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Sep 9, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Blue Origin: Jeff Bezos presents the lander, under development by his company for the past three years

In early May, Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a project for a moon lander that would be able to carry several tonnes of freight and equipment. It could be used to transport equipment and perhaps assist astronauts in their journeys between the Moon and the future orbital station. The project should thus fit in with the NASA moon mission, set for 2024.

The richest man in the world is looking to be part of the next conquest of the Moon. On Thursday 9 May in Washington, Jeff Bezos unveiled his project for a moon lander that would transport vehicles and equipment to our satellite in 2024, via his company Blue Origin. The billionaire, who is also CEO of Amazon, founded this particular firm in 2000. It now has 2,000 employees, and is set to go head-to-head with other private companies to win contracts with NASA to send astronauts to the Moon in five years’ time.

Significant transport capacity

Bezos presented a model of "Blue Moon", a large-scale lander weighing over three tonnes when empty and 15 tonnes with a full fuel load on board. The moon lander is fitted with a single engine and can transport 3.6 tonnes of freight to the surface of the Moon and 6.5 tonnes in its larger version. The lander sits on four feet and has an upper deck for attaching equipment, while the fuel tank is in the middle.

"It is an incredible vehicle, and it will go to the Moon," said Bezos. The moon lander has been under development for the past three years and will be able to carry scientific instruments, four small rovers and a future pressurised vehicle for humans. While it will not be able to take humans actually on board, its size will mean that it is capable of housing a potential "ascension vehicle" on deck, i.e. a small craft that would enable astronauts to return from the surface of the Moon to a station in orbit.

NASA concerned ahead of 2024

The aim of "Blue Moon" is to land on the south pole of the Moon where there is frozen water which could be exploited for the production of hydrogen, a fuel that can be used for exploring the solar system. According to a press release issued by Blue Origin, the first moon landing is set for 2024 – a date chosen just a few weeks earlier by the Donald Trump administration for US astronauts to return to the Moon.

The 2024 target date has unleashed frenetic activity at NASA since the mission was originally slated for 2028. Nothing is currently ready – neither the space launch system (SLS) to transport the vehicles and the astronauts, nor the elements of the future mini-station orbiting the moon, or even the moon lander or rovers.

The US space agency is currently finalising bids for the moon lander, but SpaceX, a rival company of Blue Origin founded by Elon Musk, is concentrating on other projects and preparing a capsule for NASA that would link the International Space Station (ISS) to the Earth, and a large-scale rocket to take individuals around the Moon in 2023.

Bezos looking to the future, and to space

At the same time as this major announcement, Bezos spoke at length of his passion for space, describing futuristic colonies imagined by physicist Gerard O'Neill, and artificial worlds which would provide the Earth with a back-up as its resources steadily dwindle. "The task of my generation is to create the infrastructure," the Blue Origin CEO said. "We are going to build a route out to space".

He confirmed that the large-scale New Glenn rocket would be ready in 2021 and provide "a significant reduction in launch costs." Meanwhile, his company’s other project is a smaller rocket called New Shepard, designed for 10-minute tourist flights where space begins, at an altitude of 100 kilometres above the Earth. This particular rocket has already completed 11 test flights without passengers, with the first manned voyage set for later this year.

Allianz Partners

Cover photo credits: Blue Moon/Blue Origin

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