At an event in Washington DC, Blue Origin boss Jeff Bezos yesterday showed world+dog the company's Moon lander – Blue Moon – and promised manned missions to the lunar surface by 2024.
The actual unveiling starts from 33:57 on this vid below if you fancy skipping Bezos' self-congratulatory spiel and get straight to the action, though there's a bunch of interesting science talk in there too.
There are two versions of the lander, which has been in development for three years: the cargo variant, which can handle a payload of 3.6 metric tonnes, and a stretched tanker version that can manage 6.5 metric tonnes. The lander is equipped with davits to lower payloads from its top deck onto the surface and laser-beam communications.
Bezos said Blue Moon built on the company's experience with precision guidance and LH2/LOX propulsion gained from the New Shepard rocket.
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The larger variant is designed to land an ascent vehicle, which will - if all goes according to plan - put Americans back on the Moon's surface by 2024.
The lander will be powered by a new engine called the BE-7. It has a claimed 40kN (10,000lbf) thrust propelled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The BE-7 will have its first hot test this summer and will be available for sale to other companies.
Bezos used the launch event to talk up the possibilities of long-term living on the lunar surface. He has previously predicted moving heavy industry off-planet to take better advantage of solar power and increased access to resources.
He also spoke about the potential of O'Neil cylinders – rotating tubes that provide artificial gravity for large-scale human habitation and agriculture.
The announcement heats up competition with Elon Musk's SpaceX. Musk responded with a doctored image of the lander, relabelled "Blue Balls".
Blue Moon is a big step up for Bezos' pet project. Earlier this month Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket took payloads to 106km above the Earth's surface, just over the 100km Kármán line, the generally accepted starting line for space. ®