Two years ago, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, yes, the guy who owns Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) – made NASA a promise: if you want to establish a lunar base, Blue Origin will partner with the space agency and build a rocket and a lunar vehicle to help build that base.
The rocket in question is New Glenn, currently under development, with plans to become one of the most powerful rockets on earth. And the landing module? That would be Blue Moon.
Jeff Bezos with a model of the Moon Moon lunar vehicle. Image source: Blue origin.
Introducing Blue Moon
Although Blue Moon was originally conceived as a cargo ship capable of delivering "equipment for experiments, cargo and habitats by mid-2020", Bezos promised in 2017 that it would be a spacecraft without the use of launchers that could fly over its own New Rocket Glenn, or in NASA's new Space Launch System (also still in development), or even on an Atlas of the United Launch Alliance 551. (SpaceX's Falcon Heavy was not mentioned, you'll notice).
But when NASA announced earlier this year that it is requesting proposals to build its Human Landing System to put astronauts on the Moon, Bezos seems to have had an epiphany: Blue Moon could also do that.
Last week, in a closed-door presentation in Washington, Bezos opened the curtain in a model of Blue Moon, revealing that it was a spacecraft powered by fuel cells capable of delivering between 3.6 and 6.5 metric tons of payload (up to and including the buggies of the moon) to the lunar surface. Blue Moon will use hydrogen and oxygen to power a new 3D-printed BE-7 engine (also new, and still untried) to travel from lunar orbit to the surface. The first version of Blue Moon will be robotic, but a larger later version should be clbadified by humans to take astronauts to the moon.
NASA and Blue Origin, finally together?
To refresh your memory, NASA's latest lunar project consists of three main stages: by 2024, the agency wants to have a "moon descent element", a lunar vehicle, coupled with a space station "moonwalk" in orbit around Moon. By 2026, you want to add a mole. ascent element built and delivered, and test both elements in an unmanned mission to land and return from the lunar surface.
Finally, in 2028, NASA plans to repeat this feat with astronauts on board, achieving the first manned lunar landing in more than half a century!
This calendar was mixed recently when, in March, Vice President Pence declared that a deadline of 2028 "simply was not good enough", and that the official policy of the United States is to return astronauts to the moon by the year 2024 Not everyone is convinced that they are five years old. Enough time to do what NASA said just three months ago, it would take almost a decade to do it. But Bezos, who has been investing $ 1 billion a year of his wealth in Blue Origin through Amazon.com's stock sales, says that because Blue Moon's development began three years ago, in fact, it's possible make a landing in 2024.
What comes next
And yet, whether we're talking about 2028, 2026 or 2024, whatever the date, NASA first needs to build the equipment to make this happen. Large and small space companies, ranging from Boeing Y Lockheed to Sierra Nevada to SpaceX, everyone wants to help. And now we know with certainty that Blue Origin will join them in the competition.
The agency has budgeted only $ 30 million to $ 40 million to pay for development at this time, which seems to be a problem for many of these companies. That said, the eventual winner (s) of contract (s) to help NASA realize its mission can expect to obtain contracts worth tens and hundreds of millions more to build, launch and operate the spacecraft needed to land on the moon.
This last space race has just begun, but it has also started.