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Billionaire Jeff Bezos Reveals Mockup of Lunar Lander, Embraces Trump’s Moon Timetable

The lander will be able to deliver payloads to the lunar surface, deploy up to four smaller rovers and shoot out satellites to orbit the moon

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lunar lander
Jeff Bezos speaks in front of a model of Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander, May 9, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos unveiled on Thursday a mockup of a lunar lander being built by his Blue Origin rocket company and touted his moon goals in a strategy aimed at capitalizing on the Trump administration’s renewed push to establish a lunar outpost in just five years.

The world’s richest man and Amazon.com Inc’s chief executive waved an arm and a black drape behind him dropped to reveal the two-story-tall mockup of the unmanned lander dubbed Blue Moon during an hour-long presentation at Washington’s convention center, just several blocks from the White House.

The lander will be able to deliver payloads to the lunar surface, deploy up to four smaller rovers and shoot out satellites to orbit the moon, Bezos told the audience, which included NASA officials and potential Blue Moon customers.

His media event followed Vice President Mike Pence’s March 26 announcement that NASA plans to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary,” four years earlier than previously planned.

“I love this,” Bezos said of Pence’s timeline. “We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago. It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay.”

lunar lander, jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos speaks at an event before unveiling Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander, May 9, 2019, in Washington. VOA

While Bezos went out of his way to praise Pence’s timeline, the billionaire has been the target of repeated criticism from President Donald Trump, who has referred to him as Jeff “Bozo.” Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which Trump has frequently targeted in his broadsides against the news media.

In their lunar ambitions, however, Trump and Bezos are very much in harmony. Trump in 2017 made a return to the moon a high priority for the U.S. space program, saying a mission to put astronauts back on the lunar surface would establish a foundation for an eventual journey to put humans on Mars. If re-elected next year, 2024 would be Trump’s final full year in office.

At his presentation, Bezos unveiled a model of one of the proposed rovers, roughly the size of a golf cart, and presented a new rocket engine called BE-7, which can blast 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) of thrust.

Blue Origin’s ambitions

Privately held Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. A Blue Origin executive told Reuters last month New Glenn rocket would be ready by 2021. Bezos on Thursday said launching humans on suborbital flights would take place later this year on New Shepard.

Blue Origin has previously discussed a human outpost on the moon. During his presentation, which sounded at times more like a professorial lecture than a business plan, Bezos did not address a specific launch schedule for the lander or a specific mission for it.

NASA has set its sights on the moon’s south pole, a region believed to hold enough recoverable ice water for use in synthesizing additional rocket fuel as well as for drinking water to sustain astronauts.

jeff bezos, lunar lander
Privately held Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. VOA

Bezos, intent on moving Blue Origin closer to commercialization, underscored his broader vision of enabling a future in which millions of people live and work in space. He mentioned two important issues: reducing launch costs and using resources already in space.

“One of the most important things we know about the moon today is that there’s water there,” Bezos said. “It’s in the form of ice. It’s in the permanently shadowed craters on the poles of the moon.” His announcement came about two months before the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and he began his presentation with video of that event.

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Bezos did not address his company’s Twitter post last month teasing the event with a picture of the ship used by explorer Ernest Shackleton on a 1914 expedition to Antarctica. Industry sources said the image was a likely reference to an impact crater on the lunar south pole sharing the man’s name, raising speculation that Blue Origin’s lander was targeting that spot.

His vision is shared by competing billionaire-backed private space ventures like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and aerospace incumbents like United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin. (VOA)

Next Story

NASA Making a ‘Rigorous’ Search for Vikram with Fresh Lunar Pictures

LRO will next fly around the region on November 10 and it will be another good opportunity with favourable lighting conditions for pictures, Petro said

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NASA also plans to build a space outpost in lunar orbit that can relay astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. VOA

BY ARUL LOUIS

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has taken a fresh set of pictures under better lighting conditions of the area where the Indian moon lander Vikram likely ended up and experts will be making a rigorous search for it, according to LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro.

“The lighting conditions on Monday were much more favourable, (with) less shadow in the region” compared to last month, Petro told IANS on Wednesday.

Scientists were not able to locate the Vikram in the pictures taken during the LRO’s last flyover on September 17, when it was dusk on the moon and the long shadows that covered much of the terrain may be hidden in it, NASA said at that time.

“We flew over the landing site on Monday and the camera team is still evaluating images, so we should know more in the next few days,” Noah said.

Chandrayaan 2, India, Moon
Chandrayaan-2, India’s ambitious expedition to the moon’s south pole, made headlines globally even as Vikram, the lander of the mission, lost contact with the orbiter. Pixabay

“We will do a careful search, we will be as rigorous as possible” and “we will find out soon” what happened to the Vikram moon lander, said Petro, who is based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland near Washington.

“This is a large area, we don’t know exactly where we have to look. So it will take some time to search the images because we are looking over a very, very large area,” he added.

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Vikram lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) following its launch from Chandraayan 2 moon orbiter on September 6 and likely landed in an area around the moon’s South Pole.

LRO will next fly around the region on November 10 and it will be another good opportunity with favourable lighting conditions for pictures, Petro said. (IANS)