Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has won $34.7 million in funding from NASA to support the development of a system for producing solar cells on the moon from materials that are available on site.
The Blue Alchemist project is one of 11 proposals winning support from the space agency’s Tipping Point program, which partners with commercial ventures to back technologies that could contribute to long-term space exploration.
“Harnessing the vast resources in space to benefit Earth is part of our mission, and we’re inspired and humbled to receive this investment from NASA to advance our innovation,” Pat Remias, vice president for Blue Origin’s Capabilities Directorate, Space Systems Development, said today in a news release. “First we return humans to the moon, then we start to ‘live off the land.’”
Blue Alchemist would use lunar regolith — the dust and crushed rock that covers the moon’s surface — as the raw material for solar cells and electrical transmission wire. Oxygen, iron, silicon and aluminum would be extracted through a process known as molten regolith electrolysis, and fed into the manufacturing process. The oxygen could be used for life support or for rocket propulsion.
Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin has been working on the technology over the past couple of years, with Earth-produced simulants taking the place of lunar regolith.
Blue Origin is also on the team for another Tipping Point project, led by Washington, D.C.-based Zeno Power Systems. Zeno was awarded $15 million for Project Harmonia, which aims to create a new type of radioisotope power supply for the Artemis moon program that uses americium-241 as fuel.