Blue Origin rocket set to carry a NASA mission to Mars in August 2024

Bezos beats Musk to Mars milestone: NASA chooses Blue Origin’s rocket to launch a mission to the Red Planet in 2024

  • The New Glenn rocket will carry crafts to study Mars’ electromagnetic fields
  • This launch will take place in August 2024, a NASA official announced Monday
  • Delays have plagued the New Glenn, though, and it is years behind schedule 
  • READ MORE: The dark side of the Musk/Bezos feud 

Elon Musk once branded Jeff Bezos a ‘dilettante’ of space exploration, but the Blue Origin founder is poised to beat SpaceX to Mars.

NASA announced Wednesday that it will send two scientific spacecraft to the Red Planet aboard the first Blue Origin New Glenn rocket in August 2024 – a contract that costs $20 million.

Musk’s SpaceX company was initially set to carry the NASA payload on a Falcon Heavy rocket in October of this year, alongside NASA’s Psyche mission, which was bound for an asteroid. 

However, the space agency pulled the additional crafts from the launch because the Falcon Heavy would not put them on the proper trajectory to insert them into Mars’ orbit.

The new timeline announcement comes shortly after Musk’s Starship rocket – the ship he wants to use to ferry crews to the moon and eventually Mars – blew up in a second launch attempt.

Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket is part of a broader NASA initiative to use low-cost contractors to get missions into space. That can come with risks, the agency acknowledges

NASA announced in its ESCAPADE statement: ‘Each satellite will carry three instruments: a magnetometer for measuring magnetic field, an electrostatic analyzer to measure ions and electrons, and a Langmuir probe for measuring plasma density and solar extreme ultraviolet flux.’ 

The US space agency has made a habit of swinging by our planetary neighbor to drop off orbiters, landers, and rovers, most recently in 2020 with the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter.

But these missions have all been carried by NASA’s own rockets. Blue Origin enters the ring as the first private space company NASA has contracted to go to Mars. 

An identical pair of spacecraft making up NASA’s Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorer ( ESCAPADE ) mission will hitch a ride on Jeff Bezos’s unproven Blue Origin New Glenn rocket

Elon Musk once branded Jeff Bezos a ‘dilettante’ of space exploration, but the Blue Origin founder is poised to beat SpaceX to Mars

The launch will likely occur in August 2024, an official from the agency said at a meeting on Monday.

NASA could be taking a big chance by sending an interplanetary payload on the New Glenn, as Blue Origin has not yet done a test launch of the rocket.

The contract price will reflect this level of risk, said Bradley Smith, director of NASA’s Launch Services Office, at a Monday meeting of the Human Exploration and Operations Committee of NASA’s Advisory Council, reported.

ESCAPADE is designated a ‘class D’ mission, meaning it is relatively low-priority for NASA’s overall strategy. The designation also means it has low-to-medium national significance and should be low-cost.

‘We’re willing to take a little bit of risk with a price tag and a mission assurance model that reflects that risk,’ Smith said, according to Space News.

It fits perfectly with the ESCAPADE mission’s shoestring budget of just $79 million.

NASA’s decision is the latest chapter in the billionaire space race between Musk and Bezos, which earlier this year saw each company win separate multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA to go to the moon

Blue Origin’s rocket is years behind schedule, which seems to factor into the risk profile when announcing this 2024 launch date. 

The twin ESCAPADE orbiters will reach Mars after about 11 months when they will begin orbiting the planet. 

This mission is part of NASA’s plan to use more commercial companies to get to space. Of course, this includes some risk.

‘By using a lower level of mission assurance and commercial best practices for launching rockets, these highly flexible contracts help broaden access to space through lower launch costs,’ wrote NASA officials in a statement about ESCAPADE. 

It remains to be seen whether the New Glenn will be ready to go in time for the August launch window. 

In 2021, the company announced it was targeting the fourth quarter of 2022 for the New Glenn’s inaugural launch. Before that, late 2021 had been the date to hit.

As of this article’s publication, the rocket still hasn’t taken a flight.

‘There’s certainly some schedule risk associated with New Glenn getting to the pad,’ said Smith on Monday. 

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