Blue Origin has unveiled a multi-purpose lunar lander, declaring it will be able to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. At an invitation-only media event in Washington DC on Thursday, Blue Origin founder and CEO Jeff Bezos showed off a full-scale mock-up of the Blue Moon lander, which he says is capable of delivering 3.6 tonnes of cargo to the lunar surface and will be the basis for a larger manned version capable of carrying 6.5 tonnes.

Blue Origin has been notoriously tight-lipped about its plans, but on Thursday Bezos revealed the incredibly ambitious long-range goal of the company: to help enable nothing less than the eventual building of orbital space colonies several generations from now. These would be designed to house millions of people and provide them with an abundance of energy and industrial goods.

In support of creating the infrastructure for this, the man behind Amazon explained why the New Shepard rocket that is scheduled to carry passengers on suborbital flights into space later year is designed the way it is. He said that the reason the booster uses liquid hydrogen and oxygen as fuel, lands vertically, and is built with the ability to carry out multiple flights with minimal refurbishment is not only to pave the way for the much larger New Glenn booster, but also as the basis for a new class of large lunar landers.

The result of three years of development to date, Blue Moon looks like an enlarged version of the old Apollo Lunar Module that placed the first men on the Moon in 1969. It's an octagonal structure on four legs, standing about 18 ft (5.5 m) high. The top deck is flat for carrying a variety of payloads and is equipped with naval-style davits to lower cargo to the surface upon landing.

To reach the Moon, Blue Moon is designed to fit inside the upper payload stage of the New Glenn rocket. It has star trackers for translunar navigation, high-bandwidth laser and radio communications, and lidar for terrain navigation that uses machine learning to allow it land within 75 ft (23 m) of its target. In addition, there are side payload bays to deploy satellites into lunar orbit.

Bezos says that the larger "stretched" version of Blue Moon is man-rated and will be equipped with an ascent stage to return the astronauts to lunar orbit or some other destination.

Key to both versions is the new BE-7 engine, which was also unveiled at the event. This liquid hydrogen and oxygen-fueled rocket acts as the Blue Moon's descent engine, generating up to 10,000 lb of thrust during its six-minute primary descent burn. It's mostly 3D printed and has deep throttling capability. Also the liquid hydrogen serves as more than fuel. The boil off is used to cool the liquid oxygen, then feeds into a fuel cell system, where it creates 2.5 kW of electricity to power the craft and to help it survive the two-week lunar nights.

During the presentation, Bezos alluded to US Vice President Pence's announcement that the United States plans to return astronauts to the Moon within five years. Bezos said that is the time frame in which he expects Blue Moon to do exactly that.

The video below is a replay of the Blue Moon debut.

Source: Blue Origin

View gallery - 12 images