Blue Moon

Bezos is supposed to make a major announcement today in DC (half an hour from now), but apparently it won’t be live streamed, and only a few select reporters have been invited. Reportedly, Mark Sirangelo, the new guy at NASA in charge of moon return, is present. Meanwhile, Emilee Speck follows the breadcrumbs.

[Update a few minutes later, but before the event]

Here’s a story from Ken Chang, at the NYT (though I would note that the OST does not explicitly forbid lunar property ownership).

[Update after the news conference]

OK, while many hadn’t heard it before, he started with his standard O’Neillian recitation of why he’s doing all this. The news (as expected) was the unveiling of a mock up of the Blue Moon lander, which he says can put 6.5 tons on the moon by 2024. He also announced a new LOX/LH engine for it, designated BE-7, capable of deep throttling. Tim Fernholz has the story.

39 thoughts on “Blue Moon”

  1. In a ballroom here on Thursday, Mr. Bezos described his dreamy vision of the future: not just millions of people in space but eventually a trillion, living not on moons or planets, but space colonies in a style originally envisioned by a Princeton physicist, Gerard K. O’Neill.

    He wants a trillion people in space but Amazon still sells contraceptives. He’s working at cross purposes there.

    Unless of course he’s also secretly working on a new way to make future Amazon customers (and products!) on some kind of biological assembly line, perhaps some form of genetically engineered “replicants”.

    Does Amazon’s headquarters happen to look like a giant pyramid? Asking for a friend.

    Anyway, I’d say the gauntlet is thrown.

    1. He wants a trillion people in space but Amazon still sells contraceptives.

      It’s my understanding he’s only selling them on earth — at least, so far.

  2. If I had to describe Bezos and Blue Origin in a single phrase, it would be, “Failure of Imagination.” Seventeen years and some billions of dollars and what have they got to show for it? A so-far unmanned suborbital “spaceship.” And lots of nice Powerpoints…

    Editorial cartoon: Scene, the Moon, 2024. In the foreground, a NASA branded Blue Moon lunar module settles in the dust and two astronauts get out to plant the US flag. In the backrgound, we see a towering SpaceX Starship with a hundred tourists standing nearby taking videos of the historic event.

    I used to think of Bezos and Blue Origin as Plan B for the Future, in case something went badly wrong for Musk and SpaceX. Not so much anymore?

    1. I’ve talked with Bezos, and his outlook on space transportation is unique IMHO. He “gets it” as none of the techno-geeks do – as a businessman who knows what is needed for actual commerce.

      At KST, we tried to develop a long-distance point-to-point suborbital market, and (in the 1990s), it was the one and only application that drew interest from the investment community. But after a high-powered investor representative interviewed my engineers, he came back to me shaking his head. He said: “When I asked about turn-around time, they described what would happen when the Astroliner landed. First, people would wait a while. Then they’d approach it cautiously, and look at things. Then they’d take it apart and test everything. Everything that looked suspicious would be replaced. They’d put the whole thing back together, and do a full-scale test. Then they’d repeat the looking-at-things, and maybe do another round of replacement and full scale test. After a couple of months, you’d take off again for home. That isn’t a business.”

      It also wasn’t my vision, but it was all my engineers had ever known, and they couldn’t imagine moving beyond that. I don’t fault them. They were coached on “incremental development,” by me and my risk-averse managers.

      Bezos told me: “I want to land, deliver my cargo, fuel up, and take off again.” Boom. That’s the end game. If you are doing system engineering, that is the top-level requirement. Everything in the development process must be aimed at fulfilling that requirement. And that’s what Bezos is doing. It’s what I wanted to do.

      I would say that he exhibits more imagination in that regard than any of the engineers-turned-entrepreneurs out there.

      1. That isn’t the way any airline operates, even the UPS fleet. There has to be regularly scheduled maintenance, and that has to happen on the ground. And for entirely new technologies, like KellySpace was doing, that also means establishing the maintenance schedule- otherwise you’re just guessing. So yeah, complete teardown and inspection and component testing and reassembly and systems testing are required until the maintenance schedule is figured out.

        1. Still thinking inside the box, Ed? Maintenance on space vehicles can be done wherever it is most convenient. The ISS does its repair on orbit. We would do aircraft maintenance in flight except that the air stream would blow you overboard. Ever do a gear swing
          on an aircraft? Its a pain in the ass on the ground. In free-space a piece of cake.

