Blue Origin has received its first interplanetary launch mission from NASA for a Mars mission

By Joey Roulette and Steve Gorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Blue Origin, the private space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, received its first interplanetary NASA contract on Thursday to launch a mission to study the magnetic field around Mars next year, the US space agency and the company said with.

According to the agency, Blue Origin’s recently developed New Glenn heavy lift rocket is scheduled to lift off in late 2024 with NASA’s two-spacecraft ESCAPADE mission from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The identical twins, ESCAPADEs, short for Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, will take about 11 months to reach Mars orbit, where they will collect data on the planet’s magnetosphere and its interactions with solar radiation.

New Glenn, with a reusable first stage rated for at least 25 missions, is named for pioneering NASA astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Blue Origin has flown previous NASA missions on its smaller, suborbital New Shepard rocket, capable of carrying research payloads to the edge of space and back on short trips in microgravity.

But ESCAPADE gives Blue Origin another line of business with a valuable government customer as Bezos’ rocket company begins to compete with SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and other big players for flights to low Earth orbit and beyond.

Blue Origin, known for its astrotourism business for affluent clients and celebrities, is one of 13 companies selected by NASA last year for its venture-class Dedicated and Rideshare Missions (VADR) acquisition program.

Essentially, VADR is intended to spur private development of private launch vehicles by allocating lower-cost NASA science missions to new rockets with unproven performance and higher probability of failure.

In doing so, NASA is taking a bigger risk by using promising rocket services that commercial customers may not want to fly on at first.

According to NASA, the maximum possible price for a launch under the VADR program is $300 million. The space agency declined to disclose the value of the ESCAPADE contract, labeling this information proprietary. Blue Origin also declined to discuss financial details.

Although ESCAPADE is NASA’s first flight to New Glenn, according to Blue Origin, this booster was chosen to orbit payloads for three leading satellite operators: Eutelsat, JSAT and Telesat.

The company has also announced that Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation has selected New Glenn for 12 launches over five years.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Joey Roulette in Washington. Editing by Gerry Doyle)


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