Amazon boss Jeff Bezos made an announcement yesterday: he is fully in on the USA government plan for landing US astronauts on the Moon by 2024. He presented a huge moon lander for cargo which could only fit in a 7 mtr fairing diameter. In other words, this can only fit in the New Glenn monster rocket also being developed by the same company, i.e. Blue Origin.
Of course I laud and support this initiative and only hope it gets the traction (and money) it needs and deserves to achieve the ultimate goal: to go to the Moon for staying this time. It is also nice that he brings in an educational part: Club for the future. Would be happy to support this through the Eye On Orbit Bitcoin Space Education Fund (BSEF). If only a fraction of money spend on war worldwide, was spend on such initiatives, we would already have a thriving Moon village, and probably even a Mars village.
But without further ado, here comes some bullet wise scepticism, fueled by some years of trying to get science payloads onto other celestial bodies:
- What is the status of the New Glenn monster rocket? And I don't mean animations based on physics. I mean real hardware that is being tested on the ground and in orbit? Compared to building such a rocket, a Moon lander is the easy part. Blue Origin's operational rocket New Shepard is amazing, but it is small, reaches 100 km altitude, but is nowhere close to orbital altitude (>400 km) and orbital velocity (> 7km/s).
- Who is going to pay for this? Jeff Bezos is a business man and wants to get paid for buildig and launching the astronauts to the Moon in 2024. NASA will be the customer, but has nowhere near the needed budget to fund this if it doesn't drop ISS, the Lunar Gateway and SLS. Jeff Bezos reportedly chips in himself with 1 billion US dollars a year, by selling off Amazon stocks, but no, that is also not enough, even if you add that to NASA budgets.
- Jeff Bezos mentions there are customers in line to bring payloads to the Moon. But really, the Moon is not a commercial place where you bring a payload, that then makes money for you and your customer, kind of how it works for SatCom operators in the Geostationairy orbit. All these Lunar payloads are science payloads, with science and technology benefits, not with immediate commercial benefits. Yes, in the long term, a payload that could extract water from a dark Lunar crater, and create fuel from that, will be a commercially attractive business, but that is really at least 15 years down the line. Governments could be into that, businesses not.
- Going to the Moon is technically hard, but it can be done. Unfortunately, going to the Moon is all about missing finance and lack of short term business models. That is the hard lesson that the Google Lunar X PRIZE taught us.
Writing this makes me feel sad, almost like a blue Moon. Am I getting too old to not dream anymore of a humanity thriving in the Solar System? In other words, Blue Origin: hire me to work on your mission and proof me wrong! I love what you do!