WASHINGTON – Blue Origins billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, yesterday revealed the company's plans to land a spacecraft called "Blue Moon" on the lunar surface.
In an exclusive presentation here at the Walter E. Washington Conference Center yesterday (May 9), Bezos released details of Blue Moon and all the ways it can be used to explore the Earth's natural satellite.
From new technology to possible herds on the lunar surface, there is much to extract from Bezos' presentation. We explain what Blue Origin is planning to do with Blue Moon, as well as detailing the spacecraft's design and some of its bells and whistles.
Related: Blue Origin's Lunar Lander: A photo tour [1
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Blue Moon is a relatively large lunar lander designed for delivering science payloads, moon shots and even astronauts to the moon's surface. It can also distribute small satellites to the lunar orbit as a "bonus mission" on the way, Bezos said.
Blue Moon has some resemblance to NASA's ancient Apollo lunar modules, but there are some noticeable differences. The most obvious, apart from the slimmer design, is the huge, spherical fuel tank with the words "Blue Moon" printed in large blue letters on the side.
It also has much less landing pads, or "feet" at the bottom of the landing legs. That's because Apollo land's engineers were worried that the moon's soil would be so soft that the lander would sink too far, but the ground was more solid than they thought, Bezos said.
Apollo landing travelers were designed specifically for human mission to the lunar surface – and therefore required human hands to distribute the payload of science – Blue Moon is a fully autonomous spacecraft with built-in mechanisms for the escape of science equipment, including lunar rovers. Using a crane-like insert called a davit system, the lander will gently lower the payloads from the main deck to the lunar surface. The Davit system can be customized for different types of payloads and it can release up to four large rovers on the moon at the same time.
Other bells and whistles include a star tracking system and a flash lidar that allows the spacecraft to navigate autonomously by looking at stars in space and features on the moon's surface. "There is no GPS on the moon," Bezos said.
"Now that we've mapped the entire moon in detail, we can use the existing maps to tell the system what to look for in terms of craters and other features, and it navigates to it "It uses the actual terrain of the moon as a guide post." With that navigation system, Blue Moon will move down within 23 meters of its destination landing site, Bezos said.
Lander will utilize Blue Origins new BE-7 engines, which the company will begin testing this summer, said Bezos. The new engines will be powered by a combination of liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), which is "not how Apollo did," Bezos said. Although Apollo's command modules – which remained in orbit while the moon modules surface – used LH2 / LOX for fuel, the landing gear went on battery power.
"We know a lot now about the moon that we didn't know back in the Apollo days, or even just 20 years ago," Bezos said. "One of the most important things we know about the moon today is that there is water there . It is in the form of ice. It is in the permanently shaded craters of the moon's poles and water is incredibly valuable resource. can use electrolysis to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen, and you have propellants. "
So the LH2 / LOX engines not only provide better performance but also run on natural resources found on the moon – that is, if scientists finds a way to lessen the hydrogen from the moon's water . But Bezos seemed confident in the plan's feasibility. "Finally, we will be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon and be able to fill these vehicles on the surface of the moon," he said.
The blue moon
Blue Moon has a payload of 23 feet (7 meters) which will stand about 14 feet (4 m) with its four landing legs fully deployed. When fully loaded with fuel, roads land approximately 16.5 tons (15 tons). When it reaches the moon's surface, the fuel has almost burned the entire fuel, weighing only 3.3 tons (3 tons).
By comparison, the Apollo lunar modules that carried astronauts to the moon at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s were 23 meters high and weighed 4.7 tonnes (4.3 tonnes) without propellant. Lockheed Martin's proposed lunar lander is slightly larger and heavier. The Lander, who also wants to use LH2 and LOX for propellant, and who has not yet been named, would be about 46 feet (14 m) high. Even with an empty fuel tank, the lander would weave 24 tonnes (22 tonnes) – more than seven times the dry weight of Blue Moon. When the Lockheed Martin country's fuel tank is filled, the module will weigh 68 tons (62 tons).
Blue Moon may look smaller than the Lockheed landmark, but it will have greater payload capacity. It will be able to deliver approx. 4 tonnes (3.6 tonnes) payload to the lunar surface, compared to 1.1 tonnes (1 ton) for the Lockheed landmark. A "stretched tank" variant of Blue Moon will carry up to 7.2 tons (6.5 tons), including an extra gradient – and some extra fuel – that will allow astronauts to visit the surface of the moon.
Although the Blue Moon Moon Lander is designed to make one-way traffic to the moon, the stretched variant with the gradient stage will allow astronaut tours. When the astronauts left the surface, they could hypothetically return to NASA's Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway a proposed moon station station that would orbit the moon, although Bezos did not elaborate on where the Blue Moon crew could go when they left the moon.
NASA aims to have some form of moon's gateway in circulation within the next five years, because the agency will not be able to meet the Trump administration's ambitious landing request [astronautreminder2024 without the critical part of infrastructure.
"Vice President Pence recently said it is the stated policy of this administration and the United States to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years," says Bezos. "I love this. It is the right thing to do. "We can help meet that timeline."
Blue Origin has not yet officially offered NASA its lunar lander concept as a competitor for the agency's 2024 mission, but NASA plans to launch call proposals from private companies by the end of this month.
But Blue Origin does not need a NASA contract to launch Blue Moon. The company has already secured paying customers, many of whom were present at the big disclosure, Bezos said. "People are very excited about this ability to accurately soften their cargo, their robots, their science experiments on the surface of the moon. There is no way to do it today."