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SpaceX signs 20 year lease for NASA's Launch Complex 39A

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Florida Today reported on Monday that SpaceX has officially signed a 20 year long exclusive lease on Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The launch pad was one of the two that was used to launch Apollo missions to the moon and later space shuttles to low Earth orbit. NASA is retaining Launch Complex 39B to launch the heavy lift Space Launch System.

SpaceX will immediately make modifications to the launch pad to accommodate its Falcon family of rockets. It intends to launch its own heavy lift rocket, the Falcon Heavy, in the first quarter of 2015. If it wins a contract to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, it will launch them in a Dragon spacecraft on top of a Falcon 9 from 39A as well.

NASA retained two launch pads for its Apollo and space shuttle programs in order to support a frequent launch rate. Its current position is that it only needs one launch pad capable of supporting the Space Launch System to conduct its planned deep space exploration program, including visits to an asteroid and eventually expeditions to Mars.

Members of Congress have expressed concern, according to Space News, that having only one launch pad capable of handling the SLS may prove to be a danger in case ir was damaged in an accident. It would also limit the amount of launches NASA can conduct of the SLS. If NASA wanted to increase its launch rate beyond what a single launch pad could accommodate, its options could be limited.

It could work a deal with SpaceX to share LC 39A, perhaps problematic if the company’s own needs were to conflict. At one point the company did offer to share the pad with NASA and other commercial entities. As a last resort it could build another launch pad, a great expense, to accommodate an increased launch rate. Originally Launch Complex 39 was to contain three and possibly four launch pads. At least three might become necessary again if a future president and congress were to decide to increase the tempo of American space exploration in the future.

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