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Blue Origin-led 'National Team' delivers mock-up moon lander to NASA for tests

A private team led by Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company Blue Origin has delivered a mock-up of its crewed moon lander to NASA for testing.

In late April, NASA announced that it had awarded funding to three commercial groups — SpaceX, Dynetics and the Blue Origin-led "National Team" — to develop human landing systems for the agency's Artemis lunar exploration program.

These companies must work fast, given that NASA wants to land two astronauts near the moon's South Pole in 2024. And the National Team has now given the agency some hardware to work with: a full-scale engineering mock-up of its lunar lander, which was delivered to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston today (Aug. 20).

Related: NASA wants private moon landers from 3 companies. Here's how they'll work.

The National Team’s engineering mockup of the crew lander vehicle at NASA Johnson Space Center’s iconic Building 9.  (Image credit: Blue Origin/The National Team)

"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, said in a statement

"The learning we get from full-scale mock-ups can’t be done any other way," Sherwood said. "Benefitting 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 National Team consists of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. The companies are developing a landing system with three separate pieces: a descent element to carry astronauts to the lunar surface, an ascent element to launch them off the moon, and a transfer element, a propulsive stage that sends the descent element from lunar orbit down toward the gray dirt.

The newly delivered mock-up, which stands more than 40 feet (12 meters) tall, showcases the ascent and descent elements, Blue Origin representatives said. It will remain at JSC through early 2021.

The descent stage is based on Blue Origin's Blue Moon robotic lunar lander, which is also in development. The ascent stage leverages much of the technology used by NASA's Orion crew capsule, on which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor. Orion is an integral part of the Artemis program; astronauts will launch from Earth aboard the capsule, which will ride atop NASA's huge Space Launch System rocket. 

The transfer stage has considerable heritage as well; it's based on Northrop Grumman's robotic Cygnus freighter, which has been ferrying cargo to the International Space Station for NASA since 2013.

The National Team, Dynetics and SpaceX split $967 million in NASA funding, which is going toward 10 months of development work. The agency will then select one or more of the teams to continue maturing their landing systems, ultimately procuring crewed flights from among the options that are still on the table in 2024 and beyond.

Dynetics is developing a two-stage landing system, and SpaceX proposed to use its Starship Mars-colonizing spacecraft for the Artemis work. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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  • Wolfshadw
    I still think they're going about this the wrong way. I mean, I get it. You don't spend billions of dollars sending equipment to the moon if you can't get people there to use it, but we've already done "to the moon and back". We've done it half a dozen times. We don't need to prove that we can still do it. If you really want to establish a long term, human presence on the moon, you need to take a leap of faith and get your support systems up there first. Make sure they're tested and operating to capacity. Then you can start sending people to occupy the place.

    I still do not understand why Antarctica is not being used as a proving ground for such missions.

    -Wolf sends

    Edit: I'll have to remember to ask @DrJoePesce if he visits again
    Reply
  • T.T.Maxx
    Wolfshadw said:
    I still think they're going about this the wrong way. I mean, I get it. You don't spend billions of dollars sending equipment to the moon if you can't get people there to use it, but we've already done "to the moon and back". We've done it half a dozen times. We don't need to prove that we can still do it. If you really want to establish a long term, human presence on the moon, you need to take a leap of faith and get your support systems up there first. Make sure they're tested and operating to capacity. Then you can start sending people to occupy the place.

    I still do not understand why Antarctica is not being used as a proving ground for such missions.

    -Wolf sends

    Edit: I'll have to remember to ask @DrJoePesce if he visits again
    Antarctica is just too remote a place for testing it is that simple. O2 and water are no concern but things like food and internet etc. are hard to control. What happens if a storm blows in leaving people stranded and all? How do we get them back? I am being sarcastic but this could be the real reason. Cheers!
    Reply
  • T.T.Maxx
    Pretty fast for the mock-up. How long for the real deal? Still good luck to all in their endeavors.
    Reply
  • Lunarlander
    Wolfshadw said:

    I still do not understand why Antarctica is not being used as a proving ground for such missions.

    Because Antarctica is nothing like the moon. No water, no snow or surface ice, no wind, no penguins on the moon.
    No dangerous radiation, no dusty regolith, no vacuum, no baking temperatures in the sun, no microgravity in Antarctica
    Reply
  • MarcUK001
    I`ve looked at all of the landers and I'm really surprised by there size. The National Team and SpaceX will both have to use long ladders or lifts to get the astronauts to the surface, this is a huge risk. All of these systems look really complicated and expensive. It would be easier to build smaller landers, base them at the gateway station. Make there fuel system modular which makes replenishment easier. We need to be able to reuse the landers in the same way SpaceX can reuse there Falcon9 boosters. SpaceX lunar lander seems to meet that requirement. I cant see that in the other concepts.

    But we need to go back to the moon, if we had continued with Apollo, we could have had a base on the moon by now. Private companies are leading the way.
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    I think the Atacama desert in Chile would be about the closest you could get to a lunar environment. It’s high, dry (very, very dry) and cloudless...
    Even mountains in the 20,000+ foot range have no glaciers on top.
    Plus there is some infrastructure to get there.
    Reply