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Cosmic Space

China launches mission to bring back moon samples

China launched a robotic probe today on a mission that could bring back the first samples of moon rocks and dirt in more than 40 years.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft was sent into space from south China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center at 4:30 a.m. local time Nov. 24 (12:30 p.m. PT Nov. 23) atop a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket.

Like China’s previous lunar probes, Chang’e-5 is named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology. This probe consists of an orbiter, a lander, an ascent vehicle and a re-entry capsule.

The 9-ton craft went into an Earth-moon transfer trajectory that should get it to lunar orbit in five days. On Nov. 29 or so, the paired lander and ascent vehicle are expected to separate from the orbiter and touch down on a lava dome known as Mons Rümker.

The mound is thought to contain rocks that formed relatively recently in geological terms — 1.2 billion years ago. Samples from such a region could yield the youngest rocks ever brought back from the moon, and shed new light on recent phases of lunar geology.

Chang’e-5’s lander is designed to study its surroundings with cameras and scientific instruments, including a ground-penetrating radar and a spectrometer. The most important scientific payloads are a mechanical scoop and a drill that can go 7 feet beneath the surface.

Because the lander is solar-powered, all of the lunar surface operations will have to be completed in the course of two weeks, before the two-week-long lunar night begins at Mons Rümker.

Up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of samples can be stowed on the ascent vehicle, which is due to blast off from the lunar surface in early December, make a rendezvous with the orbiter and transfer the material to the re-entry capsule.

If all goes according to plan, the orbiter will carry the capsule back from the moon and drop it off as it flies past Earth in mid-December. The capsule is designed to weather atmospheric re-entry and make a parachute-aided touchdown in the deserts of Inner Mongolia.

The last time a probe brought back fresh samples from the moon was back in 1976, thanks to the Soviet Luna 24 mission. NASA’s Apollo moon missions returned more than 800 pounds of lunar rock and soil for study on Earth between 1969 and 1972.

Peng Jing, the deputy chief designer of the Chinese moon probe, said Chang’e-5 could be considered a “milestone mission.”

“Its success will help us acquire the basic capabilities for future deep space exploration such as sampling and takeoff from Mars, asteroids and other celestial bodies,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Peng as saying.

NASA’s first opportunity to bring back lunar samples could come in 2024, if the Artemis program’s schedule for sending astronauts to the moon and back holds firm. In September, NASA laid out a plan by which commercial space companies could store up samples on the moon and then transfer ownership of that material to the space agency.

NASA took note of the Chang’e-5 launch today in a tweet, and urged China to share mission data with the global scientific community:

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GeekWire

Relativity gets a $500M boost for printing out rockets

Relativity Space says it’s brought in another $500 million in investment to speed up its effort to build entire orbital-class rockets using 3D printing.

The startup — which was founded in Seattle less than five years ago and is now headquartered in Long Beach, Calif. — has attracted more than $685 million from investors so far, and is said to have a total valuation in excess of $2 billion.

That rise to unicorn status has sparked comparisons to another California-based space venture, SpaceX, even though Relativity has yet to launch a rocket.

In a news release, Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis said his company is on track to execute the first launch of its Terran 1 rocket from Florida next year, thanks to existing capital on its balance sheet.

“With this new Series D funding, we will now dramatically accelerate the development of our long-term plans and look beyond first launch,” said Ellis, who co-founded Relativity Space after working for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture in Kent, Wash.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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Cosmic Space

The long goodbye begins for iconic radio dish

The radio telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory is on its way to extinction after 57 years of sparking dreams of alien contact — and after a grim three years of weathering nature’s blows.

Two of the cables supporting the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform have slipped loose, ripping through the 1,000-foot-wide web of aluminum panels and steel cables that’s spread 450 feet below.

Engineers assessed the damage and determined that the risk of a catastrophic failure was too great to attempt repairs. If more cables snap, the entire platform could crash down, potentially causing the dish’s collapse and life-threatening injuries to workers.

“Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible, ” Thornton Tomasetti, the engineering firm that made the structural assessment, said in its recommendations to the National Science Foundation and the University of Central Florida, which manages operations at Arecibo on the NSF’s behalf.

“It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope,” the firm said.

After consulting with other engineering firms and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NSF decided to go ahead with the decommissioning.

“NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement.

Although the proximate cause of the damage was the structural failure of the two cables — on Aug. 10 and Nov. 6 — natural disasters have been particularly unkind to Arecibo in recent years. The telescope took a buffeting from Hurricane Maria in 2007, a string of earthquakes over the past winter and Tropical Storm Isaias in August. It’s conceivable that those blows could have contributed to the structural failures.

Over the past half-century, Arecibo has taken on more than its share of starring roles in radio astronomy. It had been considered the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope until China’s 1,600-foot-wide observatory — the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope, or FAST — took the title in 2016.

Arecibo has played a part in unraveling the cosmic mysteries surrounding exoplanets, near-Earth asteroids, black holes, gravitational waves, pulsars and fast radio bursts. But the observatory is best-known for its role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI.

In 1974, astronomers at Arecibo sent out the most powerful radio signals intentionally aimed at aliens — a coded broadcast known as the Arecibo Message. The observatory also served as a base for SETI listening sessions including Serendip and Project Phoenix.

Arecibo had Hollywood-style brushes with stardom in the movie “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster as an astronomer looking for alien signals; and in “GoldenEye,” a James Bond movie that staged a climactic scene at Arecibo’s instrument platform.

I had my own brush with Arecibo back in 2003, during a quick visit arranged by NSF. “If E.T. ever were to pay a visit to Arecibo, even the aliens might be impressed,” I wrote at the time.

NSF says it has already authorized a high-resolution photographic survey of the telescope site, which is nestled in a sinkhole amid Puerto Rico’s karst mountains. The results of that survey will be factored into the plan for decommissioning and disassembling the telescope.

If all goes according to plan, the Arecibo Observatory would continue to host a lidar research facility, the visitor center and an off-site facility that analyzes cloud cover and precipitation data. The University of Central Florida has been working with Microsoft Azure to archive Arecibo’s science data in the cloud — and NSF says the observatory’s on-site data will be migrated to servers outside the affected area. A detailed timetable for the process hasn’t yet been announced.

Although Arecibo’s radio telescope has gone dark, SETI fans can take solace in the fact that other radio astronomy facilities are going strong.

The $100 million Breakthrough Listen campaign is giving a boost to the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the MeerKAT radio telescope array in South Africa.

Meanwhile, the SETI Institute has the Allen Telescope Array in California (which does SETI as well as other types of radio observations). And this year, the institute forged a partnership with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory for use of the Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico (which is where Jodie Foster’s character ended up detecting aliens in “Contact.”)

Within the next decade, a monster radio astronomy project known as the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA, is due to take shape in Australia and South Africa. SKA aims to knit together thousands of networked antennas to provide an observational capability equivalent to a single radio dish that’s more than a kilometer (3,280 feet) wide. That’d be twice as wide as China’s FAST antenna.

Losing Arecibo is a heavy blow to Puerto Ricans, who have pointed to the radio telescope as one of their top scientific attractions.

“As an astronomer, this upset me. As a Puerto Rican, this actually broke my heart,” University of Maryland graduate student Giannina Guzman Caloca wrote on Twitter. “I cried on the way to class. I don’t think people understand the sense of pride and inspiration that Arecibo brought to many Puerto Ricans, especially those who grew up wanting to become astronomers.”

NSF’s Panchanathan vowed to preserve the scientific ties with Puerto Rico. “For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like,” he said. “While this is a profound change, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain that strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”

That’d be a good thing, and not just for us earthlings: If extraterrestrials ever do respond to the Arecibo Message, we need to make sure the reply gets to the right address.

