In 2009, the Obama administration announced that it intended to outsource the transportation of astronauts and supplies to and from the International Space Station to private companies (see here and here). The space shuttle fleet is about to be retired and some are wondering what will become of the Kennedy Space Center, which is geared mostly to support the shuttle program. To fill the gap left by the retiring shuttle fleet, NASA is offering private aerospace companies the opportunity to use some of the Kennedy Space Center’s facilities.
“Kennedy has been working for some time to enable commercial space activities at the center that are in line with NASA’s mission,” Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana said in a statement, reported in the National Journal. “Partnering with the commercial space industry will help NASA meet its goals and help sustain facility assets to support our nation’s space objectives.”
The statement also noted: “The facilities that may become available are well-suited for entities operating or directly supporting government or commercial launches or space user services.” NASA has already received some interest in the Kennedy Center facilities from private aerospace companies, and would reserve the right to take back the facilities if it should determine that it needs them.
This would not be the first instance of privatization at the Kennedy Space Center. As my colleague, Len Gilroy, has observed, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has been run by a private company for over 15 years. In fact, the privatization of the Visitor Complex improved the quality of the facilities and allowed the Center to tap millions of dollars of private capital for upgrades to what had been deteriorating facilities, upgrades that would not have been possible in times of tight budgets if the Complex had had to continue to rely on taxpayer funding. The privatization has been so successful—and the contractor, Delaware North, has continually received solid performance marks in its regular contract reviews—that last year NASA renewed the company’s contract for an additional 10-20 years.
If the government can privatize so much of the space program, once thought beyond the scope of private commercial activity, just think how much else it could privatize if it had the will.