The Moon certainly seems like hot property at the moment. Fresh off the back of news that Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants to send two people around the Moon in 2018, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has announced his own lunar endeavor via his company Blue Origin. Those two just can’t get along, eh.
In a white paper seen exclusively by the Washington Post, Blue Origin – who launched and landed their New Shepard rocket several times last year – is proposing to NASA and the Trump administration that they want to build an unmanned lunar lander to touch down on the Moon by July 2020 at the earliest, called Blue Moon, with NASA's help. This would begin a series of unmanned lunar missions, and the lay the groundwork for future manned missions.
“The memo urges the space agency to back an Amazon-like shipment service for the Moon that would deliver gear for experiments, cargo and habitats by mid-2020, helping to enable ‘future human settlement' of the moon,” said the Post.
Their spacecraft would touch down near the south pole of the Moon, which is in permanent sunlight. Here, it could perform scientific experiments – using a robotic arm to study the lunar surface – and deploy rovers to explore the area. Blue Origin say they could even return a sample of lunar ice to Earth.
Blue Moon would be capable of taking 4,500 kilograms (10,000 pounds) of cargo to the Moon. It could fly on one of several upcoming rockets including Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket, or NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).
Aside from the scientific aspect, Bezos told the Post that the missions would help move towards sending humans back to the lunar surface again. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective,” he said. “I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”
NASA at the moment is focused on taking humans to Mars, which it expects to do in the 2030s. But it is planning a lunar orbit mission in the next few years that may send a crew around the Moon, possibly in 2019, using its Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket.
Although NASA doesn’t have firm plans to land back on the Moon, there are some who argue it is a more realistic and attractive goal than Mars. Others (yours truly included) think the Moon should be left to private companies to tackle, and NASA should focus on the grander goals – like getting boots on the Red Planet.