Blue Origin successfully tests the engine of the Blue Moon lunar lander
– News of July 23, 2019 –
Blue Origin is one of the companies that could manufacture the lunar lander of the Artemis program. For more than three years now, the company has been developing the Blue Moon lunar lander. Designed initially to transport cargo to the moon, it is massive enough to consider an inhabited version. On July 18, 2019, we learned that Blue Origin has successfully tested its BE-7 engine during 6 minutes. Blue Moon is therefore at an advanced stage of development, perhaps enough to interest NASA to select it as part of the Artemis program.
Blue Moon will communicate by laser if the weather is good on Earth
– News of May 28, 2019 –
In his presentation of May 9, 2019, Jeff Bezos spoke of two communication systems for his lunar lander. An antenna will make it possible to communicate by radio on the X band which is a band of very high frequencies generally used by the Army. On Blue Moon, it will allow communication rates up to 10 megabits per second. The other communication system is a little more amazing. The boss of Blue Origin talked about a laser communication system that allows communications up to 1 gigabit per second.
Space laser communications are still a very experimental area. In 2001, the European satellites Artemis and Spot 4 established the first laser communication line in orbit. Since then, records of distance and speed are regularly beaten. The Messenger space probe has thus succeeded in laser communication over a distance of 24 million kilometers.
The two devices wanting to communicate must each have a laser transmitter and a reception sensor. The emitter lasers can be modulated to encode a digital signal, for example a sequence of 1 and 0. The sensors which receive the signal are responsible for retransforming these laser pulses into a digital signal. If we manage to repeat the modulations several million times per second, this communication system is very efficient.
This solution has several advantages. A laser does not scatter, so it can be used to communicate over very long distances. The best systems promise much higher rates of communication than radio. On Blue Moon, it will be 100 times more powerful according to Jeff Bezos. Moreover, it is impossible to listen to a laser communication. Any interception attempt is immediately detected. This is why some start-ups are working on setting up an orbital computing cloud accessible only by laser. In theory it is an inviolable solution to store the most sensitive secrets.
To use the lasers on the Moon to send messages to Earth, however, it is necessary to have a clear line between the lander or the spacecraft and the tracking station on Earth, without a cloud that would stop the laser. That’s why Blue Moon also embark a classic radio.
Blue Origin introduces Blue Moon, a giant lunar lander
– News of May 14, 2019 –
For almost 20 years, Blue Origin has been trying to bring to life the space dreams of the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. This translates into multiple ambitions. The company is developing the New Shepard rocket that will take tourists on suborbital flights. New Glenn and New Armstrong will be reusable orbital launchers with strong capabilities. Last thursday, Jeff Bezos introduced Blue Moon, a lunar lander project that could help NASA bring men back to the moon.
Blue Moon will have impressive abilities
We had already heard about Blue Moon, but now we have some figures. Blue Moon will be a very impressive vehicle that should be able to bring 3.6 tons of payload to the surface of the Moon. A later version with larger tanks could carry up to 6.5 tons of cargo. The lunar lander will have a mass of 3 tons without propellants, and a mass of 15 tons with propellants. The vehicle will be able to stand up and communicate with Earth by radio and laser. It will embark scientific instruments and up to 4 rovers in the configuration presented last thursday.
Blue Origin’s choices for power supply and propulsion of Blue Moon
Blue Origin has made an interesting choice for propellants. We know that the company is developing methane engines for its New Glenn launcher, but Blue Moon will be powered by hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is an ergol with a very high specific impulse, which is important when you want to put large payloads on the Moon. Hydrogen and oxygen are also two elements present in fuel cells. Blue Moon will therefore not have solar panels and will provide electricity thanks to the fuel cell in the lander, which should be able to provide up to 2.5 kilowatts of power.
This solution has the advantage of allowing a continuous supply, even in the middle of very long lunar nights. It would take large solar panels to get the same power. But the fuel cell is a limited energy reserve. When the reserves of hydrogen and oxygen are exhausted, there will be no more electricity. The payloads carried by Blue Moon may have to have solar panels. Finally, hydrogen and oxygen can be mined in the water ice located in the Moon’s poles. With the appropriate infrastructure, it is possible to consider recharging the fuel cell on site.
The propulsion of the Blue Moon uses a unique BE-7 engine developed specifically for the lunar lander. Blue Moon should be able to drop smallsats into lunar orbit before landing. Blue Origin will therefore offer NASA and private customers a full cargo platform. The version with larger tanks could eventually be adapted for manned flight. A pressurized module of ascent could thus take place on the upper platform to make a trip between the surface of the Moon and the lunar orbit.
Before seeing Blue Moon flying, it will be necessary to wait for the launch of the New Glenn
We do not know yet when the first flight of the Blue Moon lander will take place. We will at least wait until the New Glenn rocket that will serve as a launcher is ready, so not before 2021. It will then be quick if the company wants to participate in the return of humans on the Moon. Indeed, the Trump administration wants to achieve this goal by 2024. With its well-established architecture, Blue Moon is one of the most serious candidates to fulfill this mission.
Image by Blue Origin