Blue Origin unveils proposed lunar lander


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Capitalism in space: Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Blue Origin, today unveiled his company’s proposed lunar lander, dubbed Blue Moon, that Bezos claims will land on the Moon by 2024.

It harnesses many of the same ‘propulsion, precision guidance, vertical landing and landing gear systems’ utilized by New Shepard, Blue Origin’s rocket meant to ferry humans to the moon. The craft is equipped with fuel cells to provide ‘kilowatts of power’ that are capable of lasting for long-distance missions. Once Blue Moon arrives at its destination, it uses machine learning algorithms to land with precision on the lunar surface.

Blue Moon can deliver several metric tons of payload to the moon, thanks to its top deck and lower bays, the latter of which will allow for ‘closer access to the lunar surface and off-loading,’ the firm said.

With this technology, Blue Origin hopes it will prepare us to be able to send humans back to the moon as soon as 2024.

The article also mentions a new rocket engine that Bezos said Blue Origin is developing, called the BE-7, specifically designed for these lunar landers.

Blue Origin is clearly lobbying to get the job of building the lunar landers NASA needs and has said it will buy from the private sector. And its New Shepard reusable suborbital craft, with a booster that has successfully landed vertically now eleven times, shows that it understands this technology.

Nonetheless, I must admit that Bezos is beginning to remind me of Richard Branson, big with promises but late on delivery. New Shepard was going to start flying humans in 2017, then 2018, now this year. New Glenn was supposed to fly by 2020. They have now delayed that until 2021. Development of the BE-4 engine that Blue Origin wants to use in New Glenn and also sell to ULA for its Vulcan rocket seems to have stalled. The last update on its status was more than a year ago, which was also about the time of the last mention of any engine tests. They could be keeping things quiet, but I wonder. At that time they appeared close to certifying the engine for flight. They have never announced that this has happened, though ULA subsequently did choose the engine for Vulcan.

In fact, in writing the last paragraph and reviewing my posts on Behind the Black, I realized that there has been little or no press for the past year on either New Glenn or BE-4. I wonder why. I can’t imagine any reason at all for not announcing the engine’s certification as operational, yet no such announcement has ever been made.

Anyway, if Blue Origin delivers on today’s hyped-up press announcement, it will be very exciting. He definitely is pushing the right buttons for getting the government work from NASA.

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29 comments

  • pzatchok

    I have a feeling that BO and others are being ‘influenced’ to make rockets like Space X’s Falcon 9.

    The government does not want to be dependent on just one supplier, and we all know that their old rocket companies are not reliable or building anything similar.

  • wodun

    It has been apparent that Bezos is positioning BO as a traditional government contractor for some time now.

    What took away from this is that BO still has a ways to go on developing a lander. There are surely other companies that are roughly as far along as they are or that could catch up.

    NASA has talked about using lots of different landers of different sizes. Hopefully this will happen and there will be some new players entering the game.

  • Lee S

    Brazos has always kept his cards close to his chest…. It wouldn’t surprise me if the tech he has developed is much further advanced than anything actually announced…

    On an off topic note… I just caught up with your space show appearance Bob, and while we disagree on many political issues, I thoroughly enjoy the long form appearances with David….. I’d love to have a beer and chat with you guys….
    I was particularly impressed when you mentioned you don’t own a TV…. Your only the second person I have ever heard of, after myself that doesn’t!
    ( Do you also enjoy telling the cable sales callers that you don’t have one? It always gives me a giggle! )

    All the best!

    Lee S.

  • Lee S

    ( Bezos, not Brazos…lol )

  • wayne

    Lee S.
    “Number of TV Households in America 1950-1978”
    http://www.tvhistory.tv/Annual_TV_Households_50-78.JPG

    1950 – 9% of American homes owned television sets (3,880,000 total sets)
    1978 -98% of American homes owned television sets (72,900,00 total sets)

  • Lee S

    @ Wayne… I wonder what the percentage is today?…. I wasn’t kidding when I said Bob is the only other person I’ve ever “met” ( so to speak ) that doesn’t own a TV…. It must be fractions of a percent under 100%
    I read, listen to podcasts, and keep up to date with news on my telephone… BBC, the guardian ( pinko commie left winger that I am! ;-) ) etc… And of course, BTB!

