There was some irony in yesterday’s announcement by Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos that his company was ready to assist NASA in having Americans return to the moon’s surface by 2024.
After all, Bezos is the billionaire founder of Amazon, the Washington Post and since 2015 President Trump has criticized Amazon, the Post and Bezos no less than 26 times on Twitter. That Bezos might have a solution that would help Trump’s fulfill his egotistical fuelled legacy, must irk the President. But I digress, what did Bezos and Blue Origin offer yesterday.
The Earth’s energy needs are not sustainable
Yesterday’s event, which you can watch to your right, was a momentous event for Bezos personally, and an opportunity for Blue Origin to stake its claim in helping NASA.
In the first part of the event Jeff Bezos explained a problem he’s identified that is so serious in the long-term, that we must start working on it now.
Bezos acknowledges that there are immediate problems on Earth that need solutions and should be worked on, but there are also long-term problems that require a long time to build solutions, and that we must start working on them now.
The most serious long-term problem he has identified is that of energy consumption.
Full replay of Blue Origin “Going to space to benefit Earth” event of May 9, 2019.
Bezos said “we will run out of energy on Earth.” Even with improvements in energy efficiency we won’t have enough energy to meet the demands of the Earth’s population. When that happens, energy will have to be rationed and Bezos said “your grandchildren and their grandchildren would have worse lives than you.”
Bezos isn’t the first person to identify problems with an ever growing human population that constantly needs more resources and consumes greater amounts of energy. Thomas Malthus is perhaps one of the best known authors on this topic. Malthus wrote of population and resources in his book An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Effect the Future Improvement if Society which was published in 1798 and revised six times.
The good news according to Bezos, is that he has a vision that will help humanity.
Humanity must also live off Earth
To solve the energy problem humanity must use the resources space has to offer and live on human made colonies near Earth. That in a nutshell is what Bezos is proposing. Bezos was clear that Earth is best place to live, by far. However, it should become zoned as residential and light industry. Heavy industry must be moved to space he said.
In that humanity must live on Earth and offworld, Bezos and Elon Musk agree. Their respective visions differ from that point onward. Musk sees humanity living on Mars as the next logical step. Bezos believes some humans should live in large human made colony spacecraft as first suggested by Gerard O’Neill almost 50 years ago. These colonies can be made to have Earth gravity. The moon and Mars will never have Earth gravity.
To make this vision a reality Bezos said our generation must begin to build space infrastructure. That’s their job. This generation won’t build the O’Neil colonies.
Bezos said “infrastructure lets entrepreneurs do amazing things.” This is something Bezos understands very well. He built Amazon into what it is today because the infrastructure was in place for him. That being the internet, shipping and credit card companies. In turn, Amazon allows entrepreneurs to build off its infrastructure, such as Amazon Web Services to build their business. SpaceQ is one of those companies.
What infrastructure does Bezos see Blue Origin building?
Blue Origin unveils lunar hardware
Bezos says the first infrastructure that needs to built today by this generation is a “road to space” and that there are gates, or prerequisites that must be completed before O’Neil colonies are built. Bezos said there are in fact “two gates” we must pass through first.
- Gate 1: We must radically reduce the cost to launch payloads into space.
- Gate 2: We must use resources in space.
As with SpaceX, Bezos sees reusability as the key to reducing launch costs. Blue Origin’s large New Glenn rocket is schedule to fly the first time in 2021. Its first stage can be reused 25 times.
Bezos said the fuel costs for a New Glenn launch is about $1 million. That’s a small fraction of the cost of the launch. The problem to date which most rocket companies continue to do, is throw away the rocket after each use. To get through Gate 1, rockets must be reused. Bezos did not elaborate on other cost reduction methods for launch.
To go through Gate 2 we must use the space resources we have available to us. Bezos focused on one of the resources, the moon. He said “we were given a gift, a nearby body called the moon.” It’s close, only three days away.
He said the moon offers an abundance of water in the form of ice. This is one of the resources we must use. The ice in the shadow of craters on the lunar south pole can be used to create oxygen and hydrogen which we can then use to breathe and to make fuel.
With 1/6 the gravity of Earth, Bezos said the moon’s low gravity means it requires 24x less energy to get into orbit from the lunar surface.
It was at this point that Bezos began talking about the infrastructure that Blue Origin has been working on for three years.
That infrastructure includes the Blue Moon lunar lander and the BE7 rocket engine that powers it.
According to Blue Origin the Blue Moon lander is “capable of delivering multiple metric tons of payload to the lunar surface based on configuration and mission. The cargo variant revealed today can carry 3.6 metric tons to the surface. We have also designed a variant of the lander that can stretch to be capable of carrying a 6.5-metric-ton, human-rated ascent stage. ”
Blue Origin also unveiled its latest engine, the BE-7 which use liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX). According to Blue Origin the “BE7 is an additively manufactured, high-performance, dual-expander cycle engine, generating 40 kN (10,000 lbf) thrust.” Because they have been developing it for three years they will be able to hot fire test it this summer.
The Blue Moon lander has the following hardware on it;
- A davit system to offload payloads from the cargo deck;
- A star tracker to navigate autonomously;
- A gigabit laser optical communication system to communicate back to Earth;
- X-Band for 10 megabit radio;
- Hydrogen fuel cells;
- Can land up to a 15% incline;
- Payload bays on the side to deploy satellites during flight;
- Lidars for terrain mapping and landing.
Blue Origin also announced a Blue Moon Advisory Board that includes;
- Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt;
- Dr. Steve Squyres, Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University;
- Dr. Bradley L. Jolliff, Research Associate Professor, Washington University;
- Dr. Jeff Taylor, Professor of Planetary Science, University of Hawaii;
- Dr. Dean Eppler, NASA;
- Dr. Ryan Watkins, Research Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute;
Over to you NASA – Blue Origin advocates for a slice of Trumps lunar pie
NASA is struggling to come up with an accelerated plan to meet President Trump’s desire that Americans land on the moon by 2024. Bezos just gave NASA an option that might make a plan feasible. It won’t be cheap, but then again the whole return to the moon by 2024 is going to be very, very expensive. That Trump might see government money going to a company being run by someone he dislikes, may just be part of the price he’ll have to pay to make his wish come true.
Inspiring the future generations
Bezos ended his speech by announcing a new educational outreach effort to inspire future generations. The Club for the Future is a a non-profit “dedicated to inspiring and engaging the next generation of dreamers and space entrepreneurs as we journey to preserve Earth and unlock the potential of living and working in space.” It “will bring together K-12 students, educators and leaders for campaigns and initiatives utilizing Blue Origin’s unique access to space.”
The Club’s “first activity will be to send a postcard to space and back on a future New Shepard mission”, what Blue Origin is calling “the first ever space mail.”