The Apollo Space Missions saw mankind land on the moon. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon and Apollo’s twin sister. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that NASA’s latest lunar mission is Project Artemis. Picking up from where the Apollo Space Mission left off fifty years ago, NASA is looking to build a human lunar landing system that will send the next man (and the first woman!) to the moon by the year 2024. However, going back to the moon is not the end-goal of this mission. From the moon, the ambitious goal is to launch a human exploration mission to Mars by the 2030s. And to get the job done, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is working with aviation companies Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
Flying to the Moon and Beyond
In the past, funding and technology were part of the reasons why moon missions had to be withdrawn. After the last Apollo Mission in 1972, there was a realignment of space exploration efforts to cover other projects. Fifty years hence, there is a renewed interest in going back to the moon. However, the project is looking at flying back to the moon in a wholly different manner. This time, sustainability and reusability are the focus of the architecture.
The project has various segments that support these two essential qualities. Why? Because a launch point on the moon is crucial in the success of future Mars exploration missions. If we are to explore the red planet down the road, we must learn to extract and harness resources along the way.
The Moon’s Necessary Resources for Mars and Deep Space Mission
- From the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Space Launch System (SLS) has the capacity and power to go beyond lower earth orbit and carry large payloads to the moon. For sustainability, the design of the Space Launch System is flexible and highly reusable.
- The SLS rocket will also launch the Orion Space Craft into the deep space. The role of Orion is crucial. Orion will carry the astronauts to the lunar orbit. The spacecraft will also serve as the module that will serve as the mission’s life support system and orbital outpost.
- The Orion will not land on the surface of the moon but dock on the Gateway. The Gateway is the lunar outpost that will be deployed in the lunar orbit. From the Gateway, the crew will disembark and land on the south pole of the moon using the Blue Moon Lunar Lander.
- The Blue Moon Lunar Lander has a state-of-the-art facility that will enable the mission to have a soft and precise landing and refuel using the water ice on the surface of the moon.
- There is also the refurbishing of the spacesuit. The Artemis Modern Spacesuit has an advanced exploration extravehicular mobility unit or xEMU. With new functionalities, the design of the Artemis spacesuit is for flexibility, safety, better mobility, and communications.
A Closer look at the Blue Moon Lunar Lander
Blue Origin has been working on the Blue Moon Lunar Lander for the last three years. So, when NASA turned to the industry for help, Blue Origin was ready to step up to the challenge. Precise, large, and equipped with the latest technology, the Blue Moon Lunar Lander is aspirational. Unveiling the project before a select audience mid-2019, Jeff Bezos shared some of the critical features of the Blue Moon Lunar Lander.
The Blue Moon Lunar Lander can land 3.6 metric tons on the lunar surface and built with a flexible deck. The design and structure of the deck can accommodate various forms of payload. It also has davits to deploy four payloads simultaneously upon landing.
When it comes to navigation, data gathering, and sending signals back to the home base, the Blue Moon Lunar Lander is also not lacking. It has a star tracker, optical communication system, X-Band 410 Megabit Radio, flash LIDAR, and comprehensive map of the lunar surface.
Its high-performance, high-thrust, and high-throttle BE-7 engine uses liquid hydrogen and burns for seven long minutes for the descent. For refueling, the lander can extract hydrogen from lunar water ice. They are thus making repeated trips to the moon and vice versa, attainable. And since it uses hydrogen fuel cells, the Blue Moon Lunar Lander is not dependent on solar energy. Thus, it can survive the dark and long lunar nights.
Tapping on Entrepreneurial Dynamism for Space Exploration
Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos expresses his fervent interest in the project. He further shares that, “Blue Origin will be the prime contractor. Lockheed Martin is building the ascent stage. Northrop Grumman is building the transfer element, and Draper is doing the GNC… Blue Origin, in addition to being the prime, is building the descent element.” The truth is, with a mission as grand as Artemis, entrepreneurial dynamism is necessary. The project can use all the help it can get both from the government and the private sector.
Indeed, the project aims to achieve remarkable feats for humanity. From the ground systems, to launch, docking into the lunar outpost to the deployment of the Blue Moon Lunar Lander, the technology and scope involved, the goal to better understand our planet and our universe is starting to unfold.