Main Engine Cut Off

Blue Origin Lobbying for Lunar COTS Program

Christian Davenport for The Washington Post:

The latest to offer a proposal is Jeffrey P. Bezos, whose space company Blue Origin has been circulating a seven-page white paper to NASA leadership and President Trump's transition team about the company's interest in developing a lunar spacecraft with a lander that would touch down near a crater at the south pole where there is water and nearly continuous sunlight for solar energy. The memo urges the space agency to back an Amazon-like shipment service for the moon that would deliver gear for experiments, cargo and habitats by mid-2020, helping to enable “future human settlement” of the moon.

It’s somewhat of a lackluster response to all the excitement this past week to say “Oh yeah? Well we’re lobbying for the obvious next step of Commercial Cargo!”

To me this reads a lot like Blue Origin isn’t quite ready to talk about any additional plans, but wanted to make their voice heard alongside SpaceX. As I said on this week’s podcast, none of the old insiders (Boeing, Lockheed, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital ATK, …) are going to invite SpaceX and Blue Origin into their club. They have to insert themselves into these conversations, and will inevitably ruffle some feathers doing it.

The inclusion of Bigelow in this piece isn’t as remarkable as the inclusion of ULA. There are ways in which it is clear that ULA is trying to grow out of its Boeing-Lockheed Martin heritage and spread its wings on its own—Vulcan and their CisLunar-1000 push are the clearest examples.

Another thing to keep your eye on: Blue Origin and ULA are getting quite cozy. ULA’s Vulcan could be an entirely Blue Origin-powered rocket (BE-4 on the first stage, BE-3U on ACES?), and this piece seems to indicate that their lunar ambitions are in sync.

Blue Origin could perform the first lunar mission as early as July 2020, Bezos wrote, but stressed that it could “only be done in partnership with NASA. Our liquid hydrogen expertise and experience with precision vertical landing offer the fastest path to a lunar lander mission. I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen.”

I don’t buy this “can only be done in partnership with NASA” when it comes to funding. Politically, maybe—it would help avoid a lot of potential political issues to be partnered with NASA. But Blue Origin is not hurting for funding, from what little we can tell.

The article does give some limited-yet-interesting insight into what a New Shepard-derived lander could look like, too.