Blue Origin Will Lead Lunar Lander Development

Blue Origin will lead a lunar lander development project. They will work with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. These partners have decades of experience supporting NASA with human space flight systems, launch vehicles, orbital logistics, deep-space missions, interplanetary navigation and planetary landings. This part of the US effort to return to the moon by 2024.
Our combined experience is uniquely positioned to meet NASA’s needs for the Artemis program. Each partner will bring their industry leading solutions to the following roles:

Blue Origin, as prime contractor, leads program management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission engineering while providing the Descent Element that is based on the multi-year development of the Blue Moon lunar lander and its BE-7 engine.

Lockheed Martin develops the reusable Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training.
Northrop Grumman provides the Transfer Element vehicle that brings the landing system down towards the Moon.
Draper leads descent guidance and provides flight avionics.

As of April 2017, Bezos is selling approximately US$1 billion in Amazon stock each year to privately finance Blue Origin.

Large Lunar Landing Payload Capability

Blue Moon can land multiple metric tons of payload on the lunar surface.

The top deck and lower bays easily accommodate a wide variety of payloads, including large payloads and ESPA-class payloads with standard ring port interfaces. There are lower mounting locations for payloads, useful for closer access to the lunar surface and off-loading.

BE-7 Lunar Laner Engine

The BE-7 engine is being designed and built for use on a lunar lander. Its first ignition tests are expected by mid-2019. The BE-7 is designed to produce 40 kN (10,000 lbf) of thrust and have a deep throttle range, making it less powerful than the other engines Blue Origin has in development/production, but this low thrust is advantageous for its intended purpose as a Lunar vehicle descent stage main propulsion system as it offers greater control for soft landings.

The engine uses hydrogen and oxygen propellants in a dual-expander combustion cycle, similar to the more typical expander cycle used by the RL-10 and others, which in theory offers better performance and allows each pump to run at independent flow rates. Blue Origin plans to use additive manufacturing technology to produce the combustion chamber of the engine, which would allow them to more cheaply construct the complex cooling channels required to keep the engine from melting and to produce the hot gasses that will power the pumps.


Blue Origin was started in 2000.

They were originally focused on suborbital spaceflight. They are targeting their first passenger-carrying spaceflight planned for 2019. On nearly every one of the test flights since 2015, the uncrewed vehicle has reached a test altitude of more than 100 km (330,000 ft) and achieved a top speed of more than Mach 3 (3,675 km/h; 2,284 mph), reaching space above the Kármán line, with both the space capsule and its rocket booster successfully soft landing.

Blue Origin moved into the orbital spaceflight technology business in 2014, initially as a rocket engine supplier for others via a contractual agreement to build a new large rocket engine, the BE-4, for major US launch system operator United Launch Alliance (ULA). By 2015, Blue Origin had announced plans to also manufacture and fly its own orbital launch vehicle from the Florida Space Coast, known as the New Glenn. BE-4 had been expected to complete engine qualification testing by late 2018, but the test program continued into 2019.

SpaceX was started in 2002.

Major achievements of SpaceX include:

The first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket (Falcon 1) to reach orbit (28 September 2008)
The first privately funded company to successfully launch (by Falcon 9), orbit and recover a spacecraft (Dragon) (9 December 2010)
The first private company to send a spacecraft (Dragon) to the International Space Station (25 May 2012)
The first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (SES-8, 3 December 2013)
The first private company to send a probe beyond Earth orbit (Deep Space Climate Observatory, 11 February 2015)
The first landing of a first stage orbital capable rocket (Falcon 9, Flight 20) (22 December 2015 1:39 UTC)
The first water landing of a first stage orbital capable rocket (Falcon 9) (8 April 2016 20:53 UTC)

Since June 2010, rockets from the Falcon 9 family have been launched 77 times, with 75 full mission successes, one partial failure and one total loss of spacecraft. In addition, one rocket and its payload were destroyed on the launch pad in the fueling process before a static fire test.

Designed and operated by private manufacturer SpaceX, the Falcon 9 rocket family includes the retired versions Falcon 9 v1.0, v1.1, and v1.2 “Full Thrust”, along with the currently active Block 5 evolution. Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift derivative of Falcon 9, combining a strengthened central core with two Falcon 9 first stages as side boosters.

Falcon family core boosters have successfully landed 44 times in 52 attempts. A total of 22 boosters have flown a second mission, including two pairs as Falcon Heavy side-boosters, and four boosters have gone on to fly a third mission.