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Cosmic Space

Space plane’s schedule slips due to COVID

Sierra Nevada Corp. is closing in on the orbital debut of its Dream Chaser space plane, but the curtain-raiser will be later than previously planned, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company had planned to send its first space-worthy Dream Chaser, dubbed Tenacity, on its first uncrewed cargo run to the International Space Station next year.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“We’re targeting 2022 for first flight,” Steve Lindsey, SNC Space Systems’ senior vice president of strategy, told me today during a videoconference for journalists. “We’ve obviously dealt with a lot of challenges this year. Like COVID, as an example. There’s been a challenge for everybody.”

Lindsey cited a case involving a series of tests that were due to be conducted on the Dream Chaser’s Shooting Star cargo module in San Diego. “Unfortunately, due to COVID, our entire test team … got basically kicked out of the plant when they had some exposures.”

Eventually, Lindsey and the Dream Chaser team worked out an arrangement for having the structural tests done in San Diego, and getting the telemetry sent to engineers working remotely at SNC Space Systems’ home base in Colorado.

“That worked great,” Lindsey said. “Unfortunately, it also took probably three or four times as long as it normally should have, just because of the COVID challenges we’ve had.”

Now the cargo module is back in Colorado, and the stubby-winged space plane – which has been compared to a mini-space shuttle – is being assembled. “We’re running two shifts a day right now, we’ll probably be going to three here shortly, to get this thing built as quickly as we can,” Lindsey said.

After the assembly and integration tasks are complete, Tenacity will be shipped to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio for environmental and thermal vacuum testing. Then it’s off to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a final round of tests, leading up to launch atop United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.

Dream Chaser Tenacity had been penciled in as the second payload to be launched on a Vulcan in 2021, after Astrobotic’s NASA-funded cargo delivery to the moon. That schedule will shift – but Lindsey said the precise date is up in the air. “That’s something we work with NASA internally, and it’s a combination of when we’re ready, when our testing is done, also when NASA needs it,” he said.

Click on the pictures for a Sierra Nevada Corp. slideshow:

Sierra Nevada Corp. won NASA’s nod to deliver cargo to the space station back in 2016, when the space agency was awarding a second round of resupply contracts. The other winners were SpaceX and Orbital ATK (which is now part of Northrop Grumman). Those two companies already send shipments to the station, which will make the Dream Chaser the newest addition to NASA’s commercial cargo fleet.

Dream Chaser is the only winged space cargo vehicle capable of coming back from orbit and making an autonomous glider-style landing on a runway. That provides a capability that SpaceX’s Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo capsules lack. Time-sensitive experiments can be quickly offloaded and sent where they need to go.

“Maybe it’s a little biased because of having been a shuttle astronaut, but I just really love the practical way that you could come back from space in a space plane, land on a runway,” said former NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi, who is now SNC Space Systems’ executive vice president. ” You could walk right up to the vehicle, take your delicate payloads off and go do your scientific analysis.”

Lindsey said the Dream Chaser is built to be used for 15 missions during its operating lifetime, which should help satisfy the station’s cargo needs for years to come. There’s also a second space plane in production that could be used for space station resupply as well as standalone space missions – such as the international mission being planned under the auspices of the United Nations.

Dream Chaser’s design is based on a NASA concept from the 1980s, known as the HL-20. Sierra Nevada Corp. first offered the plane for NASA’s use as a crewed vehicle a decade ago, and the company hasn’t given up on the idea of flying crew as well as cargo.

Lindsey pointed out that the cargo version and the crew version have 85% of their design in common.

“As we’ve matured the cargo version to where we are now, where we’re in production, we know the path back to crew,” he said. “Our intent is always to go back to crew someday. When that day is, I’m not sure yet right now … But we have plans for doing that.”

