Blue Moon: Here’s how Blue Origin’s new lunar lander works

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WASHINGTON — Yesterday, Blue Origin’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, revealed the corporate’s plans to land a spacecraft named “Blue Moon” on the lunar floor.

Throughout an unique presentation right here on the Walter E. Washington Conference Middle yesterday (Could 9), Bezos laid out the main points of Blue Moon and all of the methods it may be used to discover Earth’s pure satellite tv for pc.

From new tech to doable crewed missions to the lunar floor, there’s loads to unpack from Bezos’ presentation. We’ll clarify what Blue Origin plans to do with Blue Moon, in addition to element the spacecraft’s design and a few of its bells and whistles.

Associated: Blue Origin’s Lunar Lander: A Picture Tour

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Blue Moon is a comparatively giant lunar lander that is designed to ship science payloads, moon rovers and even astronauts to the lunar floor. It may possibly additionally deploy small satellites into lunar orbit as a “bonus mission” on the best way, Bezos stated.

Blue Moon bears some resemblance to NASA’s outdated Apollo lunar modules , however there are some noticeable variations. The obvious, apart from its sleeker design, is the big, spherical gasoline tank with the phrases “Blue Moon” printed in massive, blue letters on its facet.

It additionally has a lot smaller touchdown pads, or “toes,” on the underside of its touchdown legs. That is as a result of the Apollo landers’ engineers have been fearful that the lunar soil can be so gentle that the lander would sink too far, however the floor was extra stable than they thought, Bezos stated.

Whereas the Apollo landers have been designed particularly for human missions to the lunar floor — and, subsequently, required human palms to deploy science payloads — Blue Moon is a totally autonomous, robotic spacecraft with built-in mechanisms for dropping off science gear, together with lunar rovers. Utilizing a crane-like contraption referred to as a davit system, the lander will gently decrease payloads from its principal deck to the lunar floor. The davit system could be personalized for several types of payloads, and it may possibly drop as much as 4 giant rovers onto the moon concurrently.

Different bells and whistles embody a star tracker system and a flash lidar machine that may enable the spacecraft to navigate autonomously by stars in house and options on the lunar floor. “There is no GPS on the moon,” Bezos stated.

“Now that we’ve mapped your entire moon in nice element, we will use these preexisting maps to inform the system what it ought to be on the lookout for when it comes to craters and different options, and it navigates relative to that. It makes use of the precise terrain of the moon as guideposts.” With that navigation system, Blue Moon will be capable to contact down inside 75 toes (23 meters) of its goal touchdown website, Bezos stated.

Hydrogen energy

The lander will make the most of Blue Origin’s new BE-7 engines, which the corporate will start testing this summer season, Bezos stated. These new engines will probably be powered by a mixture of liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), which is “not how Apollo did it,” Bezos stated. Though Apollo’s command modules — which stayed in orbit whereas the lunar modules went to the floor — did use LH2/LOX for gasoline, the landers ran on battery energy.

“We all know loads now concerning the moon that we did not know again within the Apollo days and even actually simply 20 years in the past,” Bezos stated. “One of the crucial vital issues we all know concerning the moon at present is that there is water there. It is within the type of ice. It is within the completely shadowed craters on the poles of the moon, and water is an extremely precious useful resource. You should utilize electrolysis to interrupt down water into hydrogen and oxygen, and you’ve got propellants.”

So, the LH2/LOX-powered engines not solely present higher efficiency but in addition run on pure assets discovered on the moon — that’s, if scientists discover a option to mine the hydrogen from the moon’s water ice. However Bezos appeared assured within the feasibility of that plan. “In the end, we’re going to have the ability to get hydrogen from that water on the moon and be capable to refuel these autos on the floor of the moon,” he stated.

The spacecraft

Blue Moon has a 23-foot (7 meters) payload bay that may stand about 14 toes (four m) with its 4 touchdown legs absolutely deployed. When it is absolutely loaded with gasoline, the lander weighs about 16.5 tons (15 metric tons). By the point it reaches the lunar floor, having burned up virtually all of its gasoline, the lander will weigh solely about three.three tons (three metric tons).

For comparability, the Apollo lunar modules that carried astronauts to the moon within the late 1960s and early 1970s have been 23 toes tall and weighed four.7 tons (four.three metric tons) with out propellant. Lockheed Martin’s proposed lunar lander is a bit greater and heavier. That lander, which might additionally use LH2 and LOX for propellant and has but to obtain a reputation, can be about 46 toes (14 m) tall. Even with an empty gasoline tank, the lander would weigh 24 tons (22 metric tons) — greater than seven occasions the dry weight of Blue Moon. When the Lockheed Martin lander’s gasoline tank is crammed, the module will weigh a whopping 68 tons (62 metric tons).

Blue Moon might look smaller than Lockheed’s lander, however it’ll have a much bigger payload capability. It is going to be capable of ship about four tons’ (three.6 metric tons) value of payloads to the lunar floor, in contrast with 1.1 tons (1 metric ton) for Lockheed’s lander. A “stretched tank” variant of Blue Moon will be capable to carry as much as 7.2 tons (6.5 metric tons), together with an added ascent stage — and a few extra gasoline — that will enable astronauts to go to the floor of the moon.

A lander for astronauts?

Though the Blue Moon lunar lander is designed to make one-way journeys to the moon, the stretched variant with its ascent stage would allow spherical journeys for astronauts. As soon as astronauts left the floor, they may, hypothetically, return to NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a proposed lunar house station that will orbit the moon, though Bezos didn’t elaborate on the place the Blue Moon crewmembers may go as soon as they left the moon.

NASA goals to have some type of its lunar gateway in orbit throughout the subsequent 5 years, as a result of the company will not be capable to fulfill the Trump administration’s bold request to land astronauts on the moon in 2024 with out that vital piece of infrastructure.

“Vice President Pence only recently stated it is the said coverage of this administration and america of America to return American astronauts to the moon throughout the subsequent 5 years,” Bezos stated. “I really like this. It is the precise factor to do. We may also help meet that timeline.”

Blue Origin has not but formally provided NASA its lunar lander idea as a contender for the company’s 2024 mission, however NASA plans to begin soliciting proposals from non-public corporations by the top of this month.

However Blue Origin does not want a NASA contract to launch Blue Moon. The corporate has already secured paying clients, lots of whom have been current on the grand unveiling, Bezos stated. “Individuals are very enthusiastic about this functionality to soft-land their cargo, their rovers, their science experiments onto the floor of the moon in a exact method. There is no such thing as a functionality to do this at present.”

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