Blue Origin pulls sheets off cargo lunar lander prototype

NASA: Nice rocket, but what about the dust?

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has unveiled a mockup of the cargo version of its Blue Moon lunar lander ahead of a crewed version intended for NASA's Artemis program.

Dubbed "Pathfinder," the lander is intended to be a demonstration mission, and future versions will be available to payload customers. Blue Moon Mark 1 (MK1) is meant to remain on the lunar surface and be able to transport up to three metric tons.

Pathfinder is also intended to demonstrate technologies including the BE-7 engine, communications, cryogenic power and propulsion systems, and landing accuracy – to within 100 meters. All of which will be required for the NASA Human Landing System for the Artemis program.

Blue Moon is certainly substantial, and Blue Origin expects the spacecraft to be lofted into space within the 7-metre fairing of the New Glenn rocket... as it's unlikely to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy any time soon.

The MK1 Blue Moon cargo lander demonstrator is a near three-story high vehicle. Blue Origin said: "Our Blue Moon landers are architected for that future day when lunar ice can be used to manufacture LOX and LH2 propellants on the Moon."

The New Glenn rocket has yet to make its first flight, having suffered years of delays and redesigns. At present, managers finally hope to get the vehicle off the pad sometime in 2024. Blue Origin has been conspicuously reticent regarding dates for the first flights of the Blue Moon lander.

The MK2 lander is scheduled for an uncrewed demonstration as part of the Artemis 5 mission in or around 2029. The initial human landings are expected to be conducted using SpaceX's Starship, which has its own challenges when it comes to meeting the 2025 target for the first crewed lunar landing in more than 50 years on the Artemis 3 mission.

While SpaceX and Blue Origin have been getting on with their respective rockets and landers, researchers from the University of Central Florida have tested an instrument designed to measure the size and speed of particles kicked up by exhaust from a rocket engine during Lunar or Martian landings.

Supported by NASA's Flight Opportunities program, the instrument was tested during tethered flights of Astrobotic's Xodiac rocket-powered lander. The data collected has allowed researchers to create models of what will likely get kicked up during a landing. This is essential information for planning a landing since there is every chance that ejecta might damage the lander.

In the days of Apollo, extreme caution was taken due to similar concerns over debris. As it was, the program highlighted other dangers of landing on the Moon. Apollo 15 ended up in a tilt of 11 degrees from the horizontal – not far from the maximum lean of the vehicle. ®

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