In just a few years, a spacecraft that looks like a flying water tower will land on the south pole of the moon and bring astronauts to the surface of the moon for the first time since NASA's Apollo program. Of course, that's only when Jeff Bezos is doing well. But yes, these days they usually do.
The Blue Moon spacecraft is a lunar lander designed to haul cargo, and possibly humans, to the lunar surface for future missions. It is currently being developed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin. Once completed, Blue Moon should be able to deliver nearly 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms) to the Moon. For comparison, NASA & # 39; s Apollo Moon Module, the "LM", is designed to carry up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb).
Blue Moon's impressive charging capacity, coupled with modern technology, could make the stuff of sci-fi dreams possible. The spacecraft could not only carry the payload needed to build lunar bases or telescopes on the moon, it could also safely land many payloads of astronauts on the lunar surface.
"What we're trying to do is enable a future where people can live and work on the moon as part of a broader vision of millions of people who will ever live and work in space," Steve Squyres, Blue Origin's chief scientist, said in an interview . with Astronomy last year.
What is the Human Landing System?
Blue Origin – along with its partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper – won a $ 579 million collective contract in 2020 to build a & # 39; Human Landing System & # 39; to be built for NASA's Artemis program. Although engineers had been working on the lunar module since 2016, it was not revealed to the public until 2019. And this last contract significantly accelerates its development.
"This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has had direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have contracted companies to do the work for the Artemis program," former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said when the award was announced.
However, Blue Origin's funding was only sufficient for an initial study on the & # 39; base period & # 39; which expires at the end of April 2021. In addition, the company and its partners are still vying for the final lunar lander contract. Competition is also fierce, with Blue Origin facing both SpaceX and Dynetics, the latter a spaceflight company in Alabama. Still, the SpaceX and Dynetics projects have so far won relatively less money than Blue Origin's efforts.
With funding for the base period for the development of a working moon landing coming to an end soon, only two of the three projects will make it to the next round. And NASA is expected to award the contracts to the two finalists very soon, according to reporting by SpaceNews
If Blue Moon gets the green light, it will not only be a win for Blue Origin, but also an important milestone for their partners. That's because Blue Moon can't really reach the lunar surface without several additional spacecraft components built by other contractors.
When all put together, the team from multiple companies will name their Human Landing System spacecraft the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV), which will include lunar transfer elements as well as both descent and take-off.
NASA funded the first stages of development of a human landing system from Blue Origin and its partners that would put astronauts on the moon. (Credit: NASA)
The contractors – collectively called the National Team – divided their individual responsibilities into four separate areas.
Blue Origin will create the so-called descent element of the ILV spacecraft. That's Blue Moon itself – the lander that will actually land on the lunar surface.
Northrop Grumman is responsible for the ILV transmission element. This is a separate spacecraft that joins Blue Moon in orbit around the moon to set the lander on course to the surface of the moon.
Lockheed is designing the ILV's climbing component. The take-off vehicle will pair with the other two craft so that they can all land together as a cohesive unit. The takeoff component will sit on top of the others, allowing astronauts to fly off the lunar surface and reunite with an orbiting spacecraft.
Finally, Draper Labs will provide flight electronics to guide the descent vehicle and more. Each of the four companies is responsible for designing and building its own components. But Blue Origin will bring these different aspects together into one cohesive landing system built to put boots back on the moon and return them safely to orbit.
Around the moon, the ILV could also dock with NASA's Orion capsule, or even with the Lunar Gateway, a planned space station orbiting the moon. The spacecraft could launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket, or it could hitchhike on Blue Origin's New Glenn – although both heavy launch vehicles are still in development.
Artemis land on the moon
However, the ILV will not actually transport astronauts all the way from Earth to the Moon. Instead, astronauts are supposed to travel to the Moon on NASA's Orion spacecraft, where they would either meet the Lunar Gateway or jump straight into the ILV.
From there, Blue Moon would transport the astronauts from the Artemis program to the lunar surface and back. That's in contrast to SpaceX's spaceship HLS – Blue Moon's competition – which could actually launch astronauts off Earth and take them all the way to the Moon.
Despite the very real threat of losing it from SpaceX, the National Team's value proposition for NASA is that Blue Origin and its partners have decades of experience in manned spaceflight, missile, propulsion, interplanetary navigation and landing, as well as deep-space missions. .
“ Together, these partners have led Apollo, established routine cargo transfer into orbit, developed today's only manned lunar spaceship and pioneered precision planetary landings with liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen vehicles, '' it said. team in press material.
If successful, Blue Moon and the larger Integrated Lander Vehicle would allow manned missions to the lunar surface that take much longer than anything during the Apollo era. Blue Moon's payload also makes it as a reusable freight train to the Moon's surface. But before the craft can prove its worth, Blue Origin and the rest of the national team will need a significant boost in NASA funding to get out of development troubles.
"We have received a gift, this nearby body called the moon," Bezos said in his first Blue Moon disclosure speech. "It is the job of this generation to build that road to space so that future generations can unleash their creativity."