Blue Origin has unveiled their latest, full size mockup of their Blue Moon MK1 Cargo lander at their Huntsville facility, showcasing an updated design of their uncrewed cargo vehicle. This pathfinder is intended to test technologies and operational practices ahead of their expected crew debut on Artemis V with Blue Moon MK2, and develop operational maturity for their Lunar Transportation division.
In a statement on their website and the platform formerly known as Twitter, Blue Origin announced: “Blue Moon Mark 1 (MK1) is a single-launch, lunar cargo lander that remains on the surface and provides safe, reliable, and affordable access to the lunar environment. MK1 will provide cargo transport, leveraging the 7-meter fairing of the New Glenn launch vehicle, to deliver up to three metric tons anywhere on the lunar surface.
The Pathfinder Mission (MK1-SN001) will be a demonstration mission, with MK1-SN002 and beyond available to payload customers. MK1-SN001 proves out critical systems, including the BE-7 engine, cryogenic fluid power and propulsions systems, avionics, continuous downlink communications, and precision landing within 100 m site accuracy, prior to the uncrewed NASA Human Landing System mission for the Artemis program.”
Blue Moon MK2 is intended to build heavily on technologies developed by MK1, and upgrade the system for future reusable operations in conjunction with Cislunar Transporter. Blue Origin’s reusable architecture centers around cryogenic refueling, something yet to be tested by either of the commercial lander entrants under the Artemis program.
Blue Origin’s approach has differed drastically from their counterparts at SpaceX throughout the development process on Human Landing Systems (HLS). SpaceX has repeatedly stressed the importance of all up testing for their HLS entry, testing both their reusable Super Heavy first stage and Starship in tandem in preparation for Artemis III. While Blue Moon MK1 is intended not to be reusable, it will test the complex series of systems required for a reusable crew landing in support of Artemis operations. This incremental approach drastically reduces all up risk, while pathfinding future architecture expected to fly on Blue Moon MK2.
Hardware for Artemis such as SLS and Orion continue to approach readiness, however recent delays with the Starship HLS program have reinforced the need for a second lunar lander. Blue Origin’s selection as part of the program’s goal of continuous cadence for Sustainable Lunar Development represents a vital step in ensuring dissimilar redundancy and readiness for operational missions.