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Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is also showing off its lunar lander as SpaceX ramps up testing activity for the Starship rocket in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX and Blue Origin went head to head for the first contract that SpaceX won, much to Blue’s chagrin. Following the SpaceX win and a lengthy court process that saw SpaceX and NASA win, the space agency awarded Blue Origin with a second lunar lander contract as part of its efforts to build redundancy into the Artemis program. Blue Origin showed off its cargo lander demonstrator to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson earlier today as Mr. Nelson visited the company’s facilities.
Blue Origin Touts ‘Single Launch’ Capabilities For Its Lunar Cargo Lander
When it comes to rocket design and development, Blue Origin and SpaceX are on the opposite end of the spectrum. SpaceX operates as a ‘hardware rich’ firm that continuously tests its equipment and makes changes along the way. On the other hand, Blue Origin follows the traditional approach that sees it design the entire vehicle and then aim for a test.
Blue Origin is currently developing the heavy-lift New Glenn heavy-lift rocket, which falls in the same payload range as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. The New Glenn is also central to Blue Origin’s lunar landing ambitions and Amazon subsidiary Kuiper’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet constellation.
Blue Origin was awarded a NASA contract for its lunar landing vehicle in May this year as part of an announcement that saw the firm share several features of the vehicle and funding details. The Blue Moon lunar lander falls under NASA’s Sustainable Lunar Development contract, which is worth $3.4 billion, and at the contract announcement press conference, Blue Origin’s vice president for lunar transportation, Mr. John Couluris, shared that his company was also contributing $3.4 billion to the effort.
According to Blue, the cargo lander will fly inside the New Glenn rocket’s seven-meter payload fairing, and it will be capable of flying three metric tons of payload to any point on the lunar surface. The firm adds that the lander is designed to use in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) on the lunar surface, through which engineers aim to utilize lunar resources to produce liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
The cargo lander is designed to stay on the lunar surface and will fly for the first time as part of Blue Origin’s MK1-SN001 mission. This will be a demonstration mission, similar to a SpaceX Artemis lunar lander mission that will attempt to land the Starship rocket on the lunar surface before NASA can certify it to carry a crew.
While it has not provided any tentative launch dates for the first lunar cargo lander mission, the company outlines that it will test the BE-7 rocket engine and its power and fuel management systems. It will also provide a test bed of sorts for the MK2 lander – Blue’s prototype for its crew lunar lander. The company was also careful to mention that the MK1 is a single launch vehicle, which makes it stand in sharp contrast to SpaceX’s significantly larger lunar lander that relies on in-orbit refueling from a SpaceX propellant depot for its lunar flights.
The crew and cargo variants are both covered by NASA’s May award, and the cargo lander’s payload specifications depend on whether it will stay on the Moon or make a roundtrip to Earth. For the former mission, the lander will be capable of transporting 30 metric tons to the Moon, while the latter will reduce this to 20 metric tons. According to details that Blue Origin shared in May, the landers will also rely on a cislunar transporter to store cryogenic propellants in space.