Two years ago, the founder of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos – yes, the person who owned it Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) – make NASA a promise: If you want to set up a moon base, Blue Origin will partner with the space agency and build rockets – and lunar landers – to help build the base.
The rocket in question is New Glenn, which is currently under development, with plans to become one of the strongest rockets on earth. And the lander? That will be Blue Moon.
Introducing Blue Moon
Although Blue Moon was originally conceived of as a cargo ship capable of providing "experimental, cargo and habitat equipment by mid-2020," Bezos in 2017 promised that it would be a launch-agnostic vehicle that could fly above his own. The Glenn rocket, or on the new NASA Space Launch System (also still under development), or even on the United Launch Alliance Atlas 551. (Not mentioned about SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, you will notice.)
But when NASA announced earlier this year that they were submitting a proposal to build a Human Landing System to place astronauts on the moon, Bezos seemed to have an epiphany: Blue Moon could do it too.
Last week, at a closed presentation in Washington, Bezos withdrew an artificial curtain of Blue Moon, revealing it as a fuel cell-powered spacecraft capable of sending between 3.6 and 6.5 metric tons of cargo (rising) to and including moon trains) to the surface month. Blue Moon will use hydrogen and oxygen to fuel the new 3D-printed BE-7 engine (also new, untested) to travel from the moon's orbit to the surface. The first version of Blue Moon will be a robot, but a larger version will have to be rated by humans to bring astronauts to the moon.
NASA and Blue Origin, finally together?
To refresh your memory, NASA's last month's project consists of three main stages: In 2024, the agency wants to have "the descendants of the moon" – lunar landers – which are paired with the "moon gate" space station in orbit around the moon. In 2026, he wanted to add a month climbing elements are built and shipped, and test both elements in an unmanned mission to land, and return from, the surface of the moon.
Finally, in 2028, NASA plans to repeat this achievement with astronauts on board, completing the landing on the first manned moon in more than half a century!
This schedule has recently been mixed up when in March, Vice President Pence stated that the target for 2028 is "not good enough," and that the current official US policy is to return astronauts to the moon in 2024. Not everyone is sure that five years is enough time to do what NASA said just three months ago it would take almost a decade to complete it. But Bezos, who has poured $ 1 billion a year of his wealth into Blue Origin through the sale of shares of Amazon.com, said that because he started developing Blue Moon three years ago, landing 2024 could actually be done by him.
What happened next
However, are we talking about 2028, 2026 or 2024 – whatever the date – NASA first needs to build equipment to make it happen. Large and small space companies, starting from Boeing and Lockheed to the Sierra Nevada to SpaceX, all want to help. And now we know for sure that Blue Origin will join them in the competition.
The agency has budgeted only $ 30 million to $ 40 million to pay for current development, which sounds like a small nut to many of these companies. That being said, the winner of the contract to help NASA realize its mission can hope to reap more than tens and hundreds of millions of contracts to build, launch and operate the spacecraft needed to land on the moon.
This latest space race has just begun – but it has also begun.