NASA awarded Kent-based Blue Origin a contract to study the magnetic field around Mars with a launch target date of late 2024.
Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) will launch on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket from Space Launch Complex-36 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, according to a Feb. 9 NASA press release.
Blue Origin is one of 13 companies NASA selected for Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) contracts in 2022. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, manages the VADR contracts. As part of VADR, the fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts have a five-year ordering period with a maximum total value of $300 million across all contracts.
NASA and Blue Origin did not release the value of this contract.
“ESCAPADE follows a long tradition of NASA Mars science and exploration missions, and we’re thrilled NASA’s Launch Services Program has selected New Glenn to launch the instruments that will study Mars’ magnetosphere,” said Jarrett Jones, senior vice president, New Glenn, Blue Origin.
ESCAPADE will study Mars’ magnetosphere – the magnetized area of space around the planet – using two identical small spacecraft, which will provide simultaneous two-point observations, according to NASA. The spacecraft will help provide researchers a better understanding of how the magnetosphere interacts with the solar wind, and how energy and plasma enter and leave the magnetosphere.
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.
It will take ESCAPADE about 11 months to arrive at Mars after leaving Earth’s orbit, where both spacecraft will spend several months adjusting their orbits before they are in position to best capture data about the magnetosphere, according to NASA. Studying different magnetospheres gives scientists a better understanding of space weather, which can protect astronauts and satellites both as they orbit Earth and explore the solar system.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also is the founder of Blue Origin, which opened in Kent in 2000. The aerospace company expanded its headquarters in 2020 to a 236,000-square-foot blue-colored facility along 76th Avenue South between South 212th and South 228th streets.
Blue Origin launched its first rides into space in 2021 and eventually plans to have people living and working in space.