Blue Origin is now in the running to put Americans back on the moon by 2024.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has revealed the ambitious next steps for his aerospace company at a highly-secretive media event in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
During the event, which kicked off at 4 p.m., the billionaire and Blue Origin founder started off by sharing elaborate concept images of self-sustaining space habitats reminiscent of the film Interstellar, with lush greenery and futuristic homes within its walls.
But, the real star of the talk turned out to be something much closer to home – the moon. On stage, Bezos took the wraps off a massive model of what will be the firm’s first lunar lander, dubbed Blue Moon.
‘This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the moon,’ Bezos said, according to CNN, which live-blogged the event.
According to the CEO, the lander has been in development for the last three years and is on track for a 2024 crewed moon landing – falling in line with the five-year deadline revealed earlier this year by Vice President Mike Pence.
The plan could ultimately serve as a stepping stone for colonization of the moon and deeper space targets, Bezos suggested.
‘It’s time to go back to the moon, this time to stay,’ Bezos said during the event, according to CNN, mirroring a statement made repeatedly over the past few months by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Blue Origin says its lunar lander will be able to carry all sorts of payloads to the surface and can hold ‘multiple metric tons.’
The craft will ’enable a sustained human presence on the moon,’ the company said. And, according to the CEO, the company already has about six customers.
The lander builds upon technology the firm has been testing over the past few years in its New Shepard rocket, including propulsion and precision guidance, as well as the vertical landing system. The firm has quietly been developing Blue Moon for years.
According to CNN, Blue Origin is also developing a new rocket engine specifically for its planned moon landings. The system, called BE-7, has been in the works for three years.
Blue Origin says it could conduct the first test fire as soon as this summer.
Bezos also delved into his visions for human colonization of the moon and eventually, deep space, touching on the concept of self-sustaining ‘O’Neill colonies’ exponentially larger than the International Space Station where humans and animals could live.
Earth’s resources alone won’t be able to sustain humanity forever even with energy conservation, the mogul noted during the event, according to CNN.
Considering the possibility of a future that relies on strict rationing, Bezos suggests we must look toward space in order to continue thriving.
‘That’s the path that we would be on,’ he said,’ according to CNN.
‘It would lead for the first time to where your children and grandchildren have worse lives than you. That’s a bad path.
The event was first teased last month in a cryptic tweet from the Blue Origin Twitter account, where it shared an image of explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, a polar exploration ship lost to the ice in in 1915.
Additionally, in a notice sent to the reporters, the company said it ‘will give an update on [Blue Origin’s] progress and share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth.’
Blue Origin also shared a copy of the ‘Earthrise’ photo taken by NASA astronauts during the Apollo 8 mission, in addition to the image of Endurance it tweeted out.
Several Blue Origin fans were quick to point out that the image of Endurance may be an obscure reference to a future lunar mission. As it turns out, they were correct.
A crater located on the south pole of the moon, called Shackleton, was named after the famed explorer, suggesting that Bezos may have some lunar-related announcements up his sleeve.
The Shackleton crater is located in the expansive South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system, that spans 1,600 miles and is approximately eight miles deep.
Scientists have long had their eye on the Aitken Basin, as they believe it could hold a bounty of life-sustaining resources.
NASA hopes to conduct a mission to the moon’s south pole as soon as 2024, while China’s Chang’e 6 lander aims to explore the lunar south pole.
Many scientists are eyeing this area of the moon as they believe it could be host to huge sheets of ice that could be mined for drinking water or converted into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel or oxygen to breathe.
In turn, it could help sustain future human colonies on the moon.
Blue Origin has also discussed its plans to build and launch a lunar lander, revealing concept images of the spacecraft in 2018.
‘The future will be better for our children – and our children’s children – if we use space to benefit life on Earth and enable millions of people to live and work in space,’ the company said.
‘The next logical step in this path is a return to the Moon. To do this we need reusable access to the lunar surface and its resources.’
As part of the mission, referred to as Blue Moon, the company hopes to deliver cargo to the moon’s surface, as well as scout for sources of water.
Blue Origin is also part of The Moon Race, a non-profit that aims to establish a new competition, enlisting teams to develop ways to produce energy, grow food and establish infrastructure on the moon in exchange for cash prizes.
The Moon Race has also attracted support from Airbus and the European Space Agency.
Today’s announcement could eventually tie into an expected update on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket.
New Glenn is the company’s orbital rocket that it hopes to launch into space in 2021, though Blue Origin has released few details about the vehicle.
It’s thought that the heavy-lift launch rocket could help Blue Origin complete a mission to the moon.
The company has yet to conduct test flights of New Glenn and it has not been seen publicly.
Meanwhile, a smaller rocket named New Shepard is envisioned to deliver humans to the edge of space later this year.
Blue Origin conducted its 11th successful launch and landing of the New Shepard rocket earlier this month.
The company faces stiff competition from a range of players, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which some have coined the ‘billionaire space race.’