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NASA puts Blue Origin and Spaceflight on a new list for commercial launch contracts

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New Glenn
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket on its launch pad. (Blue Origin Illustration)

NASA has chosen a dozen companies to provide commercial launch services for relatively small-scale space missions over the next five years, including two ventures with Washington state connections.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. will be eligible for shares of the $300 million that’s been set aside for fixed-price contracts under a program known as NASA’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare Missions, or VADR.

Although Blue Origin’s corporate headquarters are in Kent, Wash., NASA is listing Blue Origin Florida as one of its VADR choices. That reflects the fact that orbital launches would be conducted from Florida using the company’s New Glenn rocket, which is still under development.

Spaceflight Inc., meanwhile, specializes in organizing rideshare missions that make use of other companies’ rockets.

VADR is a successor to NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program, and focuses on launching payloads ranging from CubeSats no bigger than a shoebox to somewhat larger spacecraft that are built for risk-tolerant Class D missions.

Bradley Smith, director of launch services at NASA Headquarters, said in a news release that VADR has been crafted “to maximize our efforts in enabling a growing U.S. launch industry.”

“With this new tool in our toolbox, these tremendously flexible contracts will meet a wide variety of NASA science and technology needs, further enhancing the agency’s Launch Services Program’s reputation as Earth’s bridge to space,” Smith said.

In addition to Blue Origin and Spaceflight, the VADR list includes:

  • ABL Space Systems of El Segundo, Calif.
  • Astra Space of Alameda, Calif,
  • L2 Solutions of Houston
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. of Chandler, Ariz.
  • Phantom Space Corp. of Tucson, Ariz.
  • Relativity Space of Long Beach, Calif.
  • Rocket Lab USA of Long Beach
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif.
  • United Launch Services of Centennial, Colo.
  • Virgin Orbit of Long Beach

The VADR acquisition process includes a special on-ramp provision that would enable providers to submit proposals introducing new launch capabilities that weren’t identified at the time of the initial contract award, whether or not they’re on the list announced today.

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