back to article Bezos to the Moon: Blue Origin joins SpaceX and Dynetics in a three-horse lunar lander race

With a scant few years remaining until the agency's 2024 boots-on-the-Moon goal, NASA has named the three US companies that will be dealing with the tricky human landing bit of the mission. The combined contract award of a cool near-billion dollars over the 10-month base period will be split between Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, …

  1. ValleyBoy

    Blue Origin will deal with the descent stage

    No doubt landing in a crater, with a note through the door to tell you where your lander has been left...

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Blue Origin will deal with the descent stage

      In my part of the solar system, we usually get a text a few days after the package has been returned to sender due to inability to contact recipient.

      I assume that means the minions at the delivery office or the drivers are unable to operate telephones.

  2. johnnyblaze

    Bezos and BO have little credibility with even getting stuff into orbit yet, let alone out of orbit and beyond. Strange decision all round, but I'm betting SpaceX will do more with their small cut than any of the others will. BO is all talk and little action, but they still stand more chance of getting off the ground than the SLS!

    1. Persona Silver badge

      BO is all talk and little action

      Blue have plenty of credibility. Launch Complex 36, the engine factory in Alabama and the New Glenn production factory have seen massive progress. The action is happening and all heading towards launches.

      1. Irongut

        How many successful launches have they made? (I know the answer.)

        Nothing else counts for credibility when you're a launch company.

        1. Persona Silver badge

          How many successful launches have they made? (I know the answer.)

          Really? The answer is 12 successful launches and zero launch failures. So yes they are credible.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            No, hops aren't space launches

            They've proven they can make an engine that works. That's a lot of hard work and should be applauded.

            They have not launched anything at all into orbit.

            Orbit is much harder than a suborbital hop.

            Watch Hidden Figures, there's some pretty good explanations as to the difference.

            Also it's a good film.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: No, hops aren't space launches

              How many successful launches has SLS had? Has Superheavy/Starship had?

              They have a reasonable plan going forward, and have demonstrated plenty of capability already. So they haven't flown an orbital class rocket yet, they have tested various parts of it quite extensively - to the point that the engines will be used by other launch companies with a long history of orbital flights.

              Hops are space launches, they just aren't orbital.

              Yes, orbital requires significantly more energy.

              No plans aren't success, but they point that way.

            2. Persona Silver badge

              Re: No, hops aren't space launches

              No, hops aren't space launches

              It depends on the height. With a 100 meter hop they definitely aren't but at 100km they definitely are. You only have to go 50 miles (80 km) up to get US astronaut wings.

              BTW - While orbit is about "staying" in space rather than making a brief visit a rarely mentioned corollary is that there is nothing to stop an orbital class rocket steering straight up and reaching a height much higher that most satellites. As long as you don't exceed escape velocity and set your trajectory appropriately so the Earth is underneath you when you come back down, you can stay in space a very long time without ever being in orbit around the Earth.

      2. TVU

        "Blue have plenty of credibility"

        Bezos certainly has plenty of credibility...but only in respect of paying staff poorly and treating staff poorly.

        Regarding Blue Origin, they've already had their fair share of disasters and all they've basically done is suborbital flights, i.e. just repeating the Mercury project test missions. By any objective standard, that's not that much progress at all.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      BO lander

      I was under the impression that the Blue Origin lander was a cargo delivery system for those who are aleady there. Or is the plan to stick everyone into a cardboard box covered with tape and throw it over a fence?

      1. Snowy

        Re: BO lander

        Do not forget the mile of paper they stuff into the box too.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: BO lander

          I wonder how many trees are used to make Amazon boxes wnd packing paper each year?

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Really only two runners

    > Two of those will also be making use of United Launch Alliance's (ULA) upcoming Vulcan launch system

    Both Blue Origin and Dynetics are critically dependent on the Vulcans. So really the race is between SpaceX and an outfit that have yet to lift anything off the ground.

    The maiden flight is planned to take place in July 2021 [ wiki ]

  4. Clive Galway

    LOL, just look at the difference in size between the SpaceX proposal and the other two

    Add to that fact that the SpaceX one looks like it would be the only one to return all of the craft back to earth (And potentially reuse it)

    About the only downside I see to the SpaceX proposal is that if that lift breaks down, you are royally buggered

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Res: SpaceX lift

      Some kind of backup ladder seems appropriate. Maybe rungs that emerge from the hull like a Tesla door handle.

      1. Persona Silver badge

        Re: Res: SpaceX lift

        It has two lifts both serving the same antechamber.

    2. GrahamRJ

      Not so much. It's easy enough to fall back to a rope ladder, or even just a rope - remember that there's only 1/6G on the Moon, so it's only the equivalent of lifting a 15kg load. Somewhat tiring if you have to do all day, to be sure, but nothing too impossible.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Coming down a rope should be OK, but going up again may be another story.

