An artist's concept of Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander.
Enlarge / An artist’s concept of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander.

Blue Origin

NASA on Friday announced its selection of Blue Origin to build a second Human Landing System for its Artemis program to return to the Moon. The space company, founded by Jeff Bezos, will lead the development of a fully reusable lander that could take flight as soon as the end of this decade.

The fixed price contract is worth $3.4 billion, and NASA would like the “Blue Moon” lander to be ready for its Artemis V mission. Nominally, this landing of four astronauts will take place in 2029, but almost certainly, the schedule will slip out into the early 2030s. Blue Origin beat out another bidder, a team led by Dynetics, for the award.

Friday’s announcement represents a significant moment for NASA for multiple reasons. Importantly, it adds a second provider of human landing services. Previously, NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX for its Starship vehicle to serve as a lunar lander. That vehicle will be used for NASA’s first two lunar landing missions, Artemis III and Artemis IV. So NASA gets the competition it covets, which has been shown to spur commercial development.

Perhaps more importantly, NASA is stepping into the future with this lander design. By selecting the revised Blue Moon concept, there are now two US companies developing an in-space propellant depot capability and fully reusable vehicles to put humans on another world.

“It’s an incredible moment in spaceflight history,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on Friday during a news conference.

He’s right. We don’t know if SpaceX or Blue Origin will ultimately succeed with these programs, but both are developing spaceships that are radically different from the ultra-expensive, expendable means that humans used to reach the Moon more than five decades ago. It’s a big change.

The lander design

So how will Blue Origin do it? The company’s Human Landing System program manager, John Couluris, shared some key details about the Blue Moon lander on Friday.

It will stand 16 meters tall and have a dry mass of 16 metric tons. Fully fueled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, its mass will be more than 45 metric tons. The lander is designed to fit within the fairing of the company’s New Glenn rocket, which will deliver the unfueled vehicle to lunar orbit.

There is a separate component, a refueling vehicle, that will be loaded with propellant in low-Earth orbit. After traveling to the Moon, this tug will transfer propellant to the Blue Moon lander.

The lander consists of high-gain antennas at the top for communications back to Earth, and the large tank at the top of the vehicle is for liquid hydrogen. The panels at its side are thermal radiators. The smaller tank below that is for liquid oxygen. Then finally, there is the crew module at the bottom, which will support four astronauts for up to 30 days on the Moon. A docking adaptor is shown to the left of the two windows.

Blue Origin has already made progress in developing the BE-7 rocket engine that will power the vehicle and is developing the rest of the spacecraft with a “National Team” that includes Lockheed Martin, Draper, Boeing, Astrobotic, and Honeybee Robotics.

The entire lander, as well as the propellant tug vehicle, are designed for full reusability. Blue Origin plans to fly a demonstration of the “Mark 2” version of the Blue Moon lander down to the Moon and back up to lunar orbit before the crewed Artemis V mission.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here