Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has won its first NASA order for a New Glenn rocket launch, with Mars as the mission’s ultimate destination.
The task order calls on Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin to provide launch service for NASA’s Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, or ESCAPADE, as part of the space agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare program, also known as VADR.
Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which is currently still under development, would be tasked with sending two robotic probes spaceward from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in late 2024.
The twin ESCAPADE spacecraft would study how Mars’ weak magnetosphere interacts with the solar wind, and how energy and plasma enter and leave the magnetosphere. The cruise to Mars would take about 11 months, followed by several months of orbital adjustments in preparation for the science mission.
Learning about Mars’ magnetosphere would provide a new perspective on space weather, on strategies for protecting astronauts from space storms — and potentially on the evolution of the Red Planet’s climate. Scientists say Mars lost much of its atmosphere and became less hospitable for life because it didn’t have a strong magnetosphere to protect it from the stripping-away effect of the solar wind.