        Climbing a rope in a space suit is almost certainly very hard work because it would mean just using your hands, which are in pressurised gloves that are trying to keep your fingers straight rather than helping to keep them gripped round a rope. IOW, a ladder should be OK, but I wouldn't want to be the poor SOB trying to climb a rope all the way back up that monster, let alone doing it with a sackful of moon rocks over his shoulder. Having your feet in hard moon boots won't help either.

        However, I suspect its highly unlikely that a Space-X lander sitting on the moon will look anything like that picture: something like that would have fallen over about 10 seconds after 'engine off'. Any lander will need a much larger and more widely spread set of landing legs than the Falcon 9 uses because its going to land on an unimproved mixture of rocks and dust, not a nice hard, level landing pad or the equally solid deck of a robot landing ship.

        1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

          "I wouldn't want to be the poor SOB trying to climb a rope all the way back up that monster, let alone doing it with a sackful of moon rocks over his shoulder"

          I'd tie the sack of rocks to the bottom of the rope then pull it up after me.

        2. Richard 12 Silver badge

          The C of G is lower than it looks

          The tanks will be half empty at that point, and engines are heavy.

          But yeah, I don't think those are the final landing gear either. Something more akin to the Falcon 9 legs seems likely.

          The Dynetics video is quite nuts too, the orbital manoeuvre makes no sense at all - you don't burn radially unless you've no other choice.

        3. Persona Silver badge

          something like that would have fallen over about 10 seconds after 'engine off'

          Unlike the deck of a drone ship at sea the moons surface is not pitching up and down.

          If you have servo driven legs you can drive them up or down to adjust for uneven and soft ground while the thrust from the landing thrusters is still decreasing.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "it's only the equivalent of lifting a 15kg load."

        Person in a space suit with full EMU is only 90KG? That must some new design of spacesuit I've not seen yet.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      This Starship is staying near the moon

      Congress has a gun pointed at NASA's budget so Astronauts will be launching in an Orion on an SLS and returning to Earth in that Orion. SLS is not powerful enough to get to low Luna orbit so NASA needs a ride from near-rectilinear halo orbit to the Moon and back.

      A fully refuelled starship in low Earth orbit cannot land on the moon and get back to the surface of the Earth. If Starship refuels in a highly elliptical orbit it can almost go to the Moon and back - but the fuel tanker has to be refuelled before it can reach that orbit. Add the stops at NRHO to dock with Orion to pick up and return the crew then a normal Starship cannot meet NASA's requirements.

      The plan is to use a modified Starship with no flaps or heat shield. This Moonship cannot return to Earth but it can go to NRHO, land on the Moon and return to NRHO. A normal tanker Starship could get refuelled in a highly elliptical orbit, go to NRHO, refuel the Moonship and return to Earth.

      The Moonship mission sidesteps the big certification problems that will otherwise delay a normal passenger Starship: Launching a crew with no launch abort system, re-entry with a new thermal protection system, getting velocity down to subsonic while falling like a skydiver, a belly flip to get the engines pointing down and a retro-propulsive landing. It will be a long time before NASA is happy to put a crew on a mission with all those exciting activities but in the mean time Starship tankers can RUD without killing anyone until SpaceX get it all working reliably.

    4. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Just an idle thought, the size of the starship door looks to be big enough to get a moon buggy through.

      I know its high up but its a lot easier get a buggy down from there to the surface than a getting a Falcon from 60 mile up onto a barge.

      1. Giles C Silver badge

        They would probably just load one of their cars into it.

        They are already electric powered, just need some airless tyres....

        1. Chris 239

          Why airless?

          Just put 15 psi less than usual and Bob is a relative. Make 'em run flats incase of punctures.

          Possibly tongue in cheek but why not?

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "About the only downside I see to the SpaceX proposal is that if that lift breaks down, you are royally buggered"

      After Musks latest tweets causing a $14B drop in Tesla shares and his "promise" to sell all personal property, I wonder what state of mind he is in right now and whether SpaceX would or could continue without him.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        I don't see anything shocking about Musk's tweets... he's said for at least 3-4 years that Tesla is overpriced.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Me thinks his state of mind is blown up. I’ll reefer to some moon stoners when we’ll have to drive a Gauss over the top.

    6. John Robson Silver badge

      Don’t think this starship is designed to return through an atmosphere - no fins or heat shielding mentioned.

      Of course it will evolve...

  5. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Most of the cash is going into repeating the Apollo missions, go there, wave a flag, come home. The 60s was an incredible decade for technology & space flight but this seems a bit limp after the 30 years of shuttle & 20+ of ISS.

    Apart from SpaceX, a proposal that looks a lot like they could just aim a bit to the side and head to Mars thanks to the orbital tankers.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      It's much harder to do rocket science without Nazis

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Perhaps they could get some up to date pointers when they arrive. 8^/

        must watch Iron Sky again soon, I need a laugh.

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