October 30th, 2023
Blue Origin unveiled its Blue Moon Mark 1 lunar lander, a cargo delivery system the company plans to use to test and refine features for its much larger human lander.
A mockup of the three-story-tall MK1 lander was unveiled following a visit to Blue Origin’s engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. It is a precursor to the Human Landing System the company is building for NASA’s Artemis Moon program as early as 2029 during the Artemis 5 mission — a contract worth $3.4 billion.
“Impressive visit to the @blueorigin Huntsville Engine Production Facility!” Nelson said via an Oct. 27 post on social media. “@NASA is proud to partner with Blue Origin, especially on the Blue Moon human landing system, which will help ensure a steady cadence of astronauts on the Moon to live and work before we venture to Mars.”
Noteworthy features of the MK1 include its capacity to transport up to three metric tons of cargo to any area of the lunar surface, the company said, making it a versatile asset for forthcoming missions. Its propulsion system uses a BE-7 engine that is designed to consume liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, providing the unique advantage of potential refilling using lunar resources, contributing to the sustainability of extended lunar missions.
The inaugural pathfinder mission, MK1-SN001, is planned to serve as a demonstrator, evaluating critical systems within the lunar lander. This includes the BE-7 engine, cryogenic fluid power and propulsion systems, avionics, continuous downlink communications and precision landing capabilities within a 100-meter site accuracy. These tests are crucial to the success of the Blue Origin’s Human Landing System for Artemis, which is aiming to land people on the south polar region of the Moon’s surface later this decade.
Blue Origin hasn’t announced a date to fly the SN001 mission. The MK1 lander is expected to be sent into space using the company’s New Glenn rocket and its seven-meter fairing, which is currently undergoing development. Its inaugural launch not expected until at least sometime in 2024.
Following the first landing, the company said it plans to offer SN002 and beyond for payloads from paying customers.
This development coincides with SpaceX’s strides in lunar exploration through its own HLS contract. According to NASA, a Moon lander variant of SpaceX’s Starship rocket is to be used for the Artemis 3 and Artemis 4 missions, with at least one uncrewed demonstration landing before flying people to the surface. Under the current schedule, Artemis 3 is not expected to occur until at least 2025 or 2026 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, Artemis 2 is a crewed free-return flight around the Moon and only requires the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. That 10-day mission with NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Kock and Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen is planned for late 2024 or early 2025.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.