Google signs 60-year lease to do research at NASA's Moffett airfield

Google is paying US$1.16 billion over the initial 60-year lease term

Google is paying US$1.16 billion over 60 years to lease from NASA the Moffett Federal Airfield in California.

The Internet giant plans to renovate and use the historic Hangar One, originally built to house airships, for research, development, assembly and testing in the areas of "space exploration, aviation, rover/robotics and other emerging technologies," NASA said Monday.

The other two hangars at the airfield will be used for similar purposes, it added. A Google spokesman declined to provide more details.

NASA has estimated that the lease will save it about $6.3 million each year in maintenance and operation costs besides providing the $1.16 billion in rent over the initial 60-year lease term. MFA is at present maintained by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Google is also spending over $200 million to restore the hangars and to set up a public education facility on the airfield, focused on the site's legacy and the role of technology in the history of Silicon Valley.

MFA has about 1,000 acres of land located on South San Francisco Bay, which includes besides the three hangars, an airfield flight operations building, two runways and a private golf course, NASA said.

NASA said in February it and U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) had selected Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures as the preferred lessee to run the Moffett Federal Airfield and restore Hangar One, and began negotiations with it.

Under a request for proposal in May 2013, the airfield will also support government and controlled public and private flight operations.

The airfield is used by H211, a company controlled by Google executives who use it for their private jets, and the company was criticized for getting fuel at a discount from the government for running the jets.

Consumer Watchdog, a long-time Google critic, on Monday criticized the lease of the airfield to Google, claiming that it gives the company "unprecedented control of a federal facility to use as its own playground." Google has said it plans to test its driverless cars at Moffett, which would allow it to escape California rules that require that such vehicles must have a driver capable of taking over control, the consumer group said. Google declined to comment.

U.S. Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat from California, said the lease agreement "honors Moffett Field and Hangar One as part of U.S. Naval history, while looking to the future by promoting research into space, aviation and other emerging technologies."

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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