The Trump Administration announced plans to return Americans to the Lunar surface by the year 2024, some five years earlier than previously planned. This biggest challenge facing NASA is the development of the lunar lander needed to take astronauts to the surface. Such a vehicle had been under development under the Bush Administration, but had been halted under the Obama Administration. NASA now faces the choice of either reviving the Bush Adminisration Altair Lunar Lander, a large, highly capable system of the sort needed for extensive Lunar operations, or developing something along the lines of the Golden Spike lander, a minimalist vehicle that would meet the immediate political "footsteps and flags" requirements, but might not support much else.
On 09 May 2019, Jeff Bezos announced the Blue Moon lunar lander, which is capable of taking people and payloads to the lunar surface. The lander would be able to bring US astronauts to the Moon by 2024 in line with the goals set by US President Donald Trump’s administration. The world's richest man and Amazon.com Inc's chief executive waved an arm and a black drape behind him dropped to reveal the two-story-tall mockup of the unmanned lander dubbed Blue Moon during an hour-long presentation at Washington's convention center, just several blocks from the White House.
"This is Blue Moon. We’ve been working on this lander for three years. It’s a very large lander. It will soft-land in a precise way 3.6 metric tons onto the lunar surface. The stretched-tank variant of it will soft-land 6.5 metric tons onto the lunar surface … This is an incredible vehicle and it’s going to the Moon. It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay", Bezos said at the press event in Washington, DC.
Blue Origin announced Blue Moon, its large lunar lander capable of delivering multiple metric tons of payload to the lunar surface based on configuration and mission. The cargo variant revealed today can carry 3.6 metric tons to the surface. The Company also designed a variant of the lander that can stretch to be capable of carrying a 6.5-metric-ton, human-rated ascent stage. Blue also announced it can meet the current Administration's goal of putting Americans on the Moon by 2024 with the Blue Moon lunar lander.
BE-7 engine: The Blue Moon lunar lander will be powered by the BE-7 engine, a new addition to Blue Origin’s family of engines. The BE-7’s 40 kN (10,000 lbf) thrust is designed for large lunar payload transport. The engine’s propellants are a highly-efficient combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The BE-7 will have its first hotfire in the summer of 2019. The engine will be available for sale to other companies for use in in-space and lander applications.
Historically, cryogenic rocket engines have not been used for in-space applications due to their additional complexity, the mission need for high reliability, and the challenges of propellant boil-off. The Apollo Saturn IVB third stage vehicle used a single J-2 LOX-hydrogen rocket engine to reach Earth orbit, for orbit circularization, and for trans-lunar injection. The Apollo service module and the Lunar Excursion Module descent and ascent propulsion used pressure-fed, hypergolic, bi-propellant rocket engines for trajectory adjustment, lunar capture. lunar descent, lunar ascent, and trans-Earth return propulsion. Virtually all planetary exploration missions have used hypergolic propellants for in-space propulsion.
While the mission and vehicle architectures are not yet defined for the lunar and Martian robotic and human exploration objectives, cryogenic rocket engines offer the potential for higher performance and greater architecturehission flexibility. In-situ cryogenic propellant production could enable a more robust exploration program by significantly reducing the propellant mass delivered to low earth orbit, thus warranting the evaluation of cryogenic rocket engines versus the hypergolic bipropellant engines used in the Apollo program.
Blue Moon is a flexible lander delivering a wide variety of small, medium and large payloads to the lunar surface. Its capability to provide precise and soft landings will enable a sustained human presence on the Moon. Blue Moon can deliver payloads to the lunar surface, host payloads and even deploy payloads during its journey to the Moon. Its technology builds on experience with New Shepard with respect to LH2/LOX propulsion, precision guidance, vertical landing and landing gear systems.
Blue Moon can land multiple metric tons of payload on the lunar surface. The top deck and lower bays easily accommodate a wide variety of payloads, including large payloads and ESPA-class payloads with standard ring port interfaces. There are lower mounting locations for payloads, useful for closer access to the lunar surface and off-loading. The Blue Moon lander provides kilowatts of power to payloads using its fuel cells, allowing for long mission durations and the ability to last through the lunar night. Blue Moon's precision guidance and descent sensors utilize machine learning technology to accurately land anywhere on the lunar surface, starting with its first mission.
The Blue Moon lander can deliver large infrastructure payloads with high accuracy to pre-position systems for future missions. The larger variant of Blue Moon has been designed to land an ascent vehicle that will allow returning Americans to the Moon by 2024.
Blue Origin announced 22 October 2019 a national team to offer a Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis program to return Americans to the lunar surface by 2024. Blue Origin signed teaming agreements with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. These partners have decades of experience supporting NASA with human space flight systems, launch vehicles, orbital logistics, deep-space missions, interplanetary navigation and planetary landings. Each partner will bring their industry leading solutions to the following roles:
- Blue Origin, as prime contractor, leads program management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission engineering while providing the Descent Element that is based on the multi-year development of the Blue Moon lunar lander and its BE-7 engine.
- Lockheed Martin develops the reusable Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training.
- Northrop Grumman provides the Transfer Element vehicle that brings the landing system down towards the Moon.
- Draper leads descent guidance and provides flight avionics.
“National challenges call for a national response. We are humbled and inspired to lead this deeply committed team that will land NASA astronauts on the Moon,” said Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin. “Combining our partners’ heritage with our advance work on the Blue Moon lunar lander and its BE-7 engine, our team is looking forward to working with NASA in support of the Artemis program.”
“Lockheed Martin has been honored to help NASA explore space for more than 50 years, providing deep space robotic missions, planetary landers, space shuttle heritage and the Orion exploration spacecraft,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Space. “We value Blue Origin’s thoughtful approach to developing human-rated flight systems, and are thrilled to be part of a national team with this mix of innovation and experience. We look forward to safely and sustainably returning our nation to the surface of the Moon by 2024.”
“Northrop Grumman’s commitment to put Americans back on the moon dates back over 50 years ago with the delivery of the first lunar lander for the historic Apollo Program,” said Blake Larson, corporate vice president and president of Innovation Systems, Northrop Grumman. “Along with our ongoing work on the Space Launch System boosters, astronaut escape system, and the Gateway habitat, we are proud to be a part of the Blue Origin national team to support NASA’s Artemis program and the ambitious goal to return to the moon by 2024.”
“When the nation needs precision guidance, it calls on Draper,” said Kaigham J. Gabriel, President and CEO, Draper. “We guided Apollo to the moon and back nearly 50 years ago. We’re ready to do it again with the Blue Origin team for Artemis.”
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