Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
While there may not be money in harvesting resources from the Moon yet, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is playing the long game, developing its capabilities in preparation for the day that could pay off.
The big picture: In the short term, the company wants to help NASA get astronauts back to the Moon. In the long term, Blue Origin hopes to bring about a future where millions of people are living and working in space, sustained, at least in part, by harvesting resources from the Moon.
"It's this generation's responsibility to go build the infrastructure around getting to orbit, getting into space cheaply and reliably."— Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin to Axios
Yes, but: It's difficult to build a business around mining resources from the Moon without properly characterizing what is there. Blue Origin is working with a team of science advisers to figure out what sites on the surface might be most attractive for these kinds of operations, Smith said.
Blue Origin's next step toward bringing about Bezos' vision of the future hinges on the company's Blue Moon lander, which has been in development for about 3 years.
- The lander could bring cargo and eventually people down to the lunar surface.
- One day Blue Origin also hopes to use water harvested from the Moon to make propellant that would fuel Blue Moon.
- "It's really central to what we're about at Blue Origin, that we get to the point where we can utilize lunar resources for developments in space," Smith said.
Details: In 2023, the company hopes to send a cargo lander to the surface of the Moon.
- "We'd follow that up in our proposal with two flights," Smith said. "One would be an integrated lander that's uncrewed in '24 and then by the end of '24, putting a crewed mission on the surface."
- Both of those missions could fly to the surface from the Gateway — the small space station NASA plans to build in orbit.
- Smith says that this timeline is dependent on NASA's support.
NASA is hoping to partner with private industry to get astronauts back to the Moon's surface by 2024 as part of its Artemis program, so Blue Origin is looking to capitalize on that effort.
But it's not just about NASA. According to Smith, multiple companies, universities and other space agencies have also approached Blue Origin looking to capitalize on its Blue Moon system.
- These kinds of partnerships are key for Blue Origin and any other spaceflight company looking to turn a profit.