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Blue Moon Lander

Contributor(s): Kevin Ferguson

Blue Moon Lander is a spacecraft being designed to land on the lunar surface by 2024. The lander is being designed by Blue Origin, a rocket and space exploration company created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2000. Blue Origin unveiled a mock-up of a commercial lunar lander in May 2019. Bezos' stated goal is a "future where millions of people are living and working in space. In order to preserve Earth, our home, for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, we must go to space to tap its unlimited resources and energy." Despite this, Blue Origin's goal is not to populate the Moon -- although manned stations are envisioned. Instead, Bezos foresees a future where industry could be moved off planet Earth and into orbit, using O'Neill cylinders to create orbiting factories, farms and data centers.

Reusable launch vehicles

One of Blue Origin's key strategies is the use of reusable launch vehicles to lower costs. The launch vehicles include New Shepard, named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. New Shepard has flown five missions as of May 2019, when it flew 38 payloads for schools, universities, government agencies and private companies. 

Blue Origin's New Glenn launch vehicle, named after astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, is scheduled to take flight in 2021. It will use seven BE-4 liquified oxygen / liquefied natural gas engines, enabling it to launch payloads over 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit and 45 metric tons to low-Earth orbit.The stage of the New Glenn will generate about 3.85 million pounds of thrust at sea level.

The payload is expected to include Telesat's low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation into space. Blue Origin also signed a partnership with the U.S. Air Force to use the New Glenn.

Blue Moon Lander design

The lander is designed to "soft land" 3.6 metric tons onto the lunar surface. A "stretch tank" variant of the lander will land 6.5 metric tons. The cargo deck on the lunar's roof is designed simply, so that a variety of payloads can be harnessed to it. It uses a crane-like davit system, inspired by naval designs, to lower cargo to the lunar surface. The lander is designed to transport up to four rovers that can carry personnel or equipment.

Because it can't use a GPS system, it will use a star tracking system to autonomously navigate across the previously mapped Moon surface. An optical communication system that gives the Blue Moon Lander gigabit bandwidth back to Earth is located on the side opposite the star tracker. In addition to the laser it uses for communications, the vehicle is also equipped with a 10-megabit radio.

Blue Moon Lander fuel

The lander will use liquid hydrogen as its fuel. Blue Origin chose liquid hydrogen for two reasons, according to Bezos: high performance and its ability to be replenished with hydrogen that can be distilled from frozen water at the lunar poles. That same water will produce oxygen for breathing. The lander will also use hydrogen fuel cells, which will be more practical than solar cells, given that a lunar night lasts about two weeks. The lander is designed to land on inclines as steep as 15 degrees.

Engines

Blue Origin has designed several engines. The B-7 engine, currently matched with the lander, has 10,000 pounds of thrust. When the lander is fully loaded, it will have 33,000 pounds of fuel and about 7,000 pounds of fuel at landing, after a six-minute burn in descent.

This was last updated in June 2019

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