Yesterday, a closed presentation was held at which the founder of Blue Origin and Amazon, Jeff Bezos, announced that his company's landing gear would deliver cargo (and possibly people) to the south pole of the moon by 2024.
"This is an incredible machine, and it will go to the moon," he said.
Jeff did not name a specific deadline for this project, called "Blue Moon". However, he mentioned that the landing gear will be ready in time for the implementation of President Trump’s plans to return the Americans to the Moon by 2024:
“We can help meet the deadlines, but only because we started work 3 years ago,” Bezos said. "It's time to go back to the moon, this time to stay."
For the first time about the project “Blue Moon” it became known on March 2, 2017 from a publication in the newspaper The Washington Post, which also belongs to a businessman. On April 26, on the eve of the presentation, Blue Origin published a snapshot of the Endurance vessel of Ernetz Shackleton, in which he and the crew tried to reach the Antarctic. As it became known from the presentation itself, the purpose of the flight of the first landing gear should be the eponymous 21-km lunar crater - Shackleton. It has a depth of about 4.2 km and is located in close proximity to the South Pole of the Moon.
The landing gear will be capable of delivering up to 3.6 tons of cargo to the moon, with a filled mass of about 15 tons in the base case, and up to 6.5 tons of cargo in a manned version with increased tanks. Hydrogen and oxygen will be used as fuel, which in the future plan to extract from deposits that are at the bottom of this crater - thanks to its high walls, the sun's rays never reach its bottom, thanks to which water ice from the near-surface layers of the crater almost did not evaporate. It is also planned to use hydrogen fuel cells as a source of energy for the device, which should allow it to survive a two-week lunar night if necessary.
The manned vehicle provides for both an unmanned and manned version: in the first case, containers for cubsat (which can be dropped in the lunar orbit) will be installed on it, and several moon rovers (which will be lowered to the surface by means of cables), in the second case, a sealed take-off device will be placed on top of the apparatus. The landing gear will use the new BE-7 engine, producing about 4.5 tons of thrust, and capable of deep throttling as the main engine.
"We are going to test it for the first time this summer," Bezos said. "The only reason we can do this is because we have been working on it for 3 years now."
According to sources in the company, the landing gear went through several cycles of redesign, before it took on the current look.In this work, Blue Origin also helped NASA, from which they received two awards under the Tipping Point program: the first of them was received for cryogenic liquid fuel management technology, and the second for testing the landing technology, including lidars and height sensors. The firm also plans to test them on its New Shepard suborbital rocket.
During the presentation, Jeff Bezos also confirmed his previous statements about the flight of the first customers to New Shepard this year, as well as the launch of the New Glenn orbital rocket by 2021.
Blue Origin previously submitted a bid to the NASA competition for the creation of a lunar landing gear, the deadline for which was set in March 25, 2019 - the day before Vice President Michael Pence's speech about the return of Americans to the Moon by 2024. After that, NASA had to radically change this competition, including the development of both the landing and take-off devices, since the previous schedule provided for landing only by 2028, and without major changes by NASA, it was impossible to meet the deadline announced by the vice-president. So far, the new conditions of the NASA competition are only being prepared, but you can be sure that Blue Origin will participate in it with its landing and take-off apparatus.
According to the current Blue Origin development schedule, the basic version of the landing gear will be ready to fly to the moon in 2023, and probably already then will deliver some equipment to the future astronaut landing site. The full version of “Blue Moon” with landing and take-off devices will be tested in 2024 with astronauts on board, after which people will have to land directly on the moon.
Jeff Bezos also devoted a significant part of the presentation to a conversation about his long-term vision of cosmonautics development: he began the conversation by saying that to provide electricity for mankind, it is now enough to cover an area comparable to the state of Nevada with solar panels, but due to an increase in electricity demand of about 3% per year after a couple of centuries, the entire surface of the planet is not enough for this. If people do not begin to expand beyond the Earth’s boundaries into the solar system, then at some point humanity will face the finiteness of resources and energy on Earth.
"This is the path we will take. And this way for the first time can lead to the fact that your grandchildren will live worse than you, ”said Bezos.
Continuing the conversation, he said that in the future, heavy industry will have to be brought out of the Earth, and that millions of people will live and work in space in the future. This vision includes at this stage in the history the creation of what Bezos called the “infrastructure” necessary for the economically advantageous work of space entrepreneurs. “The task of this generation is to build a road to space so that future generations can unleash their creative abilities,” he said. “Big things start small.”
Video of the presentation.