Blue Moon Lander

January 31, 2024

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What is Blue Moon?

Blue Origin is developing a human landing system called Blue Moon for NASA, for the Artemis V missions to the South Pole regions of the Moon. NASA’s Artemis mission will explore more of the Moon than previously. There will be lots of exciting scientific discoveries, as well as, preparing for sending astronauts to Mars one day.

Blue Moon will be designed, developed and tested by Blue Origin to ensure that the lander meets NASA’s human landing system requirements.

NASA has awarded a $3.4 billion to Blue Origin, the rest of the costs and any over spend will be absorbed by Blue Origin which is Jeff Bezos’ rocket company.

The first part of the Artemis V mission, the Orion spacecraft will carry four astronauts to lunar orbit, launched by NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. Orion will then dock with Gateway (the first space station around the Moon). Here, two astronauts will transfer to the Blue Moon lander for a week-long expedition to the South Pole region of the Moon to explore and conduct scientific experiments. Once the visit to the south pole is complete, Blue Moon will blast off from the lunar surface and return to Gateway so the astronauts can be returned to Earth in the Orion capsule. The Blue Moon lander could be used several times for different missions.

moon south pole
LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic of the south polar region, width ~600 km where Blue Moon will take two astronauts [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University]. https://www.lroc.asu.edu/posts/237

Blue Moon MK1 -SN001 Pathfinder Mission

Blue Moon MK1 -SN001 Pathfinder Mission will be a cargo mission. The lander will be able to deliver three tons of cargo to anywhere on the Moon’s surface. This will be a single-launch vehicle, which will stay on the lunar surface. There it will provide safe and reliable access to the lunar surface.  This pathfinder mission will test many critical systems and engineering ahead of carrying humans to the lunar surface. This includes BE-7 engine, cryogenic fluid power and propulsion systems, downlink communications and precision landing within 100m (approx. a football pitch) of the chosen landing site.

Why is it good to have two different Moon landers?

Blue Moon will be the second lander for the Artemis program, along with SpaceX’s lander. There are many advantages to having two different landers with different approaches to how they meet NASA’s mission needs. These include; increased competition (which has always helped drive space exploration) which can drive innovation, more robustness, decrease costs to public taxpayers, allow a higher volume of lunar landings and enable NASA to achieve goals of the Moon’s exploration in preparation for manned missions to Mars. A key is that there are backups, if one lander doesn’t deliver on the requirements or is delayed the other is still there to be used and the whole mission is not delayed.

Blue Moon has increased requirements over the design requirements of the SpaceX landers for Artemis III. These include; allowing for increased crew size (up to four astronauts), longer mission duration, and delivery of more mass to the Moon.

What will Blue Moon be like?

The Blue Moon lander will be 50-foot-tall and will have space for four astronauts to travel to the lunar surface. It is being designed to fit within the 23-foot-wide diameter of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. When filled with propellants it will weigh more than 45 metric tons.

blue moon 3
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson speak in front of a full-sized mock up of the Blue Moon Mark 1 lunar lander. Credit: NASA https://spacenews.com/blue-origin-reveals-mockup-of-blue-moon-lunar-lander-prototype/

When will Blue Moon launch?

Blue Moon MK1 -SN001 Pathfinder Mission will be an uncrewed demonstration flight in 2028. Then a year later there is a planned crewed demo of the Artemis V mission to take astronauts to the Moon.

How will the new missions to the Moon be different?

The Artemis missions will explore different areas of the Moon than previously, including the South Pole. These missions will explore the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits and build foundations for astronauts to travel to Mars. Additionally, these missions will send the first women and the first person of colour to the Moon.

Conclusion

Blue Moon will be a lunar lander for astronauts to return to the South Pole of the Moon. It will take astronauts from Gateway to the lunar surface. This will allow exploration of the South Pole region of the Moon, as well as, providing a pathway for planning and development for missions to Mars. Blue Moon mission will provide precise and soft, recurring landings for up to four astronauts, enabling a sustained human presence on the Moon.

For more detail on lunar exploration, sign up for one of our courses today. The Moon features in Mission Astro ‘The Escape from the Blue Marble’ course and our Certificate in Space Science. We have an interview with Susie Martinez, a lunar payload engineer for a commercial space company, included in the course.

This post was written by Dr Heather Campbell for Mission Astro.

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