SpaceX and Blue Origin are getting locked into a new battle, as part of a second space race focused on corporations over countries.
Blue Origin, the firm founded in 2000 by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, receives a somewhat smaller share of coverage than its competitors, but its plans for the future are interesting. In May 2019 the company demonstrated a dramatic vision for life in space: giant artificial ecosystems, orbiting the Earth, providing easy transport to the planet and other cities. In the more short term, the company aims to develop the infrastructure that could support these future projects with the New Glenn heavy orbital launch rocket and Blue Moon lunar lander, the latter of which is expected to launch in 2024.
Inverse predicts that Blue Origin will meet its target and launch Blue Moon in the 2020s.
This is #7 on Inverse’s 20 predictions for the 2020s.
Blue Origin: the new space race gets underway
Blue Origin has just one flying machine right now, but it's making big progress. The New Shepard rocket completed its 12th test flight in December, and set a new record by completing six flights with a single booster. It's designed to take six passengers to the Karman line at the edge of space before coming back to Earth.
What comes next could be even more impressive. The Blue Moon lander, under development for the past three years, was unveiled at an event in May 2019. It can send 3.6 metric tons to the lunar surface in its cargo form, while another designed to stretch can carry 6.5 metric tons.
The lander is powered by the BE-7, an engine that can offer 10,000 pounds of thrust through burning liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Blue Origin completed a hotfire of the engine at the Marshall Space Flight Center in June 2019.
In October 2019, the project got a big boost when it announced plans to collaborate with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper to help meet NASA's goal of sending a human to the moon by 2024. The ambitious mission, part of the Artemis program, is expected to put the first woman on the moon. The partnership means that where Blue Moon will land on the moon, Lockheed Martin will build the ascent portion.
As for why Bezos is pouring his money into this? Because he envisions a future for space where one trillion humans live in the solar system, supported by an expanding array of floating craft.
“Do we want stasis and rationing, or do we want dynamism and growth?” Bezos said in May 2019. There's not guarantee of social dynamism or growth from Blue Origin's journeys. But at least on a technical level, the company seems to be making all the right moves.
As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is looking to the future. These are our 20 predictions for science and technology for the 2020s. Some are terrifying, some are fascinating, and others we can barely wait for. This has been #7. Read a related story here.