Blue Origin unveils a mock-up of the Blue Moon lunar lander prototype

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin has unveiled a full-scale mockup of an unmanned version of the Blue Moon lunar lander that will test technologies intended for a crewed version it is developing for NASA’s Artemis effort.

in Social media posts On October 27, the company showed off images of a mock-up of the Blue Moon Mark 1, located at an engine manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama. The lander is designed to deliver three tons of cargo to the lunar surface.

The Blue Moon Mark 1’s maiden flight will be what the company calls a “Pathfinder Mission”, designated MK1-SN001. “The MK1-SN001 is proven in critical systems, including the BE-7 engine, propulsion and cryogenic fluid power systems, avionics, downlink continuous communications, and precision landing,” the company stated on its website.

Future Mark 1 landers, starting with MK-SN002, will be available to carry customer payloads, Blue Origin said. Blue Origin is one of 14 companies that are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program for unmanned lunar landings. However, the company did not say when the Pathfinder mission or future Blue Moon Mark 1 landers could be launched.

“There are two Mark 1 landers that will be flying on early flights to New Glen,” Ben Sischi, senior director of lunar permanence engineering at Blue Origin, said in a panel discussion at the AIAA’s ASCEND conference on Oct. 23. Specific about launch dates.

The Mark 1 lander was part of an ongoing series that includes a Mark 2 lander intended for crewed landings, John Coulouris, senior vice president of lunar transportation at Blue Origin, said in a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium on Oct. 25. . . NASA selected this lander as part of the Human Landing System (HLS) program in May, joining SpaceX’s Starship vehicle.

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He noted that NASA’s requirements for HLS include landing within 100 meters of a specific location. Blue Origin is developing a terrain-relative navigation system using lidar technology, which was tested on New Shepard’s suborbital flights and later on the Mark 1 landing, for landing accuracy “down to one meter,” he said.

Blue Origin’s announcement coincided with Posted on social media By NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who showed him a blue moon model vision with a group that included Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Blue Moon “will help ensure a steady rhythm for astronauts on the Moon to live and work before we venture to Mars,” Nelson said.

Neither NASA nor Blue Origin revealed when Nelson and Bezos would visit the facility, but Nelson was in Huntsville on October 25 to speak at the von Braun symposium.

Spacecraft progress

The crewed version of Blue Moon is scheduled to be used on the Artemis 5 mission, likely not before late this decade. The Artemis 3 and 4 landings will use the SpaceX spacecraft.

At the von Braun symposium, Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs, said the “main focus” of spacecraft lander development is on the guidance, navigation and control technologies needed for lunar landers, as well as thermal control and power generation systems. .

He said: “The good news is that we have worked on a number of key milestones in the program and a number of technologies that we are working to develop and improve.” This drew on a “tremendous wealth of experience” from other SpaceX programmes, such as the Dragon missions to the International Space Station. “Those are going to be some tough areas, but they’re definitely things we can accomplish as a team to make it happen.”

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However, one of the biggest challenges was getting the combined Starship/Super Heavy vehicle to fly. Delays in these efforts have raised public concerns among NASA officials about the overall development of the Starship lunar lander and, by extension, the Artemis 3 mission currently scheduled for launch in late 2025.

Jim Frey, NASA’s associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, suggested in August that NASA might consider unspecified alternative missions for Artemis 3 if there are “major missteps” with the spacecraft. At the time, he said NASA had just received an updated spacecraft development schedule from SpaceX, but the agency needed “some time to digest it.”

Speaking to a panel at the von Braun Symposium on October 25, Frye did not reveal details about that timeline and how it might affect Artemis 3. “What I’m really pleased about is that they’ve shown us this comprehensive thing,” he said. “Focus,” he said, including the various landmarks leading up to the crew landing.

“We need OFT 2 to launch, so I hope everyone in this room is cheering for OFT 2,” he said, referring to the second orbital flight test of the Starship/Super Heavy vehicle. “We need to be successful to take us much further down the road.”

Free said the focus on Artemis 3 should not be on Starship alone, pointing to the work needed on Orion, which will fly with a docking ring for the first time on that mission, and the Space Launch System and spacesuits being developed by Axiom Space.

“The timeline they gave us shows us their thoughts on the progress to get to those dates,” he said of SpaceX’s Starship schedule. “We have to figure out how that fits into the rest of the project to get to the mission date.”

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