Here’s a 2011 clip about my turn in the Dream Chaser simulator:

In other developments:

  • Neeraj Gupta, director of programs for SNC’s Advanced Development Group, highlighted the company’s work on inflatable habitats that could be assembled into a commercial space station in low Earth orbit. “We consider it a shining city in space, if you will,” he said. The habitats, developed in partnership with ILC Dover, could also support missions to the moon or Mars, Gupta said.
  • Sierra Nevada Corp. is also one of three companies that received study contracts from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit to look at the options for an “Unmanned Orbital Outpost” that could be used for experiments and logistical demonstrations. SNC would adapt the Dream Chaser’s Shooting Star cargo module for the Pentagon’s purposes. “We’re still working with the DIU team and we’re looking to continue the development,” Gupta said.
  • Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion and Environmental Systems business unit, discussed the company’s “Astro Garden” plant growth system, which recently grew tomatoes in a simulated space station environment. SNC’s aeroponics technology is due to be tested on the International Space Station next year. Eventually, the system could be used to grow berries, beans and other staples for space crews. “We have our own Matt Damon,” Crabb joked, in reference to the potato-farming astronaut in a 2015 movie titled “The Martian.”
  • Sierra Nevada Corp. provided further detail about a $2.4 million contract to demonstrate a process for extracting oxygen from lunar soil, awarded by NASA’s Tipping Point program. The process, known as carbothermal reduction, concentrates heat into the soil within a methane gas environment. In a news release, CEO Fatih Ozmen said the technology is “the result of decades of research and development work that is focused on both reducing launch mass from Earth, drastically reducing mission costs, and enabling long-term activity in low Earth orbit, cislunar [space] and Mars.”

Check out Sierra Nevada Corp.’s interactive presentation on the Dream Chaser space plane and Shooting Star transport vehicle.

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GeekWire

Moon rovers will get wireless charging systems

Seattle-based WiBotic says it’s working on a wireless charging system and energy management software for moon rovers, in partnership with Astrobotic, Bosch and the University of Washington.

The hardware and software for robotic lunar missions will build on the work that the UW spin-out has done on similar systems for applications here on Earth.

“We’ve conquered marine robotic systems, mobile terrestrial robots, aerial drones — and now, space,” WiBotic CEO and co-founder Ben Waters told GeekWire.

The team-up is supported by a $5.8 million NASA “Tipping Point” contract to overcome the power challenges that will face robots on the moon’s surface. One of the biggest challenges will be providing electric-powered rovers with enough juice to keep them active during the cold lunar night, which lasts two weeks.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is the prime contractor. It aims to use WiBotic’s charging system on lunar rovers that will include its own CubeRover, a shoebox-sized, four-wheeled robot that would venture forth from a base station to take on exploration tasks.

“Bringing wireless power technology to the surface of the moon and beyond is a game-changer in the way space robotics systems have traditionally interacted,” Cedric Corpa de la Fuente, electrical engineer for planetary mobility at Astrobotic, said today in a news release.

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX kicks off its first certified crew flight to orbit

This is not a test: For the first time, a commercial space venture has sent astronauts on their way to the International Space Station for a regularly scheduled crew rotation.

Today’s launch of three Americans and a Japanese spaceflier in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, powered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, followed the pattern set in May for the company’s first-ever crewed space mission. Like that earlier journey, this one is being funded by NASA at an estimated price of $55 million per seat.

But unlike May’s outing, this mission isn’t considered a test flight. Instead, it’s the first crewed SpaceX launch to be conducted under the terms of a post-certification contract with NASA. SpaceX’s space transportation system was officially certified for regular flights with astronauts last week — just in time for the flight known as Crew-1.

It’s also the first crewed orbital launch to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial spaceflight. “This is a big night for many of us, and it’s a big night for the FAA,” the agency’s administrator, Steve Dickson, said at a post-launch briefing.

