Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos heralded progress on the development of the rocket engine that’s destined for use on the lunar lander that his Blue Origin space venture is building – but he also offered a glimpse into 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 posting about the hydrogen-fueled BE-7 engine.
On one level, the Instagram post – plus parallel updates from Blue Origin via Twitter and the Web – are focused on a new round of testing for the BE-7 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
This week, the test program kicked off a new series of tests.
“So far in this recent campaign, the thrust chamber was tested for a duration of 20 seconds,” Blue Origin said. “This brings the cumulative testing time on the BE-7 thrust chamber to 1.245 seconds. ”
As Bezos notes, the BE-7 is designed to throttle its power between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds of thrust, which is a key capability for executing a precision landing on the moon. A single BE-7 will power the descent stage for the Blue Moon lander, which is part of the stack for the human landing system being proposed for NASA’s use in its Artemis moon program.
Blue Origin is leading a “National Team” of space companies that also includes Lockheed Martin (responsible for the ascent stage), Northrop Grumman (responsible for the transfer element that would maneuver the lander in lunar orbit) and Draper (responsible for avionics).
Which brings us to the deeper level in Bezos’ commentary: The National Team is one of three contenders to provide the Artemis program’s human landing system. SpaceX and an industry team led by Alabama-based Dynetics are also in the hunt.
NASA hasn’t yet selected which team (or teams) will go on to the next phase of development. And even if multiple teams are chosen, it may not be instantly clear which team would end up building the lander that’s used for the Artemis program’s first crewed mission to the moon, scheduled for as early as 2024.
By saying the BE-7 is “the engine that will take the first woman to the moon,” Bezos is putting his mouth where his money is. (NASA phrases it as “the first woman and the next man,” in recognition of the fact that the crew’s likely to be diverse.)
Will Bezos be correct in his prediction that the National Team will win NASA’s competition, and that the Blue Moon lander will set the next team of moonwalkers down on the lunar surface? We’re likely to know more by February, when the space agency chooses who goes on to the next round.