          Blue Moon or Starship too can be done on orbit. Plan for it now.

          1. You would do the teardown and inspection in orbit before you had the maintenance schedule figured out? Sure, maybe once that schedule is figured out you could do maintenance in orbit, assuming a supply of spare parts, but not while you’re trying to characterize the vehicle.

          2. I wouldn’t dare try much maintenance in orbit. Everything in zero G is difficult. Astronauts require lots of hand holds so they can apply force and torque, and the exterior of a re-entry vehicle is the last place you want to add a hand hold. And if you’re trying to do the maintenance with an EVA, the cost of that on the ISS starts at about $1.5 million, not counting labor hours and parts.

            If a loose wrench or nut goes floating on into the airframe’s recesses or behind some panel, what do you do? It could end up anywhere. You can’t grind or drill freehand in orbit because it will create a cloud of metallic dust or chips that will end up everywhere.

            So then you’re stuck in orbit with an inoperable flight vehicle. Unless you build an orbital junk yard, you might have to splash the vehicle in some remote stretch of the Indian Ocean.

        2. Yes, but look at the TBO requirements of a Pratt and Whitney, GE, or Rolls Royce engine compared to something like an RS-25. One is 4,000 hours and the other is probably 10 minutes.

          That gap has to be closed by designing rocket engines more like commercial engines or industrial burners.

          A couple of years ago I came up with a different engine concept that got rid of the heat problems by making the interior out of small diameter rollers (both straight and tapered – tapered rollers allow you to make curves and cone shapes) that had a thin stainless steel foil (10 mil or so) threading in and out of the combustion chamber and back through the coolant, almost like a conveyor belt. If the belt moves at 10 mph (178 inches per second) around a 1/2-inch diameter roller, it’s only exposed to the hot side for 4.4 milliseconds at a time. The foil then gets a long run through coolant and around a return roller before returning to the hot side.

          I wrote some transient heat transfer code to investigate, and it’s pretty trivial to have the surface of the foil only reach a couple hundred degrees, even at insanely high chamber pressures, and the center of the foil barely even warms up.

          There are two or three required tricks to make it work. One is cleverly sealing against leakage at the ends of the rollers and keeping any required end-gap fillers cool (they’re required by the cylindrical or conic geometries of straight and tapered rollers). Another is making sure the foil tracks straight and doesn’t wander to the edge of a roller and start to wear, crimp, or saw through and end piece. Conveyor folks will know all about that.

          Another challenge is maintaining a pretty good pressure equilibrium on small rotating rollers between the coolant side and the varying chamber pressure from the injectors to the nozzle, and while not over loading the bearings. That’s a hard one.

          One way to approach the pressure differentials is to use baffles so the coolant flow in the jacket has stepped pressure drops to make it somewhat match the chamber pressure on the corresponding side of the rollers, but that won’t necessarily be able to track pressure excursions in the chamber. It would probably take a lot of iterative design cycles before all the RUD modes are worked out. It also requires rather larger pressure drops that would up the energy requirements on the compressor side.

          A simple proof of concept test on the heat flow would be to build a little section of rollers and foil over a pan of water (the foil runs back and forth between the hot side rollers and some return rollers down in the water pan), and see if you can cut through it with an oxyacetylene torch while the half-inch rollers are spinning at 6,000 RPM.

          If it worked, it could handle ridiculously high heat fluxes not even encountered in a fusion reactor designs, be made almost entirely out of lightweight aluminum and stainless foil, and it could probably run for thousands of hours continuously.

          But it adds a whole lot of moving parts that can’t screw up.

          A similar concept might work as a heat shield, as long as there was a supply of coolant, but I’m not sure that a necessarily bumpy ridged surface wouldn’t be aerodynamically worse than the problem it’s trying to solve.

          1. “But it adds a whole lot of moving parts that can’t screw up.”
            Therein lies the rub. The most important rule of spaceflight isn’t the rocket equation, it’s Murphy’s Law. Are there graceful failure modes for this engine?

          2. Well at present there is no engine, just lots of sketches on ways to go about it, much like any of us would proceed from based on the above description.

            For example, to avoid bending loads on the aluminum rollers you could back them with other rollers because you’ve got some space in between the inner wall and the outer wall where the return rollers are. You could also easily back them with a variety of fluid or oil pad bearings, with little holes that are floating them on pressurized propellant.

