Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon and the head of space company Blue Origin, announced his intent to participate in the new race to the Moon with a high-tech lander to carry vehicles and equipment.
“This is Blue Moon,” Mr Bezos said at a carefully choreographed presentation in Washington on Thursday, as curtains lifted to show a model of a huge vessel.
It is supported by four legs, with an upper deck where equipment can be fixed. A large tank of liquefied nitrogen fuel occupies its centre.
“It’s an incredible vehicle, and it will go to the Moon,” the Amazon founder declared.
Mr Bezos didn’t announce a specific date for the project’s first launch, but Blue Origin later said it was capable of meeting US President Donald Trump’s announced goal of returning people to the Moon by 2024.
“We can help meet that timeline, but only because we started three years ago,” he said. “It’s time to go back to the Moon, this time to stay.”
Fifty years after American astronauts first walked on the Moon, the US is among countries showing renewed interest in Earth’s natural satellite.
The vehicle will be capable of carrying scientific instruments, four self-driving rovers and a future pressurised vehicle for humans.
The goal is to land on the Moon’s south pole, where ice deposits were confirmed in 2018. Water can be exploited to produce hydrogen, which in turn could fuel future exploration of the solar system.
The White House’s intention to return to the Moon in 2024 has sent National Aeronautics and Space Administration – the US federal government agency responsible for the civilian space programmes – into a frenzy of activity, because that particular mission was originally anticipated for 2028.
Mr Bezos, who rarely speaks about the projects at Blue Origin, which he founded in 2000 and finances with more than $1 billion per year, clearly suggested he wants to help NASA.
Several other aerospace companies are also expected to bid to build the lander for the space agency. Maryland-headquartered Lockheed Martin proposed its own lander concept some months ago.
Mr Bezos outlined his broader vision to build an infrastructure that would sustain the colonisation of space by future generations of humans and shift polluting industries off the Earth.
“My generation’s job is to build the infrastructure,” said Mr Bezos. “We’re going to build the road to space.”
Blue Origin is working on two other major projects: New Shepard – a suborbital rocket to fly tourists into space – and New Glenn – a heavy lift, partly reusable launch rocket.
Mr Bezos confirmed his commitment to fly the first people in New Shepard this year and New Glenn in 2021.