The space race is officially on, although it’s going to look a little different than it did a few decades ago when humans first went to the Moon. In a recent announcement, NASA released information on a contract it has with Blue Origin for a mission to Mars, the fourth planet in our solar system. Let’s take a closer look at this announcement and see what it means (and what it doesn’t).
What Was the Recent Announcement Made by NASA?
NASA probably doesn’t need an introduction, but for anyone newest to the private space industry side of things, Blue Origin might. Blue Origin is a privately-funded aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos in 2000.
The company is focused on developing and manufacturing reusable rockets, spacecraft, and other space technologies to support commercial and government space missions, hence its conversations with NASA, a governmental agency.
The announcement that came out in early February essentially told of a contract that had been agreed upon by Blue Origin and NASA regarding a Mars mission. Blue Origin has a space vehicle named New Glenn, a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle, that will be launching in January 2024.
The launch will be a big one for the company, and NASA figured it would reach out and see if they could hitch a ride with some equipment they are carrying.
As is common in the space niche right now, companies and governmental agencies will often request the ability to pay for space for upcoming launches to get products or materials into space. Instead of paying for their own launch, they can just pay for space aboard someone else’s. NASA is doing just that, but with Blue Origin.
What Is the ESCAPADE Mission?
NASA wants to buy some room on the New Glenn because they have some new instruments ready for launch under the titled mission Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, or ESCAPADE.
ESCAPADE will include some spacecraft that will fly to Mars with the intention of measuring how the planet’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind, as well as the plasma and energy moving through the planet’s extremely weak magnetic field (compared to Earth’s strong field). The tools onboard ESCAPADE include:
- a magnetometer,
- an electrostatic analyzer,
- and a Langmuir probe.
RockeLAb and the University of California Berkeley Space Science Laboratory are building the ESCAPADE instruments. So far, the mission has already been pushed back to its current date, and things aren’t certain for Blue Origin.
This will be an extremely important contract for them, showing the world that they can compete with the likes of SpaceX when it comes to pricing and timelines. The New Glenn is a reusable rocket with a reported 25 uses. If it is successful, it will be a big step for the company.
Blue Origin and NASA’s History
Although this will be a big mission for Blue Origin, it isn’t the first time that the company has worked with NASA. Another contract from 2020 secured the use of the New Glenn for other launches (of the 25 that it can support).
They’ve also signed some contracts for some aspects of the Artemis 3 mission, although SpaceX is in charge of blasting off with its Starship vehicles. In fact, Blue Origin ended up suing NASA after that contact, claiming it was unfairly favoring SpaceX, a court case which it ended up losing.
Still, despite the few hiccups, the company has and continues to gather contracts with the United States agency, hoping to compete on a larger scale with the likes of Musk and SpaceX. Let the battle of the billionaire space race commence!
Private Space Companies on the Rise
Private space companies have been on the rise in recent years, with SpaceX being the most successful. These companies have recognized the untapped potential for profit and innovation in the space industry, and are working to develop better products and services to meet the growing demand for space exploration and governmental contracts.
Many of these companies are passionate about advancing humanity into a multi-planetary species and believe space exploration is key to achieving this goal.
As a result, private space companies are investing heavily in research and development, and are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in space travel and exploration. Although the idea of private space companies is still being debated, they are poised to revolutionize the space industry in the coming years.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©T. Schneider/Shutterstock.com.