            You could switch to stainless or aerospace alloy rollers in case of a foil failure. The foil idea was added about a day after I thought of using rollers to cut the thermal duty cycle to 50%, which makes a huge difference because the heat is only having 4 milliseconds to penetrate the roller material’s surface before it goes back into a surface cooling bath.

            The rollers, of course, are in counter rotating pairs that don’t leave any gaps, kind of like feeding two sheets of paper between two rubber rollers in a printer or copier.

            If you had a foil failure, the gap would be 10 mills and you’d have a bit of coolant seeping into the combustion chamber, which shouldn’t do much harm other than a slight performance drop and increased propellant burn. That small gap could be automatically sealed by giving the rollers a little bit of inward give, so that the higher coolant jacket pressure would push them closer together.

            Another interesting possibility is the idea of having a linear nozzle throat, with two rollers on opposite sides, kind of like a pasta maker.

            As an aside, that would get you into a linear expanding nozzle section that’s also got some interesting possibilities, like any expanding nozzle, and even if purely rollers with no coolant jacket, the 50% duty cycle might let it radiate heat much better than conventional designs. But the shape is generally bad, both from a structural and aerodynamic standpoint.

            But anyway, back to the idea of having the throat consist of two rollers. The gases from the combustion chamber are going to apply a lot of torque to the rollers, spinning them up with a lot of power, so you could come off the roller shaft to directly drive a hydraulic pump for the thrust vector control system, or play some more games with propellant pressurization.

            Yet this raises another interesting question. The gas velocity at the throat is Mach 1, relative to the speed of the throat’s walls, because it’s a Laval nozzle with a oblique shock at the throat. But the throat wall isn’t moving at the same speed as the engine. Its surface is moving backwards at perhaps several hundred miles an hour. The shock wave is just sitting there in the throat, but how fast is Mach one, and relative to what?

            If that velocity really is higher than Mach 1 relative to the fixed part of the engine, in the way that Mach 1 is relative to the Earth’s rotation, the passing jet, etc, then the nozzle flow, ISP, and a bunch of other things would be in play.

            That all leads to some really fun questions about what other things you can do in a throat, and what the airflow would be on a subsonic aircraft whose skin was traveling backwards at 300 mph, which leads to some interesting thought experiments on how air molecules bump into things.

            Oddly, all these design thoughts came from a need to slap together a thruster to test an idea for a high-pressure high- flow propellant pump that doesn’t use any moving parts. Yes, the ridiculously high engine moving parts count stemmed from an idea to eliminate all moving parts from the fuel and oxidizer pumps. ^_^

            Maybe it’s some kind of karmic punishment, or a universal law about the conservation of parts counts.

            Anyway, the engine ideas are something anybody could tinker with in their home shop, without having to buy huge machine tools or sheets of aerospace alloys. It’s more like an entertaining geometrical and mechanical puzzle problem.

          3. You know, now that I think about it, if you can make the chamber wall survive a foil failure, then you didn’t need the foil, which is right back to where the idea started. I added the foil before I wrote the heat transfer code. I think the foil is needed when the heating rate on the hot side vastly exceeds the cooling rate on the cold side, which would cause the roller temperature to shoot up.

            With the foil, the roller never feels any heat flow from the hot side because the heat doesn’t make it through the foil before the foil ends up running through the coolant bath, which is something you can do when the heat pulse is in the millisecond range.

          4. “Yes, but look at the TBO requirements of a Pratt and Whitney, GE, or Rolls Royce engine compared to something like an RS-25. One is 4,000 hours and the other is probably 10 minutes.”

            FAA TBO requirements are highly suspect. Some claim that the most unreliable engine is a new/overhauled engine. Documentation shows this in low time engines have the most failures. Since the FAA recommends overhaul at a certain time the documentation on high time engine failures is difficult to find.

            In another vane, Bezos commented in an article online I saw about the engineers he has to deal with. They never want to quit analyzing and testing all the parts of the system. After each flight they take it all apart and check everything and replace parts that are not broken but just look ‘funny’ or are ‘suspect’.

            Bezos rejects this and wants to stop all the hand wringing and fly the damn rocket. I expect Elon thinks the same way. But Elon has NASA looking over his shoulder on everything.

