Today, Jeff Bezos unveiled the design of his spaceflight company’s lunar lander, the Blue Moon, which can take scientific payloads — and eventually humans — to the surface of the Moon. Bezos said that his company, Blue Origin, has been working on the design for the lander for the last three years.
“This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the Moon,” Bezos said after unveiling a mock-up of the Blue Moon lander at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Members of the press and space industry were in attendance to watch the reveal. The event opened with a video from the original Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first astronauts on the surface of the Moon. “If that does not inspire you, you are at the wrong event,” Bezos said.
The Blue Moon lander will be capable of autonomously navigating in space, and soft landing between 3.6 and 6.5 metric tons of payload on the surface of the Moon. According to Bezos, it’s capable of carrying up to four large rovers simultaneously, or an “ascent stage,” which can take off from the lander and eventually carry people away from the surface of the Moon. Bezos also revealed a new engine for the lander that Blue Origin has been developing called the BE-7. He said that the company will conduct its first ignition test this summer.
The Moon is an attractive destination these days for many, not just Blue Origin. The Trump administration has made it clear that it wants NASA to send humans back to the Moon; in March, Vice President Mike Pence challenged the space agency to land the first woman on the lunar surface by 2024. “I love this,” Bezos said about Pence’s challenge. “It’s the right thing to do.” NASA still has not released a proposed budget and plan for this accelerated lunar return, but the agency is definitely going to need new hardware and vehicles — notably, a lander to take humans to and from the Moon’s surface.
New BE7 engine, going to hot fire it for the first time this summer pic.twitter.com/Kw3VJk71zW— Loren Grush (@lorengrush) May 9, 2019
Today’s announcement was a way for Bezos to show off the company’s plans for getting to the Moon within the same time frame that NASA is eyeing. “We can help meet that timeline, but only because we started three years ago,” said Bezos. He did not say, however, when the lander would fly for the first time.
Before today’s event, Blue Origin teased the announcement with a picture of famed explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, a nod to the Shackleton crater on the Moon. In a white paper from 2017, the company detailed plans to land Blue Moon at the location, according to The Washington Post. While Bezos did not announce a landing location for Blue Moon today, in the past, representatives for Blue Origin testified before Congress about Shackleton crater’s unique advantages.
The Shackleton crater is located on the Moon’s south pole, which is potentially home to a very precious space resource: water ice. Water ice is particularly tantalizing to space explorers, especially if it’s found in abundance on the Moon. It could potentially be mined and turned into rocket fuel and drinking water, which could help sustain a human presence on the lunar surface.
“One of the most important things we know about the Moon today is that there’s water there,” Bezos said. “It’s in the form of ice. It’s in the permanently shadowed craters on the poles of the Moon, and water is an incredibly valuable resource.”
In fact, it is essential to the design of the BE-7 that will propel the Blue Moon lander, which runs on liquid hydrogen. “We’re using liquid hydrogen because, 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,” Bezos said.
While Bezos did talk about the merits of going to the Moon for its resources, he also spent the first part of his announcement laying out a grand vision for humanity’s future. He said he would like to see the creation of “O’Neill cylinders” or giant space stations with artificial gravity, capable of holding millions of people or entire landscapes in space. This isn’t the first time he’s brought up that concept. Bezos framed all of these plans as in service of a larger goal: inspiring future generations.
“What I’m laying out here today is obviously a multi-generation vision,” Bezos said. “This is not going to get done by any one generation. One of the things that we have to do is inspire those future generations.”