  • Richard M

    “The government does not want to be dependent on just one supplier, and we all know that their old rocket companies are not reliable or building anything similar.”

    Oh, I think ULA, at any rate, has been quite reliable. Atlas V has a spotless record. Yes, DoD has been absurdly overpaying for the privilege (which means we taxpayers are, too), but no one can say that ULA has not delivered what they wanted, basically when they wanted, which puts it well ahead of the brutal situation DoD had on its hands in the 80’s and 90’s.

    NASA’s own rocket development contracting, on the other hand, has been a morass.

    But you’re right: the Defense Department has always wanted multiple vendors for launching payloads to orbit. And now they have it once again – only this time, with a fairly competitive market, too.

  • Lee S: When I moved out of my parents house in 1975, I did so without the TV, consciously. I had decided that, if I wanted to become a freelance writer I had to give it up, because if it was in my house I would not be able to get any work done.

    What I discovered is that, without a TV, you develop an independent thinking mind, uninfluenced by the fads of the moment. By the 2000s I couldn’t stand to watch commercial television, if only because I found the commercials an incredible insult to my intelligence, something I had not perceived when I lived with television.

  • Jerry Greenwood

    Vaporware.

  • wayne

    Lee–
    You are certainly in the 1%!
    Cancelled my satellite-tv last October, and haven’t looked back. Although, I can generally find the few things I want to watch, on the internet. (I do own like’ 5 TV sets however 2 analog boxes and 3 flat-screens, only one of which I use with a DVD player.)
    DVD= fast forward button & no commercials = “priceless!”
    If you want to sample American cable-tv on your computer– www DOT ustv247 DOT com. They have about 20 channels that live-stream. (The commercials, are a pain.)
    –Ditto on the podcasts (both audio & video) for me, I prefer the long-form format.

    Bob–
    Totally agree on the distraction-factor for “television,” although I was a “tv-baby,” and a heavy consumer in my youth. I applaud your self-control!

  • Lee S

    I was over the pond in West Virginia last November, and was astounded by the quantity and frequency of adverts on US television….. You guys have MANY more commercials than European television!!

    Regardless of commercials, I got TV poisoning from the never ending rotation of crappy sit-coms on the box when I was married….. When we divorced I gladly let her keep the TV!
    The lack of time vampire box sitting in the corner gives me much more time to further my education, and time to spend on my primary hobby… The collecting, cleaning and study of coins from ancient Greece and Rome.
    I can’t recommend a TV free life enough!

  • Diane Wilson

    Also haven’t had TV service in over 20 years. I have a TV monitor, but it’s only hooked up to a Blu-Ray player, and hasn’t been turned on in more than six months. I’m “at peace” with the “loss” of commercials and indoctrination. It is indeed the “vast wasteland.”

  • Lee S

    Interesting…. There seems to be a correlation between BTB readers and a lack of interest in TV… Something to do with free thinking / actually taking an interest in the real world perhaps?

  • Lee S

    Bob… I lost your email… Drop me a line.. I have a couple of suggestions for evening pauses for you…

  • Edward

    I long ago heard that Blue Origin was aiming for the Moon. Their competition for a lunar lander was ULA’s Xeus, but my understanding is that ULA has given up that endeavor, at least for now. I don’t know of anyone else working on a lunar lander capable of a manned landing.

