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Everyone has set sights on the moon. Last week SpaceX announced plans to launch two paying customers in a Dragon spacecraft around the moon by 2020; NASA is planning to test its Orion spacecraft with a crewed lunar flight; ESA Director General Jan Woerner has laid out a vision of a "lunar village"; and China, India and Japan are all eyeing the moon for orbiters and rovers in the coming years. Now Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin wants in on the moon party, too.
The founder of Amazon envisions setting up an Amazon-like shipment service with a cargo spacecraft capable of depositing up to 10,000 pounds of supplies for a "future human settlement," according to The Washington Post (which Bezos owns). Blue Origin is working to develop the Blue Moon spacecraft in time for a maiden flight in 2020, according to Aviation Week.
Bezos first discussed the Blue Moon concept at Aviation Week's annual Laureates banquet, where Blue Origin received Aviation Week's 2016 Space Laureate award for the spaceflight company's repeated launches and landings of the New Shepard suborbital rocket. The Blue Moon cargo lander will use technologies developed on the New Shepard rocket to achieve a soft landing on the moon with retrorockets. The 11,000-pound-thrust liquid oxygen/methane engines for the Blue Moon lander are already in development at Blue Origin's facilities in Kent, Washington.
"We are hoping to partner with NASA on a program called Blue Moon, where we would provide the cargo-delivery service to the surface of the Moon, with the intent over time of building a permanently inhabited human settlement on the Moon," Bezos said during the banquet. "It's time for America to go back to the moon, this time to stay."
The Blue Moon spacecraft will be designed to launch on multiple rockets, including NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), United Launch Alliance's Atlas V, and even SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. Blue Origin hopes to achieve first flight of the Blue Moon spacecraft on an outside party's rocket while it continues to develop the New Glenn heavy lift rocket.
The sudden lunar mission announcements from SpaceX and Blue Origin are most likely both overly optimistic. It would be incredibly impressive if either of these companies launch a spacecraft to the moon by the early 2020s, either to circle with passengers or to land with cargo, and in either case it will require help from NASA.
That said, both the billionaire tech magnates with private rocket companies are now duking it out, which will only spur competition between Blue Origin and SpaceX. With Bezos and Musk racing to the moon, one of them might actually get there in the next five years.
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