In response to issues that arose during the crewed test flight, SpaceX beefed up the Dragon’s heat shield and fine-tuned the triggering system for the parachutes used for the spacecraft’s at-sea homecoming.

The first opportunity for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 14, had to be put off for a day due to weather concerns — and when today’s countdown began, the chances of acceptable weather were rated at 50-50. But the weather improved, a glitch involving a hatch leak was quickly resolved, and the Falcon 9 rose from its launch pad into the night at 7:27 p.m. ET (4:27 p.m. PT.)

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, thousands watched the launch in person from Florida’s Space Coast. Hundreds of thousands watched streaming video coverage via NASA and SpaceX. Live coverage is scheduled to continue during the Dragon’s cruise to the space station.

Vice President Mike Pence flew in to lead a delegation of VIPs at the spaceport. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell were on hand as well — but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who tweeted that he may have had “a moderate case of COVID,” kept a low profile.

Mission commander Mike Hopkins referred to the pandemic and its effects just before the launch of the Dragon capsule, which has been christened “Resilience.”

“By working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part, the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience,” Hopkins said. “And now it’s time for us to do our part — Crew-1 for All.”

Minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated and sent the Crew Dragon into orbit, while the first-stage booster flew itself back to an at-sea touchdown aboard a drone ship.

Only two astronauts rode the Dragon in May, but this time around, the reusable crew capsule is carrying a standard complement of four spacefliers. Hopkins was accompanied by pilot Victor Glover, NASA mission specialist Shannon Walker and Japanese mission specialist Soichi Noguchi.

After the crew reached orbit, mission controllers reported a pressure pump spike in the Dragon’s thermal control system, which maintains comfortable conditions inside the crew cabin. Engineers went into troubleshooting mode, returned the system to normal operation and gave the go-ahead for the trip to proceed.

Yet another issue, involving a balky set of propellant line heaters for the Dragon’s thruster system, was resolved fairly quickly.

The Crew Dragon is scheduled to hook up with the station around 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT) on Nov. 16. Then the Dragon’s quartet is due to join the station’s three current occupants and spend the next six months on orbital duty. That’s significantly longer than the 63 days that the previous Dragon crew spent docked to the station.

Because the station has only six sleeping compartments, Hopkins plans to take a sleeping bag and bunk down in the Dragon capsule.

Glover, the crew’s only space rookie, will earn his own entry in the history books as the first African-American astronaut to serve as a member of a long-duration expedition crew — Expedition 64.

The Crew Dragon shuttle service to the space station is the culmination of a six-year-long, multibillion-dollar development effort, sparked by the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011. That marked the start of an era during which Russia provided the only way to send NASA astronauts to and from the station, at a cost ranging as high as $90 million per seat.

With funding from NASA, Boeing has been working on a second type of space taxi known as the CST-100 Starliner. Last December, a Starliner suffered software glitches during an uncrewed orbital test. That forced a months-long investigation, and a repeat of the uncrewed test flight to the station is expected to take place early next year.

Update for 8:30 p.m. PT Nov. 15: Space crews are now in the habit of bringing along toy mascots that indicate when their flight enters its zero-G phase, by floating up in the cabin while the crews are still restrained in their seats. For the Dragon mission that was launched in May, a plush dinosaur called Tremor did the trick. This time around, a toy Baby Yoda served as the crew’s zero-G indicator. Hmm … with all this commercialization that NASA is conducting, maybe there’s an opportunity to make a few bucks on product placement.

 

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Spaceflight goes big on orbital transfer vehicles

Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. today unveiled two new options for its Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle — one that uses an environmentally friendly chemical thruster system to help get small satellites where they need to go, and another that’s powered by an electric propulsion system.

Such options add propulsive capability to the standard Sherpa-FX model, which is due to make its first flight as a secondary payload for a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch by as early as December.

For years, Spaceflight has served as a broker and concierge for other people’s payloads — basically bundling small satellites for launch on rockets ranging from the Falcon 9 to Rocket Lab’s Electron and India’s PSLV.