    Robert wrote: “Nonetheless, I must admit that Bezos is beginning to remind me of Richard Branson, big with promises but late on delivery. New Shepard was going to start flying humans in 2017, then 2018, now this year. New Glenn was supposed to fly by 2020. They have now delayed that until 2021. Development of the BE-4 engine that Blue Origin wants to use in New Glenn and also sell to ULA for its Vulcan rocket seems to have stalled.

    I am not yet ready to be that harsh with Bezos and Blue Origin. Delays in rollout are just too common in the aerospace industry. New Shepard is not quite as late as SpaceShipTwo, but I suppose that Robert started being impatient with Branson when he was saying ‘this year for sure’ for three years, too.

    What disappoints me about Blue Origin is that it does not develop its hardware quickly. They seem to be more dependent upon Bezos’s billions to keep them going. SpaceX is more dependent upon rapid development so that they can begin revenue operations in order to keep from going out of business — I mean — in order to fund their next project(s).

    It seems to me that less than six years to the Moon is pretty optimistic. Although we have some rockets that are about as far along as the Saturns and Apollo were in late 1963, commercial space companies certainly are not spending as much money on their development as NASA did on Apollo, and it is pretty certain that these days we (NASA or commercial space) could not get away with taking as many risks as NASA did with Apollo 8.

    pzatchok wrote: “I have a feeling that BO and others are being ‘influenced’ to make rockets like Space X’s Falcon 9.

    Actually, I think that the reusable rocket idea was influenced by Peter Daimandis’s 1996 X-Prize announcement. The prize required reusability, rapid turnaround, and manned flight above the Karman line. Blue Origin was clearly inspired by that prize, because they started with the suborbital tourist concept for their first rocket.

    Lee S,
    Although I still have a television physically in my home, (CRT, not flat screen) it hasn’t been turned on in a decade. (When did Neil deGrasse Tyson ruin the PBS NOVA program?) For a while I was outside the American cultural experience, but either my friends have stopped trying to talk to me about commercials and television programs or these, too, have become less important to my friends. I think that both of my brothers may be using their flat screen televisions for NetFlix, YouTube, and other internet videos rather than broadcast or cable television programs. However, my parents still watch cable.

  • wayne

    Lee S–
    Adverts take up a huge amount of time on channels that show adverts. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) for example, is down to 19 minutes per episode of content.
    (Streaming live radio can be worse at times. The 3 hour Mark Levin Show for example, clocks in at around 1hour 50 minutes of actual content. Best to download the podcast afterwards.)

  • wayne

    Edward–
    NOVA, in my opinion, went all overt, in your face, political-nutso, in the early 1980’s. Referencing PBS in general– except for the British imports, I rarely watched PBS and can’t tell you when the last time I actually tuned in.

  • wayne

    Edward (anyone)
    totally off-thread & tangential–
    You might enjoy this British science-fiction Import:

    “Blake’s 7”
    https://youtu.be/yFZlvT4D5KA
    48:34

    1970’s era British dystopian S-F show, written by Terry Nation.
    >mixture of Robin Hood, 1984, and Dr. WHO (so to speak).

  • Lee S

    @ Wayne..
    There is a blast from the past!!!
    Blake’s 7 was compulsory watching among the sci-fi nerd community when I was but a lad… Nice one!

  • Steve Richter

    any plans for a nuclear power plant on the moon? or nuclear powered space ships that can cruise around the solar system?

  • wayne

    Steve Richter–
    I’m afraid the anti-nuke people would tend toward putting the kibosh on anything “nuclear.” Personally, I’m a fan of using RTG’s en masse or some of the low-output designs for compact reactors. I’m not aware however, of engineering stuff that has been done to determine the adaptability to low gravity or extreme temperature swings on traditional reactors.

    an oldy but a goodie:
    (we already spent a fortune on this…and 50 years have gone by…)

    Nuclear Propulsion in Space
    NASA
    https://youtu.be/eDNX65d-FBY
    23:48

    Production Date: 1968
    “Scope & Content: This film explains why the United States needed to develop the nuclear rocket and how the nuclear engine works. The footage also illustrates a combination of nuclear and chemical rocket stages that might be used in a manned mission to Mars.”

