COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Blue Origin, the space venture backed by Amazon billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos, is providing a first look at the design for the Blue Moon lander it wants to use for deliveries to the lunar surface in the 2020s.
It’s been more than a month since Blue Origin’s plan for sending payloads to the moon for a permanent settlement came to light – but the company’s president, Rob Meyerson, lifted a veil a bit higher by showing off an artist’s conception of the lander here at the 33rd Space Symposium.
As the four-legged lander design was displayed on screen, Meyerson told the crowd that the spacecraft could be launched on NASA’s own heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, which is currently under development. It could also go on United Launch Alliance’s existing Atlas 5 rocket, or on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket – which is due to start flying by 2020.
NASA hasn’t yet signaled whether it will widen its plans for lunar exploration. But Meyerson said Blue Moon could ship cargo to the lunar surface to complement any plan that NASA develops for crewed Orion missions to lunar orbit, or for settlements on the lunar surface.
“We believe that the lunar surface offers valuable resources, with valuable science return that can serve as a location to demonstrate key technologies and serve as an appropriate location for that long-term permanent settlement,” Meyerson said. “We also believe the moon is in sequence for long-term exploration of the solar system, including Mars.”
Meyerson said Bezos was even willing to put some of his own money into the program.
“We’re willing to invest in its development as part of a private-public partnership with NASA,” he said. “The more NASA flies SLS, the more they will need commercial logistics delivery services. New Glenn and Blue Moon complement SLS and Orion, enabling NASA’s return to the moon, and this time to stay.”
The Trump administration has signaled that it’s considering a refocusing of America’s space program on lunar exploration as a step along the road to Mars. As a result, journeys to cislunar space – that is, the moon and its orbital vicinity – have attracted lots more interest.
Blue Origin isn’t the only commercial venture taking a closer look at the moon: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK are among the space heavyweights proposing grand designs for NASA’s cislunar operations.
SpaceX and its billionaire founder, Elon Musk, are focused on Mars rather than the moon – but even Musk has said he’s working on a plan to send a Dragon capsule on a round-the-moon mission, potentially within the next couple of years.
During today’s panel, Michael Wood, Boeing’s chief engineer for the SLS program, said he welcomed Blue Origin’s interest in lunar operations.
“All of our capabilities are complementary,” Wood said. “It’s an ‘and’ proposition, not an ‘or.'”