Jeff Bezos’ space company is in the conceptual design phase of a large lunar lander that it says will provide reusable access to the moon’s surface and its resources, Blue Origin said on Wednesday.
The lander is part of Blue Origin’s broader mission of enabling a future in which millions of people live and work in space, the company said.
‘The next logical step in this path is a return to the Moon,’ Blue Origin said in a statement.
‘To do this we need reusable access to the lunar surface and its resources.’
The company, founded by Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Officer Bezos, has said it aims to land on the moon in about five years.
The company offered no details on Wednesday about how it would move from the design phase to moon missions in this time frame.
Blue Origin is also developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts.
Blue’s launch vehicles face strong competition from several other aerospace companies, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry)
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently confirmed that his Blue Origin space-tourism venture will launch a crewed mission sometime in 2019.
The revelation was made at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in Washington, DC.
The comments from the 54-year-old multi-billionaire further fuel the commercial space race as several private companies jostle to become the first to send paying customers into space.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is worth an estimated $159 billion – making him the wealthiest man on the planet – and is using part of this vast fortune to bankroll Blue Origin.
SpaceX founder and commercial space-flight trailblazer Elon Musk announced earlier this week that Japanese billionaire and fashion designer Yusaku Maezawa is the first customer to sign-up for a trip around the moon.
Bezos refused to say whether the first suborbital trip on Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule would exclusively host crew members, rather than paying customers.
His comments reinforce a timeline the space tourism firm has been publicly teasing for some time.
Blue Origin’s CEO, Bob Smith, said last year the company was hoping to launch paying passengers in 2018.
However, this ambitious goal has been revised to 2020 following a number of test flights.
The first tickets are expected to go on sale at some point next year.
The space tourism company, headquartered in Kent, Washington, is looking to sell tickets aboard its rocket for around £150,000 to £230,000 ($200,000 to $300,000), according to sources with knowledge of the plans.
By comparison, Virgin Galactic started selling tickets more than a decade ago, even while SpaceShipTwo was still in the early stages of development.
The company has approximately 700 customers who have paid at least a deposit.
Blue Origin is looking to double its current workforce to around 3,000 employees over the next two to three years, according to sources speaking to Reuters.
The urgency centers on a rocket dubbed New Glenn.
The heavy-launch vehicle, which Bezos promises will be able to haul satellites and, eventually, people into orbit, is central to the company’s hopes of winning lucrative military and commercial contracts.
New Glenn’s first-stage booster will be reusable – a key piece of Bezos’ strategy to lower costs and increase the frequency of launches. Blue Origin executives have stated publicly that test flights will begin within two years.
But whether Blue Origin can hit that mark remains to be seen. With the clock ticking on 2020, company engineers are still finalizing details on New Glenn’s design and just beginning to build model components that must be put through extreme testing, people familiar with the project said.
Blue Origin has been a quieter party in the space race, with Bezos often outshone by billionaire rivals Elon Musk and Richard Branson who head up SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, respectively.
The battle of the billionaires between Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson continues to rage on, with all three firms achieving milestones in recent months.
Blue Origin completed its ninth successful test flight in July, SpaceX built on the success of the Falcon 9 launch by declaring the first passenger to go around the moon and Virgin Galactic sent the Unity spacecraft to an altitude of 46,500ft before it went supersonic – the first successful test flight since a catastrophic test in 2014 that killed one pilot and seriously injured another.
Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas saw the most recent launch in July, when ‘Version 2.0’ of its crew capsule, outfitted with the large windows that are a distinctive feature of the spacecraft, took off.
The capsule carried 12 experiments as well as a test dummy, dubbed ‘Mannequin Skywalker,’ to measure the environment a human would experience on those flights.
The test flight was the first performed under a launch license awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration in August 2017.
‘You have to be licensed in order to collect revenue,’ Jeff Ashby, a former Nasa astronaut who is director of safety and mission assurance for Blue Origin, told the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference.
‘It was our first revenue flight for payloads: a huge, historic moment for us.’
In October, Bezos said Blue Origin will take tourists into orbit ‘within the next 18 months’.
The company isn’t yet taking reservations or publishing its ticket prices, with would-be riders forced to wait until the firm completes its tests.