    Lee S.-
    Great Stuff!
    Blake’s 7 was a good show. Highly recommend! Terry Nation wrote most all of the first 2 seasons, if I recall correctly.
    There was a small but dedicated community in the States as well, we had to rely mostly on PBS stations picking it up in syndication and it apparently cost a bit to procure. (similar for early Dr. Who on PBS) Now, it’s all on YouTube for free.

  • wayne

    sorry to be so tangential …

    Terry Nation Talks Blake’s 7
    KTEH Part 2, 1987
    https://youtu.be/M35dCrNMMAw
    10:53

    “Blake’s 7, was the Dirty Dozen, in Space.”

  • pzatchok

    I loved that nuclear propulsion video.

    And in the end all I noticed was the throw away attitude,
    launch everything with throw away chemical rockets. at least 6 or 7. And then assemble the stack in orbit.
    Once assembled push it out of orbit by sacrificing half the stack. 3 nuclear rockets. Then sacrifice a 4th nuclear rocket slowing down into Mars orbit. And finally throwing the last nuclear rocket away getting back out of Mars orbit on your way back to Earth.

    I have always wondered and I can never find the answers.
    How long will the nuclear fuel last at 100% output?
    How long will the nuclear rocket engine run before it needs rebuilt?
    Is it more fuel efficient than a standard ION engine per ton of fuel used? I know the Nuclear engine is higher thrust but which will reach a higher velocity for the same fuel expended?

  • wayne

    pzatchok-
    There are at least 3 (vintage) NASA videos I’ve encountered focusing on “nuclear propulsion in space,” if I can find them I’ll post the links.
    –how long will the fuel last at 100% out?– It’s unclear how much hydrogen they were running through the reactor. (I thought I heard them state one Model was run at 100% power for 60 consecutive minutes, that sounds impressive to me, but no clue on the amount of fuel they utilized for that test.)
    –how long before rebuilt required? — Not discussed in any detail, other than to note the test engines became “highly radioactive.” –As you noted, a throw-away mentality. (although they said that ‘flight ready models’ would have “radiation hardened” components in actual use in space.) I seriously wonder if these engines/reactors were scrapped and are buried somewhere to ‘cool off’? And WHERE are the blue-prints & specs to all this stuff stored?— I always have this sneaking suspicion we always pay for “R&D” over-and-over-and-over again.
    –Is it more fuel efficient than ION? That’s slightly beyond my engineering know-how, but I would say “yes,” only because they were talking 80-90% overall efficiency. It’s probably on par with ION, but I do not know.

  • wayne

    Steve Richter–

    check out:
    “The Problem of Power in Space. NASA’s New Kilopower Reactor”
    Fraser Cain 2018
    https://youtu.be/m2IiI4UVZP8
    13:14

  • wayne

    pzatchok-
    Found one–

    Atomic Energy For Space
    (1966) NASA NERVA Nuclear Thermal Rocket
    https://youtu.be/UDhbTNiuKp4
    18:02

    crummy transfer but watchable (but have not watched it so cannot vouch for content)

  • Jason Hillyer

    I’ll be another data point on who watches TV and is also a BTB reader. I watch several hours each day, but it’s 90% sports. If sports didn’t exist, I’d probably watch 3-4 hours of “news” each week.

  • wayne

    Jason–
    I listen to Tiger baseball games exclusively on the radio.

    Ernie Harwell:
    The Fans Say Goodbye
    Comerica Park Detroit 2010
    https://youtu.be/J01i4XR8xQ0
    6:48

  • Calvin Dodge

    – wayne

    “Adverts take up a huge amount of time on channels that show adverts”

    This is why we record shows with MythTV. It does a pretty good job of flagging commercials, so I waste only a few seconds per show when the software guessed wrong about commercial breaks.

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