Blue Origin awarded NASA suborbital flight contract
Blue Origin has become the sixth company to be awarded a contract under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, joining Masten Space Systems, Inc., Near Space Corporation, UP Aerospace, Inc., Virgin Galactic, LLC, and World View Enterprises, Inc. in a set of opportunities designed to provide access to space for suborbital payloads.
Blue Origin was awarded an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract under the Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle (sRLV) Flight and Payload Integration Services solicitation, which has a combined not-to-exceed value of $45 million.
“We are pleased to have Blue Origin join our cadre of Flight Opportunities service providers,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington, said in a press release. “Adding additional flight providers enables NASA and the broader aerospace community to demonstrate and transition space technologies, developing new capabilities faster and, potentially, at lower cost.”
The Flight Opportunities Program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and is managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Blue Origin will be part of a pool of launch service providers who will compete for payload integration and flight service task orders over the course of the next three years.
The flight regimes for the sRLV contract include missions with reduced gravity in a space environment (typically more than 62 miles or 100 kilometers above ground level); slow ascent to high altitude with free-fall descent; rapid ascent to a space environment with free-fall descent; controlled descent with controlled vertical landing; and controlled vertical ascent and descent. Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket has flown three times since April 2015, demonstrating flight characteristics in the rapid-ascent, free-fall descent regime.
Blue Origin is advertising their vertical-takeoff/vertical-landing New Shepard vehicle as being capable of flying passengers to the 62-mile (100-kilometer) border of space as well as handling payloads from a few ounces up to 50 pounds (22.6 kilograms) in a ‘shirtsleeve’ environment.
All three of the New Shepard flights have featured a pressurized capsule. The sRLV solicitation did not specify where the suborbital payloads were to be launched from; however, Blue Origin could operate out of its facilities in West Texas or Florida – where they are building a new manufacturing facility and taking over management of Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This contract is a continuation of agreements awarded in 2014 and 2015, providing commercial capabilities using proven flight systems. According to the NASA release, the contract allows for the bringing on of new vendors and the addition of new flight profiles on at least an annual basis, as determined by the government’s requirements.
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.