Updated May 9, 2019 - Science

Jeff Bezos unveils Blue Origin's plan to land on the moon

Photo: NASA

Blue Origin's billionaire founder Jeff Bezos revealed the company's hardware designed to get payloads to the moon during an event on Thursday in Washington.

Why it matters: The event was effectively a plea to NASA. The space agency wants to land humans on the surface of the moon by 2024, and Blue Origin wants to help them get there.

Specifics are thin, but the company's current version of the Blue Moon lander is designed to bring tons of cargo to the lunar surface, with a possible human configuration coming later.

  • "I love this, it’s the right thing to do," Bezos said of NASA's lunar ambitions. "We can help meet that timeline but only because we started 3 years ago."

Details: The Blue Moon lander, in theory, will someday be able to use hydrogen extracted from the ice deposits on the moon's south pole to fuel the craft.

  • Bezos also mentioned the company's plan to one day configure the craft for people.
  • That version would be able "soft land 6.5 metric tons on the lunar surface and [have] an assent on top," Bezos said.
  • At the moment, the company is planning to launch two uncrewed tests of Blue Moon, one in 2023 and one in 2024 with a human launch and landing at the end of 2024.
  • Blue Origin has also presented a version of this plan to NASA in the past.

The backdrop: Bezos has long said that Blue Origin's goal is to help bring about a future where millions of people are living and working in space.

  • The company has launched 11 uncrewed test flights of its New Shepard space system designed to bring paying customers to suborbital space. The first crewed test of that vehicle is expected later this year.
  • Blue Origin is also developing its New Glenn rocket to bring large payloads to orbit, expected to launch for the first time in 2021.
  • "If we’re out in the solar system, we can have 1 trillion humans, 1,000 Mozarts, 1,000 Einsteins," Bezos said.

The context: NASA is now working toward landing people on the south pole of the moon by 2024, 4 years earlier than initially planned, at the direction of the Trump administration.

  • At the moment, it's unclear exactly how much money NASA will need to pull off the mission, and the space agency has yet to release details about how it plans to meet that deadline.
  • NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has said that the space agency will need to work closely with industry partners to get back to the moon.
  • NASA has already looked into using private rockets — like SpaceX's Falcon Heavy — to launch astronauts and payloads to the lunar surface.

Be smart: It's still unclear exactly how any of this will work. The event itself was impressive, with twinkling light curtains and a huge reveal for the lander. But at the end of the day, the company needs to get the New Glenn flying and Blue Moon landing in the near future to make any of this a reality.

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