Blue Origin: To the Moon and Beyond

On May 5th Jeff Bezos, owner and founder of Blue Origin, presented a prototype of his company’s lunar lander aptly named Blue Moon. Intentions of returning to the moon had previously been disclosed in 2017. At the invite only event in Washington, DC Bezos presented not only the prototype of the lander, but his desire and vision for making humankind a spacefaring species living beyond the restrictions and difficulties of Earth.

Blue Origin's Lunar Lander: Blue Moon (Graphic Credit: Blue Origin)

Bezos began the event by describing the amount of improvement the world has experienced with energy use and advancements made in terms of energy efficiency. He also described the “impractical solutions” for the current rate at which energy is consumed. According to Bezos, the current amount of energy demand is unsustainable and will ultimately result in energy rationing creating a “path” to living conditions worse than that of our current generation. He then went on to describe what he sees as the only viable solution to the world’s energy crisis, reaching beyond our planet to utilize the unlimited resources present in our solar system which may be capable of supporting an “incredible civilization” of a trillion humans. This plan, however, does not support the ideal that planetary surfaces would be the primary solution to creating sustainable living options for humans, but rather large scale space colonies most commonly referred to as O’Neil Colonies first proposed by physicist Gerard O’Neil in the 1970s.

Blue Origin's New Shepard Reusable Suborbital Booster & Capsule (Photo Credit: Blue Origin)

Along with the problem of unsustainable energy use Bezos described two specific “gates” that threaten the capability of humans reaching beyond our planet, the cost of accessibility and the lack of an infrastructure in place to support future in-space development. New Shepard, Blue Origin’s reusable suborbital booster meant for tourist flights, was highlighted as a minor, yet meaningful stepping stone to achieving breaking through these gates. Completely reusable space flight hardware requiring little to no refurbishment will be the solution to address dramatic launch costs. The processes that have been tested with New Shepard such as human rated escape systems, propulsive vertical landing and the use of propellants required for more difficult orbital flight, such as liquid hydrogen, have been done so to ensure that they can scale up to meet requirements for New Glenn, Blue Origin’s proposed single stick heavy-lift class launch vehicle. Ideally, an operational, and fully reusable, single stick heavy-lift launch vehicle would dramatically decrease the cost of getting to space, especially when that vehicle is capable of transporting up to 45 metric tons to lower earth orbit and 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit utilizing the largest fairing to date, according to Bezos. This not only addresses the cost of launch operations, but will help to develop the infrastructure necessary to unlock the “gate” of unlimited and less restrictive resources of space such as constant solar energy and less restrictive gravitational forces.

Bezos looks to create the infrastructure to support a space society by initially settling the moon. He believes that paving a “road” to space is the next step in this new era of space exploration. The process will begin with New Glenn propelling Blue Moon to the lunar surface to deliver supplies and materials eventually followed by crew. Blue Moon is poised to be quite a workhorse. The prototype lander, seen on stage behind Bezos featuring an autonomous surface delivery mechanism and Blue Origin branded rover, seemingly has the potential to deliver extensive payloads and crew. Bezos stated that the lander would be capable of delivering four such rovers simultaneously which was shown in an accompanying infographic.

Blue Origin's Lunar Lander Blue Moon Outfitted with a Stacked Payload (Graphic Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Moon will also be available in a larger, more versatile variant. The larger design is meant to transport more extensive payloads such as crew modules with life support and lunar ascent vehicles. The additional payloads are expected to be stacked on top of the lunar lander itself. Typically, everything is meticulously folded within a transfer vehicle to fit within the size constraints of the protective fairing, think of folding solar arrays that extend once a vehicle has been deployed into orbit. With large payload transportation in mind, however, Blue Origin has intentionally designed the New Glenn booster with an extremely large payload fairing, up to 2 meters wider than any current fairing being used. This means that the entire Blue Moon lander and a stacked payload, whether it be hardware or a crew module, would be able to fit and deploy without issue.

New Glenn Comparison (Graphic Credit: Blue Origin)

Along with displaying the lunar lander Bezos premiered the new BE-7 engine that will be used to support Blue Moon on its descent to the lunar surface to provide a soft landing. The engine that has been in development for three years, according to Bezos, is made of 3D printed parts, utilizes liquid hydrogen and oxygen as propellants, and is capable of “deep throttling.” The new engine is expected to be hot fired for the first time this coming summer.

Blue Origin's BE-7 Engine Diagram (Graphic Source: Blue Origin)

Both Blue Origin and the United States Federal Government have expressed a desire to have humans return to the moon by the year 2024. With plans as big as Blue Origin’s, monitoring the advancements that will undoubtedly take place over the next few years is sure to be exciting. First up, however, is proving that the private company is capable of meeting its initial goal of utilizing New Shepard for space tourism. Bezos made the bold statement that they would be flying human passengers by the end of this calendar year. A successful suborbital tourist flight to the edge of space and back would make Blue Origin only the second private space tourism company joining Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. There are still more hurdles to jump to return humankind to the moon, but Blue Origin is well on its way to becoming a major contender in this the new space race era.

Please visit the link below to view the press event in its entirety.