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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has received its 1st NASA contract for the much-awaited Mars Mission

The US space agency and Jeff Bezos’ private space business, Blue Origin, announced on Thursday that NASA had awarded it its first interplanetary contract to fly a mission to Mars next year to explore the planet’s magnetic field. According to plans, NASA’s dual-spacecraft ESCAPADE mission will launch in late 2024 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station aboard Blue Origin’s recently created New Glenn heavy-lift rocket.

The identical twin ESCAPADEs, abbreviated for Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, will travel to Mars orbit in approximately 11 months, during which time they will gather information on the planet’s magnetosphere and its interactions with solar radiation.

The innovative NASA astronaut John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, is honoured by the naming of New Glenn, which features a reusable first stage intended to be launched on at least 25 flights. With its smaller, suborbital New Shepard rocket, which can transport research payloads on quick, weightless flights to the edge of space and back, Blue Origin has launched past NASA missions.

But as Bezos’ rocket company begins to compete with SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and other big players for flights to low-Earth orbit and beyond, ESCAPADE gives Blue Origin another line of business with a valued government client. Blue Origin is one of the 13 companies that NASA chose for its Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare missions (VADR) programme last year. Blue Origin is well-known for its astro-tourism business for wealthy clients and celebrities.

By allocating less expensive NASA science missions to new rockets with an uncertain track record and a higher possibility of failure, VADR effectively aims to encourage commercial development of private space launch vehicles. By relying on promising up-and-coming rocket services that potential commercial clients would be reluctant to use at first, NASA assumes additional risk.

According to NASA, a launch under the VADR programme can cost up to $300 million. The space agency refused to reveal the ESCAPADE contract’s worth, claiming that such information was proprietary. Blue Origin also refuses to talk about specific financials.

Although ESCAPADE is NASA’s first launch on New Glenn, Blue Origin reports that that booster has been chosen to deliver payloads to orbit for three prominent satellite operators: Eutelsat, JSAT, and Telesat. The compnay has also declared that New Glenn will be used for 12 launches over a five-year period as part of Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation.

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