keeping LC 39B and wants to find new users for LC 39A.

SpaceX and Blue Origin were the only two companies to respond to NASA’s AFP.   SpaceX indicated that it would be the only user of the complex while Blue Origin contemplated a multi-user approach.  NASA is still evaluating the proposals; a decision is pending.  

What Blue Origin protested was whether NASA, in fact, expresses a preference for a multi-user approach in the AFP and is misapplying the AFP in evaluating the proposals.   GAO explains that Blue Origin “reasons that, because the AFP requires additional information and analysis with regard to a proposal for an exclusive use approach … it follows that the AFP includes an inherent preference for a multi-user approach” and a multi-user approach is the “default” approach envisioned by the AFP.

After determining that it does have jurisdiction over this matter, which was disputed by NASA, GAO’s action today denies Blue Origin’s protest that the AFP has a preference for one approach over the other.   “We find that the agency’s interpretation [of the AFP] is reasonable,” GAO concluded.

In a press statement, GAO makes clear that it is not taking any position on the relative merits of the SpaceX and Blue Origin proposals.

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