Blue Origin, the private space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, was awarded its first interplanetary NASA contract to launch a mission next year to study the magnetic field around Mars, the U.S. space agency and company said.
Blue Origin, known for its Astro-tourism business for wealthy customers and celebrities, is one of 13 firms NASA chose last year for its Venture-class Acquisition of the Dedicated and Rideshare missions (VADR) program.
Blue Origin has flown previous NASA missions with its smaller, suborbital New Shepard rocket, which can carry research payloads on short, microgravity trips to the edge of space and back.
The mission’s goal is to investigate Mars’ magnetosphere or the magnetized area of space surrounding the planet.
NASA will conduct simultaneous two-point observations with two identical small spacecrafts to gain a better understanding of how the magnetosphere on Mars interacts with the solar wind, as well as how energy and plasma enter and exit the magnetosphere.
All of this will provide scientists with a better understanding of weather in space, which will aid in the protection of both astronauts and satellites as they orbit Earth and explore the solar system.
The mission is scheduled to launch in late 2024 on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and will take approximately 11 months to reach Mars after leaving Earth’s orbit.
Though this mission will not transport humans to Mars, New Glenn is capable of carrying people and has a reusable first stage designed for 25 missions.
Blue Origin’s success in securing the NASA mission comes after the company attempted to sue the space agency for awarding a contract to SpaceX.
The $2.9 billion (£2.37b) deal granted SpaceX the opportunity to build a lunar lander to transport astronauts to the Moon, though Blue Origin argued NASA was ‘unlawful and improper’ when it evaluated the three proposals for the project.
Musk has long expressed his desire to put humans on Mars, and is using SpaceX to develop the Starship spacecraft in order to help make it happen. The billionaire has set new heights. After over 10 years of development, Musk announced SpaceX is ready to attempt the maiden flight of its Starship mega-rocket in March.
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