            After watching my brothers (A&P/AI) work on War Birds and GA aircraft the FAA induced problems are deeply imbedded in the designs. GA aircraft are 1940 tech. Magnetos, electrical systems and flight instruments are all 70 year old designs. Manufacturers cannot afford to get FAA approval on new designs with modern tech. Not much different than your lawn mower! And none of it is designed to be repaired easily.

            Our Earth based consumer/throw away technology is not going to work in space. Non-repairable items are not going to succeed. You have to be able to repair that rocket, instrument, or radio. Life support/environmental systems must be easily fixed with minimum spare parts. And common parts across several systems are a requirement. Who wants to have two different CO2 scrubbers on different spacecraft as they did on Apollo 13?

            Not many are thinking this way because they are educated and trained to build block subsystems that are disposable if broken or sent to the rebuild shop. Sending an engine back to Earth for repair is not going to happen.

  3. But seriously: if someone living off Earth wanted to create a business, would he have to register it in his country of citizenship, or the jurisdiction he launched from, or can he choose the most convenient, like Delaware or the Channel Islands? Are there any statutes about this?

  4. The lander mock-up is a staggeringly unimaginative visual design, perhaps from the same people who design pallet racks for his warehouses, but going with a LOX/LH2 engine is quite bold.

    1. Some of the boil-off is apparently going to be used in on-board fuel cells. The generated electricity will probably drive systems to re-liquify the rest of the boil-off during the lunar day and to keep warm things that need to be kept warm during lunar night.

      1. I didn’t notice any solar cells on the vehicle. I would think that’s an oversight, or maybe the structural weight isn’t worth it for short missions. But if he’s planning to do some moon mining, there’s going to be many acres of solar cells, as I’m sure he’s quite aware.

        1. Solar cells may constitute a significant fraction of early cargo carried by Blue Moon – I would be massively unsurprised. But the vehicle’s web page says it’s going to be powered by fuel cells fed by gasified cryo propellants.

          Moon mining for water, even on a prototype scale, is going to require multiple Blue Moon-loads of stuff to set up anyway. Starship could probably land enough stuff at one whack to do at least a pilot plant, but Blue Moon has only a small fraction of Starship’s projected landed mass capability.

          If both are operating by 2024, and to a common initial base location under NASA auspices, it will be interesting to see what their respective cargo manifests look like.

      2. Refrigeration during lunar daytime to hydrogen’s boiling point? I would be surprised. Heat rejection would be an issue.

        1. Heat rejection is always an issue anent keeping cryos cold. One solves it with really good insulation on the input side and with a primary refrigeration loop on the output side that operates at as high a radiator temperature as one can manage given the available energy budget and uses Helium as refrigerant. Fortunately, landers tend to have a lot of flat, outward-facing areas where radiators can be mounted.

    2. Actually, I am struck also by the design focus on an unusually wide descent cargo platform centering more on ability to carry wide payloads over massive payload. It’s an Altair class lander but with half the punch. This may not be a bad place to start for a lander architecture.

      It will definitely get a hard look by NASA, and not just because Blue Origin may be further along in development than any other possible contractor.

      1. It’ll get a hard look by NASA because Blue is not a member of the Holy Trinity (Boeing, L-M, N-G). It’ll get a softer look from the New Holy Trinity (Trump, Pence, Bridenstine) because, at least right now, it – and New Glenn – seem to be in sync with their desired schedule. I think Blue Moon is now the Joe Biden of manned and unmanned lunar landers for 2024 – the early front-runner with history going up against good-looking latecomers with none. Let’s hope Blue Moon has more staying power in its race than Uncle Joe is likely to demonstrate in his.

  5. Bezos framed the mission as a way to save the Earth, which he called our “best planet.”

    Like best China?

    It was amusing that he got dinged for saying we can’t build enough solar panels on Earth. They even did the same attack the media uses against Trump, no evidence.

    So who is doing orbital dynamics scenarios to flesh out what else is needed to get the lander to the Moon?

  6. I gotta say, not very imaginative.

    I want something that can land a lunar bulldozer. Something like a rocket version of a Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe, no crane system needed to get the payload on the surface. Land, disconnect and fly back to orbit to grab another payload. Refuel in orbit from earth produced fuel at first, refuel on the surface from moon produced fuel when infrastructure is in place.

