Amazon founder Jeff Bezos presented the Blue Moon at a private event in Washington DC. This is a private, Blue Origin-funded lunar lander that may be used for the US goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2024.
On a special website from Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Moon is described as a flexible lander suitable for a wide variety of small, medium and large payloads. In addition, according to the company, the lander is suitable for landing very precisely at a desired location on the lunar surface and can perform a soft landing. All of this should contribute to a lasting human presence on the moon. The lander is therefore suitable for both astronauts and cargo. Blue Origin spent three years working on the lander, which can put 3.6 or 6.5 tons on the moon, depending on the version used.
Bezos said this new lander could help the United States in its effort to get astronauts back to the moon. The Trump administration announced in late March that this should happen by 2024, a task to be performed by NASA. The Blue Moon website describes the larger variant of the lander as “a descent vehicle that will allow us to take Americans to the moon in 2024.” During the presentation, Bezos did not say that Blue Moon was actually chosen for the mission that is planned for 2024. There are probably more candidates for that. For example, Lockheed Martin unveiled its own plans for a lunar lander last month.
A not unimportant part of Blue Moon is the rocket engine that should enable a safe descent to the lunar surface. The newly developed BE-7, a rocket engine that uses liquid hydrogen, will be used for this purpose. That is a conscious choice; hydrogen can be refueled because it can be made from the water ice believed to be present on the moon. Incidentally, hydrogen is also used for the power supply of Blue Moon, which means that solar panels can be omitted. Instead, fuel cells are used. The reason for this choice is the fact that there is no sunlight anywhere on the moon for two-week periods. The fuel cells will then continue to work. This also allows more power to be generated.
The BE-7 engine has also been in development for about three years, according to Bezos, and the first ignition test is due this summer. An important feature of the BE-7 is the ability to reduce the thrust to a relatively high degree during ignition. This is important to ensure a soft, safe landing. The lander weighs in total, including freight, about fifteen tons. When landing, the mass decreases considerably due to the fuel consumed and if the thrust is not adjusted accordingly, you run the risk that the lander will be launched back into space when it lands. However, the BE-7 is not yet fully developed; Bezos described this engine as “a difficult problem yet to be solved.”
According to Bezos, these technological challenges have already been solved with a similar engine in the New Shepard, the relatively small rocket that will be used by Blue Origin for short tourist trips to space. In addition to this rocket, the company is working on a much larger New Glenn rocket, which should be launched for the first time in 2021. Because Blue Moon’s four landing legs are foldable, the lander basically fits New Glenn’s nose.