Friday May 10, 2019
WASHINGTON: Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, the founder of rocket company Blue Origin, will unveil plans on Thursday for missions to the moon tailored to the US government’s renewed push to establish a lunar outpost in just five years, people familiar with the matter said.
Bezos, the world’s richest man and also chief executive and founder of Amazon.com, is scheduled to host a rare media event at 4PM EDT (2000 GMT) in Washington to provide “an update on our progress and share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth,” Blue Origin said in an advisory.
Blue Origin spokeswoman Caitlin Dietrich did not respond to requests for comment.
Privately held Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, has been tight-lipped about its lunar strategy. But people familiar with the company’s plans, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bezos is expected to lay out details on lunar missions and a lunar lander spacecraft that the company is developing. Blue has also discussed a human outpost on the moon.
In March, US Vice President Mike Pence called on NASA to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary,” four years earlier than previously planned. Bezos is likely to frame his strategy to align with that timeline in a bid to attract funds from the US space agency, one of the people said.
Another industry source said Blue Origin has been working to refine and accelerate its strategy following Pence’s comments.
The company dropped a possible hint about the announcement with a Twitter post last month of a picture of the ship used by explorer Ernest Shackleton on an expedition to Antarctica in 1914 — a possible reference to an impact crater on the lunar south pole sharing the man’s name.
NASA has already set its sights on the moon’s south pole, a region believed to hold enough recoverable ice water for use in synthesizing additional rocket fuel as well as for drinking water.
Bezos, who has talked about his broader vision of enabling a future in which millions of people live and work in space, has been intent on moving Blue Origin closer to commercialization.
His vision is shared by other billionaire-backed private space ventures like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and aerospace incumbents like United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin.
Blue Origin is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. It is aiming to deliver the New Glenn rocket by 2021 while launching humans in a suborbital flight later this year atop its rocket-and-capsule New Shepard.
While Bezos is angling to become a leading player in space exploration and win business from the US government, he has been the target of repeated criticism from President Donald Trump, who has referred to him as Jeff “Bozo.” Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which Trump has frequently targeted in his broadsides about “fake news.”