Blue Origin’s heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle, the New Glenn, which has not yet conducted its first launch, has been chosen by NASA for a science mission to Mars. It’s also the company’s first interplanetary NASA contract, as noted by Reuters.
The mission, known as ESCAPADE or Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, was created to use twin spacecraft to research the planet’s magnetosphere. If the Jeff Bezos-owned space corporation can avoid any development delays, that is, we won’t have to wait too long to actually see the New Glenn in action. NASA is eyeing a late 2024 launch for the project.
The company’s response to other companies’ heavy-lift vehicles, such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, is the New Glenn vehicle. Blue Origin’s maiden launch was originally scheduled for 2020, and NASA gave the company permission to undertake future unmanned scientific and exploratory missions that year.
However, the date kept getting postponed. In 2021 and again in 2022, it was postponed. Jarrett Jones, SVP for New Glenn at Blue Origin, acknowledged that the vehicle wouldn’t fly for the first time in 2022 and that the business was working to set a new deadline by the end of March of last year.
Under the Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) programme, which was created to promote the expansion of commercial launch services in the US, NASA has awarded Blue Origin the contract for ESCAPADE. For “small satellites and Class D payloads” that can withstand greater risk, the government plans to use launch vehicles from programme partners.
VADR contracts, then, are designed for lower-cost missions. As stated in NASA’s announcement of the choice of New Glenn, “by adopting a lower level of mission assurance and commercial best practises for launching rockets, these highly flexible contracts help extend access to space through lower launch costs.”
Space Launch Complex-36 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida will serve as the launch site for the ESCAPADE mission. The mission will take around 11 months to get on the red planet.
The twin spacecraft will then need a few more months to travel to the orbit that is best for studying the Martian magnetosphere. In order to better protect people and satellites throughout our ongoing exploration of space, scientists may be able to better comprehend space weather with the help of the data it will provide.
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