Falcon 9’s typical missions include cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Dragon capsule, launch of communications satellites and Earth observation satellites to geostationary transfer orbits (GTO), and low-Earth orbits (LEO), some of them at polar inclinations.

In 2016, SpaceX had 30% global market share for newly awarded commercial launch contracts, in 2017 the market share reached 45%, the estimate for 2018 is about 65% as of July 2018.

There are over a hundred planned SpaceX launches over the next 4 years.

Ariane has had three launches in 2019 and about 16 launches scheduled over the next 3 years.

43 thoughts on “Blue Origin Will Lead Lunar Lander Development”

  1. Anyone else notice in the lead picture, the NG logo looks like it would be just a part of the Lockheed logo. I wonder when that merger will happen…

  2. Do you think it’s easy to compete against Elon Musk? I mean, picture yourself as an entrepreneur with the guy coming after your cake…
    If there was a little bit more of an existential threat, perhaps something more would have come out earlier. But with unlimited funding, competitive pressure is just not there. BlueOrigin will probably come up with something nice, perhaps even useful, but just when they’ll be ready, no rush whatsoever. I guess Bezos is ok with being n.2 in this race (which he’s funding out of his own pocket, not much mooching off taxpayers) and I kinda undesrtand why.

  3. I certainly agree on all the facts you state. But I’m pretty sure there will always be far more people in Space than on Mars. Now, who knows about the Moon? It is just a practical point, unless you don’t even imagine living in Space, but that is no longer common. At this point, I’m happy! The market solutions can now come forth, as Mars is no longer the only option *popularly* known.
    As to market response, it would not surprise me to see Bezos license or borrow steel rocket idea, or even merge with Musk in a way to keep the “dual supply” NASA requirements. Bezos wants ISRU, the core starting point for O’Neill, not rockets to go directly to Mars, so he could just skip the rocket dev part, unlikely.
    As for asteroids, certainly long term, but lunar ISRU has some initial advantages. We are going there anyway! Also, telebots controlled from Earth w/o having to wait on the replicators, as cool as they are going to be.

  4. You can’t underestimate the practical importance of SpaceX getting in so much flight experience. Tube time can only substitute for flight time to a limited extent.

  5. Yeah, that sounds like ITER or other big budget projects with no hard deadlines and fuzzy plans.

    Having to launch something to keep on business has some advantages.

    At least it gives the company a sense of urgency and exposure to real launch experiences.

    If BO had to launch a smaller rocket to orbit to continue being funded, and actually did it, they would be much better off now.

  6. Mainly, though, Bezos and Musk are trying to do different things. Musk views Mars as a species ark sufficiently far from Earth to avoid being taken out by the same bad accident; Nuclear war, asteroid impact, pandemic disease. It’s a second basket for our eggs.

    Mars looks reasonable from that perspective. The asteroids, too, but they have more infrastructure requirements.

    Cis-lunar space is bad from that perspective, close enough to be taken out by multiple threats that might take out Earth humanity, and unlikely to be actually independently viable any time soon, just exactly because Earth is so conveniently close.

    I agree that from a simple “make humanity a space faring civilization” standpoint, Mars is inferior to cis-lunar space and the asteroids. But not so inferior that going there is mad.

  7. I’m gonna guess they didn’t realize it is so hard to live on a planet, because we all live on a planet, and don’t find it hard.

    Now, that’s obviously because the planet we live on has a functioning biosphere we are part of, so aside from avoiding dying of exposure where there are cold seasons, we don’t actually need any sort of life support.

    Mars clearly isn’t like that, there’s nowhere off the surface of the Earth where you’d survive for more than an agonizing minute or so without extensive technological help.

    So, it becomes a question of how much help is needed, how hard it is to provide it.

    Planets have both disadvantages and advantages in this regard. I do think the win goes to O’Neil colonies in the long run, because planets are just a horribly inefficient way to use mass to provide gravity, and have an absurdly low useable volume compared to their mass.

    But you have to live through the short run to reach the long run, and planets do have some advantages in that short run. For instance, Mars *might* have enough gravity to allow people to be healthy without centrifuges. And it has those hydrothermal mineral deposits, very handy.

  8. I will be more impressed with billions in cis lunar than thousands on Mars, wondering why they didn’t realize it is so hard to live on a planet.

  9. People have hobbies. Some folks have woodworking shops, some folks do serious photography, some restore cars, some run Etsy businesses, some folks write, some fiddle with gaming rigs and VR…

    A hobby is something you enjoy doing that you don’t really expect to make a profit on. It’d be nice, but the hobby’s the important thing to keep you busy, not the profit.

