This will be a historic launch for both NASA and New Glenn.
NASA hopes to launch a mission to Mars on Blue Origin's first New Glenn rocket next year. According to the plan, this rocket will launch the ESCAPADE mission, but the exact launch date is unknown.
Bradley Smith, director of NASA's Space Launch Office, said at a meeting of NASA's Human Programs and Exploration Committee that he is “incredibly excited” about the launch of the ESCAPADE mission, which is expected to take place in about a year. The first launch of New Glenn may not take place until August 2024.
Blue Origin was awarded the right to launch the ESCAPADE mission in February of this year under a Venture Class Launch (VADR) contract. This type of contract allows you to accept more risk in exchange for lower costs and less control over schedules.
“There is some risk around the launch schedule for New Glenn,” Smith said, adding that with the VADR contract, “there is less certainty about when we can tell the customer it's ready to launch.”
For the launch of the ESCAPADE mission, Blue Origin received only $20,000,000. Considering the size of the rocket and the market value, it is impossible to launch New Glenn at this cost with a standard contact. It is possible that Blue Origin has other contracts, but they have not yet been announced.
The ESCAPADE mission consists of two identical spacecraft built by Rocket Lab based on their Photon satellite platform.
For Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, this mission will be a significant event. This will be Rocket Lab's first major launch of its own satellite platform, and Blue Origin's first New Glenn launch. In addition, this launch will demonstrate that NASA can carry out interplanetary missions at a relatively low cost.
New Glenn has been in development for several years, with its launch delayed several times after missing out on several major contracts. Little is known about the progress of the New Glenn development – just a few photos of the inside of the hangar, which do not provide much information. Blue Origin has demonstrated full-size samples of New Glenn's first and second stages, but there is no information or photos of the fully assembled rocket yet.
Blue Origin hasn't made any public announcements regarding an August 2024 launch, but they seem confident it will work this time.