    1. Just how big would a lunar bulldozer need to be, anyhow? Would the lighter gravity require a heavier machine? Or would it be limited to sweeping up dust?

      1. More complicated, I would think. How much of the work of earth-moving equipment is leveraged by earth gravity (narrator voice: “a lot.”) — and are we assuming, perhaps erroneously, that lighter gravity alone will offset the leverage needs for regolith-moving?

        1. We discussed this last week in a Mars thread, regarding a Mars backhoe. Pushing a dipper down into the dirt will likely be just as hard on the moon but you’ll only have 1/6th the available weight to put on it, using an Earth equivalent vehicle. Lifting soil will be easy and won’t affect the vehicle’s balance in any unusual way unless you try to take advantage of the lower gravity by adding a massively oversize bucket. Dozing dirt would probably show some serious weight problems.

          Fortunately, some of the weight problems are simply solved by just piling some lunar dirt on top of the dozer. The suspension systems on Earth equipment is already size to handle 1 G downward forces, so you could make the vehicle six times more massive without a redesign. Acceleration, however, will suffer dramatically.

          1. ” Pushing a dipper down into the dirt will likely be just as hard on the moon but you’ll only have 1/6th the available weight to put on it, using an Earth equivalent vehicle.”

            Just drive a few screws deep into the dirt at the “4 corners” of the vehicle.

  7. My question is:

    Who owns the water? If someone gets there first with water mining ability, is the rest of the world just going to let that person do it?

    Or will there be conflict?

    Bezos wants to use some of the water for rocket fuel…..

    How much ice is estimated to be there in the first place? I would think that it would be considered a precious resource and a lot of people would want to have a say in how it’s expended….whether they are there or not.

    This is the sort of thing that can can lead to gunfire.

    1. I’ve seen an estimate of 600 million tons. Which of course means nothing until someone actually tries to start mining water on the moon and gets some ground truth.

    2. –Gregg
      May 11, 2019 At 3:29 AM
      My question is:

      Who owns the water? If someone gets there first with water mining ability, is the rest of the world just going to let that person do it?

      Or will there be conflict?–
      Probably not.

      But we have not explored the lunar poles.
      We should pay to have the lunar poles explored.
      We have paid NASA about 20 billion dollars per year to do
      exactly this kind of stuff, but NASA has failed since 1998 to do the necessary exploration.
      This is because US government is extremely foolish, incompetent and etc.

      So it seems to me if someone is foolish enough to mine lunar water without first doing exploration, NASA should write them a check for that exploration that NASA has failed to do.
      So at least 1 billion dollar check given to whoever first, somehow, stumbles across lunar water that they can somehow mine.

      –Bezos wants to use some of the water for rocket fuel…..

      How much ice is estimated to be there in the first place? I would think that it would be considered a precious resource and a lot of people would want to have a say in how it’s expended….whether they are there or not.–

      Paul Spudis guessed there was about 10 billion tonnes of lunar water in the polar regions of the Moon and could be millions of tonnes of mineable water.

      If someone were to mine say 100,000 tonnes of lunar water, that generally would be making more lunar water mineable.
      Or if mine 100,000 tons of water and have not make the price of water lower in price and lowered the cost of mining lunar water, that seems like something a government would do, or it’s mining lunar water badly- not vaguely resembling a professional business of mining.

      Governments should not mine anything, and should not in particular try to mine lunar water- which will be quite challenging to do.

      In US, NASA is outlawed from trying to do anything like this- pretending to be engaged in any kind of commercial activity.
      NASA job is to explore, and of course NASA has failed in a very embarrassing fashion, to do this.

  8. @George from a 10 May comment.

    I looked into roller throat a bit at one time.
    You might consider the roller itself as one of the impellers. Feed a propellant through the axle and let it feed out through the perimeter ports of the roller. If the roller gets hot enough, it will evaporate the propellant while still in the roller cooling it more and creating a gas injection and film cooling. Any that is still liquid can flow up the walls of the chamber film cooling it or is broadcast into the chamber. If both propellants are used, feeding in from opposite ends of the roller, it seems possible that thee could be a fast unlike mix injection with the spin atomizing the propellants.

    . The surface of the roller is moving at some velocity less than the throat Mach flow, and suffers somewhat less heating than a static throat as the surface is experiencing a velocity of Mach minus roller velocity. Even Mach 0.8 is a substantial difference from transonic.

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