    Bezos runs Blue Origin. Heh.™

  10. I totally agree. In fact, I’m “whatever it takes” for Space Solar and beyond. I await the coming change in Musk’s presentation you presage.

  11. As NBFDMD says…

    They’ve got to do things. Maybe there’s a hell of a lot of testing and engineering going on behind the scenes, and they’re going to pop out a fully fledged orbital system any day now. But I sure wouldn’t bet on that.

    To me this is really looking more like a hobby for Bezos, not a serious space business. Compared to SpaceX they’re way behind in both R&D, testing and production.

  12. They’re aiming for slow and steady wins the race.

    And if their only competition was NASA, that would work.

    But the tortoise doesn’t win the race if the rabbit doesn’t stop running as fast as it can. Fast and steady wins every time against slow and steady.

    Blue Origin will eventually get there, and maybe even be cost effective once they do, thanks to lunar fuel. But they’re not getting ANYWHERE first, and sometimes getting there first matters more than getting there best.

    I could see a future where they eventually dominate near earth space, but nobody is impressed because SpaceX has already moved on past that.

  13. No, it’s designed to be reusable. It’s specifically intended as a shuttle between the lunar surface and orbit, using lunar derived fuel.

    The reason it uses H2/LOx is because they can be manufactured easily from lunar water.

  14. That history section was BRUTAL. Started two years sooner, basically unlimited budget, and look at what they’ve got to show for it compared to SpaceX.

  15. I don’t see the resemblance. The Scottish panama colony had the exact opposite problem, it was too wild and untamed for them.

    Much more like the British colonization of India. Turn up, find a perfectly well established civilization that already has everything you want, so the “brave explorers” step off the ship and check into a hotel.

  16. 2021 – However, since it will carry less payload than the FH and far less than the Starship, I believe that New Glenn won’t make much of a difference in terms of what we space advocates are hoping for.

  17. The good news is that our revised USA: Return to the Moon!!!! lunar mission profile will be faster and cheaper than we planned, because we won’t need to take fuel, air or food supplies with us.

    Why is that?

    Well… it turns out that we can now purchase them from the various shopping malls that have been established there while we were planning, replanning, rebudgetting, planning again, reviewing the plans, modifying….

  18. Thanks feather folks, this pretty much guarantees that SpaceX will land a Starship well before this LEM-like thing ever gets near the moon. It’s simple Jeff, say it with me: “R-E-U-S-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y”.

  19. Does it occur to anyone else. that SpaceX’s lunar lander has already flown, just not to the moon? In what universe will a starship of some sort lands on the lunar surface before this expensive future redundancy?
    Starship will be flight tested many times more than the Blue Loonie(sorry Canada). Wouldn’t using the BL to land astronauts on the moon qualify as needlessly endangering personnell by flying on a relatively untested vehicle? I wonder how many more hours in vacuum, and landings starship will have by the Loonie’s first landing?

  20. Zero to both. But that is not a good metric because it does nothing to predict when he will reach orbit. The better metrics are:

    • How far along is their engine development?
    • Do they have an orbital rocket factory?
    • How far along is their lamder?
  21. Do I understand correctly that the Blue Origin lander is single use? The article doesn’t say it’s reusable unless I missed it. So a single-use lander will be attached to the reusable Ascent Element somewhere in orbit for each moon landing? Does this seem plausible?

  22. A reusable commercial launcher with 100 tons, eventually 150 tons to LEO payload also works towards that same goal very nicely.

    Besides of opening the market for bigger payloads and projects, it will maybe allow us to open the high frontier for resource extraction and industry. Something required for building O’Neill orbitals.

    The fact there is no “Build O’Neill cylinder” bullet in Elon Musk’s presentations doesn’t make the current developments any less important or exciting.

  23. I’m pretty sure BO is for real. They are spending billions and bending metal. Fake rocket companies just make PPTs, not rocket engines.

    Also in Bezos divorce he made sure the wife wouldn’t get a part of BO so it’s pretty obviously something he values.

  24. No doubt that Blue Origin’s lunar lander will excel at carrying dead weight. They are after all partnering with Lockheed and Northrop.

  25. It would be a far more interesting race if they were going to the same finish line. But we have Musk to Mars, Bezos to our future in the stars.

  26. We’ll see if Blue Origin even manages to get a flying model on this. I haven’t been impressed with what they’ve done so far…

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