Blue Origin Signs New NASA Space Act Agreement

Blue Origin Engine TestingCredit :  Blue Origin

Blue Origin Engine Testing
Credit : Blue Origin

This past week was an unusually eventful several days for “NewSpace,” dominated by both the introduction of the Inspiration Mars Foundation and its flyby mission to Mars, and of course, the launch of the SpaceX /  NASA CRS-2 mission to ISS,  accompanied by a few hours of high anxiety as the company successfully worked through an initial problem with three of four thruster pods on board the Dragon spacecraft.

With all that taking place, it was easy to overlook a significant announcement from NASA and Blue Origin released on Wednesday.  The announcement, which follows below, indicates that despite declining to participate in CCiCap (Commercial Crew Integrated Capacity) the secretive company is proceeding apace with development of its suborbital reusable launch vehicle program. With SpaceX soon to begin a more aggressive testing regime of its Grasshopper RLV, one which Elon Musk noted might just result in their first “smoking crater,” the news that Blue Origin is also moving ahead with its own reusable launch vehicle is equally encouraging. This timing was also welcome, given that the other major news story this week affecting NewSpace, sequestration and its impact on Commercial Crew was anything but encouraging. One particular note of concern, NASA’s Office of Inspector General is currently conducting an audit  of the agency’s use of Space Act Agreements, to determine whether or not the agency is fully charging for its costs, or receiving full value when it chooses to waive costs.  The audit will also look at export controls.  While there is nothing wrong with the audit itself, a necessary and proper function of government,  it should some as no surprise when certain members of Congress generally hostile to the commercial space industry, attempt to use it as a bludgeon against NewSpace, to the clear benefit of more established contractors who find all that competition and innovation a little too messy.

NASA Announcement: :

NASA and Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., signed an agreement this week to extend their Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) partnership in an unfunded capacity. Between now and mid-2014, Blue Origin will continue to advance the subsystems of its biconic-shaped spacecraft, putting emphasis on power and actuation systems, in-space propulsion, multiplex avionics and flight mechanics. The company also will progress the spacecraft’s guidance, navigation and control systems.

Later this year, Blue Origin will focus on test firing its liquid-oxygen and liquid-hydrogen fueled BE-3 engines, building on the full-scale thrust chamber testing accomplished during the funded portion of its CCDev2 agreement. The test fire will take place at the company’s West Texas Launch Site. In the winter, the company will outline the progress it has made toward designing, manufacturing and assembling its subscale booster propellant tank.

This CCDev2 extension will allow NASA to provide expert feedback to Blue Origin as the company works through additional milestones.

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