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From The Editors Science

Blue Origin Unveils Full-Scale Mock-Up of Lunar Lander ‘Blue Moon’

In an invitation-only event at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC., members of the press and space industry representatives witnessed the unveiling of a life-size mock-up of ‘Blue Moon’ – spaceflight company Blue Origin’s lunar lander.

The company’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos says Blue Moon is capable of carrying 3.6 metric tons of large payloads, including rovers, satellites, and scientific equipment to the lunar surface.

Also, a subsequent “stretch tank” version with a 6.5-ton payload capacity will be able to put astronauts back on the moon by as early as 2024.

“This is an incredible vehicle, and it’s going to the Moon,” Bezos said after the historic reveal, adding: “If that does not inspire you, you are at the wrong event.”

Bezos also revealed a new BE-7 engine that will power both versions of the lander with a thrust of 10,000 lb using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants, instead of a storable hypergolic propellant.

“It’s very high performance,” says Bezos. “Ultimately, we’re going to be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon, and be able to refuel these vehicles on the surface of the moon.”

The advantage of using liquid hydrogen is manifold; not only can its boiloff be used as a coolant for the liquid oxygen, but it can also be fed into a fuel cell system where it can generate enough electricity to power the lander during the two-week long lunar nights.

“We chose hydrogen fuel cells for this vehicle rather than solar cells because we want to be able to survive the lunar night,” he said.

Blue Moon’s fuel-loaded lift-off weight of 33,000 lb will reduce to about 7,000 lb at the time of lunar touchdown.

Bezos has always had a fascination with space and the limitless possibilities it holds, with an early interest in the idea of “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2-3 million people orbiting Earth.”

It was this obsession with space travel and exploration that led Bezos to found Blue Origin, back in 2000.

So, the Amazon billionaire didn’t really surprise anybody when speaking at the International Space Development Conference, in May last year, he said that his company Blue Origin was open to working with NASA, SpaceX or the European Space Agency (ESA) to realize his vision of colonizing space.

And, what better place to start than the moon, not only because of its proximity to Earth but also because of the presence of large deposits of water ice near its poles, not to mention the fact that the lunar surface gets plenty of sunlight.

Addressing a group of students at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Bezos stressed upon the importance of moving equipment and supplies and assembling them on the surface of the moon with the help of advanced robotics and machine learning, before humans can actually populate the place.

“I think we should build a permanent human settlement on one of the poles of the moon, and it’s time to go back to the moon but this time to stay,” he said.

“And, there you’d want to preposition a whole bunch of equipment and supplies before the humans show up; and some of those things need to be assembled on the surface of the moon and that’s the kind of thing that could also be done by advanced robotics with machine learning systems on board,” Bezos added

There are other players, both private and government, who would likely be interested in partnering with Blue Origin, including SpaceX, although Elon Musk is more fixated on the red planet than the moon.

The European Space Agency’s ‘Moon Village’ vision is particularly appealing to Bezos, who says that the idea of building individual lunar outposts by different companies in close proximity to each other would lead to inter-lunar cooperation among different outposts, helping each other out in times of need.

“The Moon Village concept has a nice property in that everybody basically just says, look, everybody builds their own lunar outpost, but let’s do it close to each other,” Bezos said.

“That way, if you need a cup of sugar, you can go over to the European Union lunar outpost and say, ‘I got my powdered eggs, what have you got?’” he quipped.

“Obviously, I’m being silly with the eggs, but there will be real things, like, ‘Do you have some oxygen?’” he added.

Bezos is also convinced that there’s no better place than the moon for Earth’s heavy industry because in times to come, Earth will not remain the best place for it.

“The Earth is not a very good place to do heavy industry. It’s convenient for us right now, but in the not-too-distant future — I’m talking decades, maybe 100 years — it’ll start to be easier to do a lot of the things that we currently do on Earth in space because we’ll have so much energy,” he said.

The ever-increasing population and the resultant demand on the dwindling resources on Earth, plus the fact that there will be no dearth of solar-powered energy in space outposts, do give credence to Bezos lunar logic.

“We will have to leave this planet,” Bezos said. “We’re going to leave it, and it’s going to make this planet better,” he said, adding: “We’ll come and go, and the people who want to stay will stay.”

While the moon is where Bezos plans to start his space colonization from, for reasons already mentioned, his long-term vision encompasses solar-powered colonies in the solar-system with millions of people living and working in them. He even sees hollow asteroids as potential space outposts.

Bezos said that although he is committed to building the rockets and landers, he would be happy if other companies took over the responsibility of building rovers, habitable accommodation and all the other stuff necessary to colonize the moon on such a large scale.

“One of two things will happen,” he said. “Either other people will take over the vision, or I’ll run out of money.”

Considering he’s the richest man on Earth, it’s unlikely he’ll ever run out of money; on the contrary, he could end up becoming the richest man in space, as well.

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From The Editors Science

Blue Origin Successfully Launches Used Crew Capsule Atop Recycled New Shepard Rocket

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo’s spaceflight company Blue Origin on Sunday launched the upgraded version of its passenger Crew Capsule 2.0 perched atop its next-generation New Shepard rocket.

Powered by a single hydrogen-fuel BE-3 engine, capable of generating 110,000 pounds of thrust, the New Shepard blasted off from the company’s West Texas launch facility in Van Horn at 1:06 p.m. EDT, after thunderstorms put paid to the scheduled 9:45 am (EDT) launch.

