Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced progress on the production of the rocket engine intended for use on the lunar lander that his Blue Origin space venture is building—but he also gave a glimpse of his crystal ball for future moon missions.
“This is the engine that will take the first woman to the surface of the moon,” he wrote in an Instagram article about the hydrogen-fueled BE-7 vehicle.
At one step, the Instagram post—plus parallel updates from Blue Origin via Twitter and the Web—focuses on a new test round for the BE-7 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
The test program began a new series of tests this week.
“Until now in this recent campaign, the thrust chamber has been tested for 20 seconds,” said Blue Origin. “This brings the cumulative test time for the BE-7 thrust chamber to 1,245 seconds.”
As Bezos points out the BE-7 is designed to throttle its strength between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds of thrust, a crucial ability to perform a precision landing on the moon. A single BE-7 will power the Blue Moon Lander descent stage, which is part of the human landing system proposed for use by NASA in its Artemis Moon program.
Blue Origin is the leader of the National Team” of space companies, which also includes Lockheed Martin (responsible for the ascent stage), Northrop Grumman (responsible for the transfer portion that would run the lander in the lunar orbit), and Draper (responsible for avionics).
Which takes us to a deeper level in Bezos’s commentary: the National Team is one of three candidates to produce the human landing system of the Artemis program. SpaceX and an industry team headed by Alabama-based Dynetics are also hunting.
NASA has not yet selected which team (or teams) will be involved in the next phase of development. And even though several teams are selected, it might not be immediately apparent which team will end up constructing the lander that was used for the first crewed moon mission of the Artemis program, scheduled for as early as 2024.
By saying that the BE-7 is the engine that will take the first woman to the moon,” Bezos puts his mouth where his money is. (NASA calls it the first woman and the next man” in appreciation of the fact that the crew is likely to be diverse.)
Will Bezos be right in his assumption that the National Team will win the NASA competition and that the Blue Moon Lander will bring the next team of Moonwalkers down to the lunar surface? We’re likely to know more by February when the Space Agency determines who’s going to the next round.