The company hit a significant milestone in 2018 when it arranged for the launch of 64 satellites on a single Falcon 9. During that mission, a pair of free-flying spacecraft served as deployment platforms.

That blazed a trail for the Sherpa program, and the effort got an extra boost this year after Spaceflight Inc.’s acquisition by Japan’s Mitsui & Co. “Really, the next step in building out this cislunar space transportation company that we care to become is the Sherpa program,” Grant Bonin, Spaceflight’s senior vice president of business development, told me. “Sherpa was an early vision of the company, but we really revived it this year.”

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Stratolaunch makes progress on hypersonic flight plan

Stratolaunch, the aerospace company founded by the late Seattle tech titan Paul Allen, is gearing up on several fronts for tests of its hypersonic launch platform — a year and a half after its mammoth airplane first flew.

Allen created the company in Seattle back in 2011 to launch rockets from the world’s biggest aircraft, but after the Microsoft co-founder’s death in 2018, the company was acquired by private investors. Since then, Stratolaunch has put increased emphasis on using the airplane as a platform for testing hypersonic vehicles.

Today, Stratolaunch announced that it’s partnering with an aerospace research and development company called Calspan to build and test models of its Talon-A hypersonic vehicle, a reusable prototype rocket plane.

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NASA forges new partnerships for space tech

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s operation in Redmond, Wash., are among 17 companies that have struck deals with NASA to develop new technologies for space missions.

The 20 collaborative projects are part of a program managed by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The selected projects will be governed by unfunded Space Act Agreements. No funds will be exchanged, but the companies will gain access to NASA expertise and testing services that carry an estimated value of $15.5 million.

“Space technology development doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Jim Reuter, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology, said today in a news release. “Whether companies are pursuing space ventures of their own or maturing cutting-edge systems to one day offer a new service to NASA, the agency is dedicated to helping bring new capabilities to market for our mutual benefit.”

Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin will partner with NASA on two projects. One involves the development of a space robot operating system that will rely on open-source software and provide greater autonomy while reducing operating costs and improving interoperability with other space systems. NASA’s Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center and Johnson Space Center will work with Blue Origin on this project.

The second project aims to improve rocket engine designs by incorporating metal-based additive manufacturing techniques. The 3-D printing project is aimed at optimizing weight, energy efficiency and manufacturability while minimizing production cost. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will be Blue Origin’s partner on this project.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Redmond operation will partner with Goddard Space Flight Center to develop a new hybrid propellant of “green” ionic liquid and conventional hydrazine for small spacecraft. Such a propellant would be less toxic than conventional propellants. The project will build on work that was done by NASA, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerojet and other partners for the Green Propellant Infusion Mission.

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Blue Origin fleshes out plan for cargo delivery to moon

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is working on a landing system that could put astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024 — but it’s also keeping its options open to deliver a ton of cargo to the lunar surface a year before that.

Blue Origin’s chief scientist, Steve Squyres, outlined the current state of plans for an Amazon-like cargo delivery to the moon today during a virtual symposium presented by the University of Washington’s Space Policy and Research Center.

The idea isn’t exactly new: Blue Origin floated its Blue Moon cargo lander concept with the Trump administration in early 2017, even before President Donald Trump formally took office. And a Blue Origin executive mentioned the 2023 date for a cargo landing more than two years ago during a Seattle-area space conference.

But Squyres’ remarks served to confirm that the 2023 mission, which would provide an early test of the technology for the crewed landing system, is still part of Bezos’ grand vision for creating a sustainable human presence on the moon. “We must go back to the moon, and this time to stay,” Bezos told me in 2018.

There’s no indication that NASA has put in its order for a cargo delivery yet, but Squyres said that if the go-ahead is eventually given, the uncrewed mission would target a spot not far away from the site selected for the 2024 crewed landing.

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