NASA Prefers Blue Origin’s New Glenn Flight For ESCAPADE Mission To Mars

23rd Nov 2023
NASA Prefers Blue Origin’s New Glenn Flight For ESCAPADE Mission To Mars

NASA’s Mars mission, ESCAPADE, where two small Cubesats will be sent to the red planet, could be launched onboard Blue Origin’s maiden New Glenn flight. Although neither company has officially confirmed the reports, Bradley Smith, Director of Launch Service Programs at NASA, said, “We will very likely be the very first launch of New Glenn.” Revelations of the inaugural launch were revealed during a recent NASA advisory council meeting. 

ESCAPADE To Fly On Blue Origin’s First New Glenn Flight? 

In February 2023, NASA awarded Blue Origin their Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) contract. Currently, the twin Cubesats are marked for launch onboard Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. Until recently, very little has been disclosed regarding the mission’s progress and when New Glenn will launch. 

However, during a NASA advisory meeting, Smith detailed that their ESCAPADE Cubesats would fly this time next year, Stephen Clark reported on X. Clark is a space news reporter, and is not a representative of NASA nor Blue Origin. 

However, he reports that Smith said NASA is eyeing an: “incredibly ambitious first launch for [Blue Origin’s] New Glenn [rocket] around this time next year.” Although neither company has confirmed Smith’s claims, a spot on board the first New Glenn flight is looking likely – as long as Blue Origin can deliver the rocket in time that is. 

ESCAPADE: NASA’s Mars Surveying Miniature Satellites

Developed by Rocket Lab, ESCAPADE are two “interplanetary photon spacecraft”, NASA said, weighing less than 250 pounds. The miniature satellites have the task of studying Mars’ magnetosphere. This includes surveying its “structure, composition, variability, and dynamics,” Rocket Lab said. Initially, the spacecraft will linger in space for 11 months before entering “a highly elliptical orbit around Mars” NASA added. Whilst in elliptical orbit, ESCAPADE will begin to fall to the desired ‘science orbit’ in order to approach within 160 km of Mars’ surface. 

New Glenn Rocket Delays

Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s New Glenn has been plagued with delays since the rocket was first unveiled. In 2020, the launch vehicle was snubbed from a major Pentagon defence contract. As a result, Blue Origin was forced to tentatively mark the rocket’s first launch for 2022. Nearly two years later, and New Glenn still hasn’t left the launch pad. But, testing at NASA’s Research Centre in February, 2022, has yielded results after the rocket successfully completed a fairing test. 

Now, NASA’s hopes are lying with the rocket being ready in time for a late 2024 launch. Originally, the US space agency stated the ESCAPADE launch would take place no earlier than January 2024. Nevertheless, Smith has set expectations that ESCAPADE will launch by November next year, and onboard New Glenn’s inaugural lift-off. 

Blue Origin’s Turbulent Relationship With NASA

Blue Origin has secured numerous NASA contracts over recent years for varied projects, but their relationship hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In September 2021, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA, claiming a monopolisation was forming between the agency and SpaceX. As a result, work on the Artemis lander had to pause, causing delays to the Lunar programme

Blue Origin had also been granted a $25.6 million contract for the Artemis mission. Whereas, SpaceX’s lander contract was only worth $9.6 million. Nonetheless, the lawsuit didn’t go Blue Origins’ way and they lost their case in federal court. In spite of that, Blue Origin’s subversion didn’t tank their relationship entirely. In June 2023, Blue Origin was awarded a Lunar lander contract of their own; prior to that, the ESCAPADE contract in February.      

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