Amazon founder reveals moon lander concept

Amazon founder reveals moon lander concept

Max Blenkin

Blue Origin, the US space company set up by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has revealed its concept for a moon lander.

Unveiling a model of the proposed Blue Moon lander at an invitation-only event in Washington, Bezos said they’d been working on the concept for three years.

This is a very big spacecraft, much bigger than the landers that took man to the moon, although vaguely similar in appearance, with four landing legs and a blocky propulsion and cargo section.

It is designed to operate without an onboard crew– there’s as yet no provision for astronauts.

Blue Moon can land up to 3.6 tonnes of cargo on the moon surface while a proposed stretched version can carry 6.5 tonnes. There’s even an onboard crane to lower goods to the lunar surface.

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This lander’s new BE-7 engine uses propellants of liquid hydrogen and oxygen rather than traditional volatile rocket fuels. Bezos told the launch this provided very high performance.

“Ultimately, we’re going to be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon, and be able to refuel these vehicles on the surface of the moon,” he said, according to a report of the launch by SpaceNews.

 

The hydrogen also serves other purposes. Hydrogen sublimation helps cool the oxygen tanks. Hydrogen fuel cells will provide electrical power rather than solar panels during the two-week lunar night.

“We chose hydrogen fuel cells for this vehicle rather than solar cells because we want to be able to survive the lunar night,” Bezos said, which lasts for two weeks.

The BE-7 engine produces 10,000 pounds-force of thrust and can be throttled.

Bezos said it would be fired hot for the first time this (northern) summer.

SpaceNews said he didn’t disclose other details of Blue Moon development such as development costs or how close it is to actual flight. It said he took no questions from the media or other launch guests who included NASA officials, former astronauts and scientists.

But Bezos did endorse the US administration’s plan for accelerated return to the moon in 2024 rather than end of decade. That was announced by Vice President Mike Pence in March and left NASA with a challenge to come up with the moon lander it will need. NASA is looking to industry for lander concepts.

Bezos hinted that only Blue Origin could come up with a lander design in time.

“We can help meet that timeline, but only because we started three years ago,” he said.

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 and reflects Bezos’ early and enduring passion for space flight and also his great wealth. He invests some US$1 billion in the company each year through sales of his shares in Amazon.

The company name refers to the blue planet Earth as the point of origin. Bezos’ vision is to establish a permanent presence on the moon, with his lander providing the necessary cargo hauling capability.

“It's time to go back to the moon and this time stay," he said.

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