NASA has added Blue Origin’s New Glenn heavy-lift launch vehicle to a list of vehicles eligible to receive future missions.
The addition of New Glenn to NASA’s Launch Services (NLS) II contract was announced on December 16. The inclusion of the as yet untested launch vehicle was part of the contract’s “on-ramp” provision, an annual opportunity for the agency to include new launch service providers.
NLS II is a multi-supplier, multi-award, indefinite-delivery, and indefinite-quantity contract with an ordering period through June 2025 and an overall performance period through December 2027. Each vehicle selected to be a part of the NLS II contract must, at minimum, be able to launch payloads of at least 250 kilograms into a 200-kilometer circular orbit at an inclination of 28.5 degrees, a requirement New Glenn is designed to fulfill with ease.
New Glenn joins a roster of flight-proven launch vehicles including Northrop Grumman’s Antares and Pegasus, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, and United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5. Its inclusion on the list does not guarantee Blue Origin will receive any missions but merely makes New Glenn eligible to be considered.
Although Blue Origin is notoriously tight-lipped regarding the progress of New Glenn, the maiden flight of the vehicle had been slated for 2020. In early 2019 however, the launch slipped to 2021 and then to late 2021 following the opening of the Blue Origin Huntsville rocket engine production facility in February.
With worldwide production affected by the pandemic, it is likely that the maiden launch of New Glenn will slip into 2022. However, with Blue Origin having been deemed an essential service early on in the pandemic, work may still be on track for a late 2021 maiden flight.