In an invitation-only event at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC., members of the press and space industry representatives witnessed the unveiling of a life-size mock-up of ‘Blue Moon’ – spaceflight company Blue Origin’s lunar lander.
The company’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says Blue Moon is capable of carrying 3.6 metric tons of large payloads, including rovers, satellites, and scientific equipment to the lunar surface.
Also, a subsequent “stretch tank” version with a 6.5-ton payload capacity will be able to put astronauts back on the moon by as early as 2024.
“This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the Moon,” Bezos said after the historic reveal, adding: “If that does not inspire you, you are at the wrong event.”
Bezos also revealed a new BE-7 engine that will power both versions of the lander with a thrust of 10,000 lb using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, instead of a storable hypergolic propellant.
“It’s very high performance,” says Bezos. “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.”
The advantage of using liquid hydrogen is manifold; not only can its boiloff be used as a coolant for the liquid oxygen, but it can also be fed into a fuel cell system where it can generate enough electricity to power the lander during the two-week long lunar nights.
“We chose hydrogen fuel cells for this vehicle rather than solar cells because we want to be able to survive the lunar night,” he said.
Blue Moon’s fuel-loaded lift-off weight of 33,000 lb will reduce to about 7,000 lb at the time of lunar touchdown.
Bezos has always had a fascination with space and the limitless possibilities it holds, with an early interest in the idea of “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2-3 million people orbiting Earth.”
It was this obsession with space travel and exploration that led Bezos to found Blue Origin, back in 2000.
So, the Amazon billionaire didn’t really surprise anybody when speaking at the International Space Development Conference, in May last year, he said that his company Blue Origin was open to working with NASA, SpaceX or the European Space Agency (ESA) to realize his vision of colonizing space.
And, what better place to start than the moon, not only because of its proximity to Earth but also because of the presence of large deposits of water ice near its poles, not to mention the fact that the lunar surface gets plenty of sunlight.
Addressing a group of students at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Bezos stressed upon the importance of moving equipment and supplies and assembling them on the surface of the moon with the help of advanced robotics and machine learning, before humans can actually populate the place.
“I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon, and it’s time to go back to the moon but this time to stay,” he said.
“And, there you’d want to preposition a whole bunch of equipment and supplies before the humans show up; and some of those things need to be assembled on the surface of the moon and that’s the kind of thing that could also be done by advanced robotics with machine learning systems on board,” Bezos added
There are other players, both private and government, who would likely be interested in partnering with Blue Origin, including SpaceX, although Elon Musk is more fixated on the red planet than the moon.
The European Space Agency’s ‘Moon Village’ vision is particularly appealing to Bezos, who says that the idea of building individual lunar outposts by different companies in close proximity to each other would lead to inter-lunar cooperation among different outposts, helping each other out in times of need.
“The Moon Village concept has a nice property in that everybody basically just says, look, everybody builds their own lunar outpost, but let’s do it close to each other,” Bezos said.
“That way, if you need a cup of sugar, you can go over to the European Union lunar outpost and say, ‘I got my powdered eggs, what have you got?’” he quipped.
“Obviously, I’m being silly with the eggs, but there will be real things, like, ‘Do you have some oxygen?’” he added.
Bezos is also convinced that there’s no better place than the moon for Earth’s heavy industry because in times to come, Earth will not remain the best place for it.
“The Earth is not a very good place to do heavy industry. It’s convenient for us right now, but in the not-too-distant future — I’m talking decades, maybe 100 years — it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space because we’ll have so much energy,” he said.
The ever-increasing population and the resultant demand on the dwindling resources on Earth, plus the fact that there will be no dearth of solar-powered energy in space outposts, do give credence to Bezos lunar logic.
“We will have to leave this planet,” Bezos said. “We’re going to leave it, and it’s going to make this planet better,” he said, adding: “We’ll come and go, and the people who want to stay will stay.”
While the moon is where Bezos plans to start his space colonization from, for reasons already mentioned, his long-term vision encompasses solar-powered colonies in the solar-system with millions of people living and working in them. He even sees hollow asteroids as potential space outposts.
Bezos said that although he is committed to building the rockets and landers, he would be happy if other companies took over the responsibility of building rovers, habitable accommodation and all the other stuff necessary to colonize the moon on such a large scale.
“One of two things will happen,” he said. “Either other people will take over the vision, or I’ll run out of money.”
Considering he’s the richest man on Earth, it’s unlikely he’ll ever run out of money; on the contrary, he could end up becoming the richest man in space, as well.