Science & Technology

Blue Origin and its partners deliver a lunar lander mock-up to NASA

An all-star space industry team led by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture has assembled a mock-up of its proposed lunar lander right where it’ll do the most good, in a training area at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The full-scale engineering module showcases Blue Origin’s Blue Moon descent element, which; as well as the ascent element designed by Lockheed Martin. It stands more than 40 feet tall in Johnson Space Center’s Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, alongside mock-ups of the space shuttle, space station modules and next-generation space capsules.

Members of the industry team — from Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin as well as Northrop Grumman and Draper — will collaborate with NASA engineers and astronauts to test out the lander’s usability and make any necessary tweaks in preparation for crewed lunar landings that could begin as early as 2024. The tweaks could address such details as the size of the hatch, the placement of the windows and the arrangement of the controls.

“Testing this engineering mock-up for crew interaction is a step toward making this historic mission real,” Brent Sherwood, Blue Origin’s vice president of advanced development programs, . “The learning we get from full-scale mock-ups can’t be done any other way. Benefiting from NASA’s expertise and feedback at this early stage allows us to develop a safe commercial system that meets the agency’s needs.”

The Blue Origin-led consortium, also known as the National Team, is to develop lunar lander concepts for crewed lunar missions. The lander stack is designed for launch by Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket or United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, with Northrop Grumman providing a transfer vehicle to get the lander into lunar orbit. Draper is for the descent module.

The project draws upon decades of experience in building space systems, including Lockheed Martin’s work on NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule, Northrop Grumman’s work on the Cygnus cargo spaceship and Draper’s heritage going back to the Apollo moon program.

“Each partner brings its own outstanding legacy to the National Team,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space. “These include developing, integrating, and operating human-rated spacecraft, launch systems and planetary landers. Together we form an excellent team to send our next astronauts to the moon in 2024.”

NASA awarded the National Team $579 million for the first phase of development. SpaceX received $135 million for work on its Starship super-rocket, and a team led Alabama-based Dynetics was awarded $253 million.

Blue Origin said the mock-up will remain at Johnson Space Center through early 2021 for a series of tests and simulations. Next year, NASA is expected to select one or two teams to continue to the next stage of development with additional funding.

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