Jeff Bezos, chairman of Amazon and founder of
Blue Origin, unveiled his space company's lunar lander for the first time on
"This vehicle is going to the moon," Bezos said
during an invite-only presentation to media and space industry executives.
"We were given a gift — this nearby body called the
moon," Bezos said. He added that the moon is a good place to begin
manufacturing in space due to its lower gravity than the Earth. Getting
resources from the moon "takes 24 times less energy to get it off the
surface compared to the Earth," Bezos said, and "that is a huge
The Blue Moon lander can bring 3.6 metric tons to the lunar
surface, according to Bezos.
Bezos also unveiled the company's BE-7 rocket engine at the
event. The engine will be test fired for the first time this summer, Bezos
said. It's largely made of "printed" parts, he added.
"We need the new engine and that's what this is,"
Bezos said. "It's time to go back to the moon and this time
stay," Bezos said.
Blue Origin, established nearly two decades ago, has
remained relatively quiet about the rockets, engines and capsules it is
developing. With its Latin tagline of "step by step, ferociously,"
Blue Origin has been working on multiple space systems at the same time. Bezos
invests more than $1 billion in the company each year, through sales of his
Vice President Mike Pence earlier this year directed NASA to
return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the moon within the next five years.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine answered by saying the agency will meet the
White House's directive, which represents an acceleration of NASA's existing
lunar exploration timeline. NASA's fiscal 2020 budget request included a
massive increase in funding of the the Advanced Cislunar and Surface
Capabilities (ACSC) program. Under ACSC, the agency would first send robots to
the surface without crews, later following up with astronauts. Despite internal
hesitancy, NASA is considering commercial alternatives such as Blue Origin for
getting astronauts to the moon's surface.
"I love Vice President Pence's 2024 lunar landing
goal," Bezos said, adding that Blue Origin can meet that timeline
"because we started this three years ago." Blue Origin's "Blue Moon" lunar lander. Ahead of the event, Blue Origin tweeted a cryptic photo of
famed explorer Ernest Shackleton's ship and a date, May 9, in the caption. A
teaser for Thursday's event, the photo appeared to hint that Bezos'
announcement would focus on sending cargo and even astronauts to the south pole
of the moon. That's because Shackelton lends his name to a crater on the moon's
surface, which NASA named after the explorer in 2006 due to its potential as a
lunar outpost. Located at the moon's south pole, the Shackleton crater is
believed by many to have deposits of frozen water.
Bezos offered only few details two years ago about Blue
Origin's lunar ambitions. In a program the company called "Blue
Moon," it would send a couple tons of cargo to the surface of the moon, to
begin building the infrastructure of a lunar base. The first mission was
proposed for 2020, in partnership with government programs like the
Boeing-built NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. But in May of last year,
Bezos indicated Blue Origin may develop Blue Moon on its own. Blue Origin's most visible program has been its New Shepard
rocket system, which the company is developing to send tourists to the edge of
space for 10 minutes. New Shepard has flown on 11 test flights, with its
capsule, built to carry six passengers, reaching an altitude of more than
350,000. The capsule features massive windows, providing expansive views of the
Earth once in space.
The company plans to send its first humans onboard a New
Shepard rocket sometime in the next year. But it has yet to begin selling
tickets. Blue Origin told CNBC last year that it will only offer tourists a
ride to space "after our first human flights."
Additionally, New Shepard has served as a test bed for the
company to develop its own reusability system. Like SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets,
the largest part of the New Shepard rocket — the first stage
"booster" — comes back and lands on a concrete pad shortly after
Reusing rockets is a key development in the space industry
as companies look to reduce the cost of sending humans, satellites, experiments
and more to space. Blue Origin is building an immense rocket system, called New
Glenn. Similar to New Shepard, the company plans to land New Glenn's rocket
booster on a ship in the ocean
Bezos' ultimate ambition is to help humanity expand across
the solar system, with a human population of more than a trillion living and
working in space. Morgan Stanley highlighted Bezos' investments in space as a
"force" in the industry who brings financial muscle unlike any other.
Blue Origin is one of several space companies which Morgan Stanley said
"will up the ante" this year.