“Another spectacular test mission,” said Blue Origin’s Ariane Cornell during the launch webcast. “Everything looks nominal from here.”

Both rocket and payload had been used in a previous test launch, as recently as December, last year, when they lifted off from the same facility with the same “instrumented dummy” passenger which goes by the nickname “Mannequin Skywalker.”

The Sunday launch saw the rocket reach a record altitude – at least as far as Blue Origin launches are concerned – of almost 66 miles (106 km), before making it back to Earth.

“Today, we’re going to push the system a little bit harder,” Cornell said.

It was all over in a matter of a few seconds over 10 minutes, which saw the New Shepard separate from the second stage at a height of about 47 miles, then continue on its way till it reached the record 66.5 miles before returning back to terra firma for a smooth, tail first vertical landing.

The capsule made its descent back to Earth a few minutes later, helped by parachutes and retrorockets to cushion its landing.

While the previous version had painted-on windows, the New Shepard capsule, according to Blue Origin, is equipped with “the largest windows in space,” measuring 110 and 73 centimeters in height and width, respectively.

The windows bit does make a lot of sense when you consider Blue Origin’s future plans of suborbital commercial passenger flights to space, which could likely happen as early as this year.

The capsule’s 530 cubic feet interior is ample enough to seat 6 paying passengers, as well as allowing them the room to float freely and turn weightless somersaults, with the large windows in place for a space perspective of our very own blue planet.

In addition to “Mannequin Skywalker,” the New Shepard capsule carried a whole lot of experimental gadgetry on behalf of NASA, including components that the agency plans to deploy onboard the Orion deep space capsule, as well as instrumentation for recording pressure, acceleration, acoustics, and other relevant data.

Other research-specific payloads included water fleas to test the effects of microgravity on the invertebrates, including equipment to demonstrate the viability of Wi-Fi in the space environment.

As was the purpose on its first flight, “Mannequin Skywalker” was there, with all the necessary instrumentation strapped to it, to test the rigors of spaceflight and their likely impact on a human passenger.

Watch the launch here

While the first New Shepard mission in April 2015 ended up in disaster for the booster stage, the subsequent seven launches, including Sunday’s flight with Crew Capsule 2.0, which was the second with the latest versions of the booster and capsule, have all met the company’s mission expectations. Here’s a quick recap of all eight of them.

New Shepard Test Flight 1 (April 19, 2015)

The first New Shepard rocket (NS1) test flight conducted on April 19, 2015, which saw the unmanned space vehicle reach its planned test altitude of 93.5 km at a top speed of Mach 3 (3675 km/h), was a partial success.

While the company was able to retrieve the capsule, after it landed using a parachute, it was not able to recover the booster, which crashed on landing due to hydraulic failure in the vehicle control system.

New Shepard Test Flight 2 (November 23, 2015)

After losing NS1, Blue Horizon built the second New Shephard (NS2), launching it on November 23, 2015, when it went beyond the 100-kilometer mark and, both, booster and capsule landed back successfully. This was Blue Horizon’s first ever successful retrieval of the reusable booster.

New Shepard Test Flight 3 (January 22, 2016)

NS2 was used again on January 22, 2016, test flight – a demonstration and proof of the re-usability of the booster. This time around, New Shepard reached the apogee of 101.7 km, (the highest point in the development stage) and again the booster and capsule returned to Earth for retrieval and reuse.

New Shepard Test Flight 4 (April 2, 2016)

On April 2, 2016, NS2 was deployed for the third time, going beyond the 330,000 feet mark, with the booster stage and capsule returning for the usual powered landing and parachute touchdown, respectively.

New Shepard Test Flight 5 (June 19, 2016)

The fifth New Shepard launch, overall, – fourth for NS2 – took place on June 19, 2016, with the same success in terms of altitude reached and booster retrieval.

New Shepard Test Flight 6 (October 5, 2016)

NS2 was retired after its fifth and final test flight on October 5, 2016 – again a success in terms of achieving its test mission and returning safely back to the planet.

New Shepard Test Flight 7 (December 12, 2017)

The seventh New Shepard mission – the first for the brand new NS3 and upgraded Crew Capsule 2.0 – was successfully accomplished on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, with the new booster returning for its vertical powered-landing while the capsule, along with its dummy passenger, Mannequin Skywalker, landed with parachutes.

New Shepard Test Flight 8 (April 29, 2018)

That’s the Sunday launch discussed earlier – the eighth overall, and the second for the latest New Shepard and the upgraded Crew Capsule 2.0 and its passenger, Mannequin Skywalker.

About Blue Origin

As part of his fascination with space travel and exploration, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos founded the start-up company, Blue Origin in 2000.

He is also known to have had an early interest in the idea of “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2-3 million people orbiting Earth.”

After keeping it hidden from the public eye for over half a decade, Blue Origin became common knowledge in 2006 when a large tract of land was purchased in West Texas to build the infrastructure for launch and test purposes.

Blue Origin is basically a privately funded aerospace manufacturing and spaceflight services company headquartered in Kent, Washington.

The company has been exploring and building technologies to enable humans to get access to space travel by lowering costs and increasing reliability factors.

The company is approaching its futuristic dreams by adopting an incremental approach, taking it ahead step by step – hence, the company’s motto, “Gradatim Ferociter” – Latin for step-by-step.

Keeping the company’s step-by-step approach in mind, the company’s initial focus has been on sub-orbital spaceflight tests.