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How Jeff Bezos plans to take civilization to space

GeekWire podcast.

February 09

According to Jeff Bezos, it might be a distraction to try and to colonize other planets. They are far, and none are better or come even close to quality of Earth. In his view, we should colonize space instead. But does his involvement in BlueOrigin conflict with his job at Amazon? It's all in this GeekWire podcast!

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another great thing about the moon. Another reason is a gift. It's nearby. It's three days away. It's time to go back to the moon this time to stay. Let me show you something. This'd Blue Moon hee choirs, aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle is on the line. Alan, where are you and where do you covering this week?


Well, I'm in Washington, D c. I'm actually calling from, uh, Park. That's near the place where Jeff Bezos had his big production to introduce the Blue Moon lunar Lander. This happened on Thursday afternoon. It was a big production. Deep blue lights in the darkened ballroom at the Washington Convention Center. And it was all done up in a spacey decor showing off this lunar lander, which is probably twice as high as Jeff Bezos was on stage. So it was, Ah, Hollywood style reveal or, I might say,


and Elon Musk style reveal. Yes, and Elon Musk actually had a response which will get to later. But in the meantime, give us kind of the big picture here. Because last we heard from Jeff Bezos on the geek wire podcasts, you were actually interviewing him on stage and he did reveal that blue origin his commercial space venture, intended to go to the moon. And as his signature line goes now, he said, we will go back to the moon this time to stay What was new in what you heard yesterday and what's the significance?


Ryan. He used that line again with Thursday's presentation, and if you're really looking at it on a technical level, there were more details available. For example, they're developing a new type of engine called the B G seven hydrogen fueled engine that would be used on this lunar lander and could be refueled using hydrogen recovered from lunar ice. Also, some specifics about how payloads with the sent back and forth and the concept was tweaked with a stretched version. This version of the lander could be stretched to be a little bit bigger and capable of carrying hardware that that folks would need to land astronauts on the surface. And that is, ah, significant twist that this is actually being offered to bring humans to the lunar surface, as the administration wants to do in 2024


Vice president Pence just recently said it's the stated policy of this administration and United States of America to return American astronauts the moon within the next five years. I love this. It's the right thing to do. And for those of you doing the arithmetic at home, that's 2024 and we can help meet that timeline, but only because we started three years ago. What is Jeff Bezos is big picture goal here. What's he trying to accomplish and why is he trying to do


it? Well, the biggest picture is having millions of people living and working in space, which is another classic Jeff Bezos catch line. So this is about how you get there. What are what are the steps? And so Jeff spent a good amount of time during Thursday's presentation talking about the step by step approach. How Blue origin is working on the sub orbital space vehicle called New Shepherd? That may start taking people to space later this year, and they're working on an orbital class rocket called New Blend, which would be able to put satellites in tow, orbit and perhaps go beyond Earth orbit. And then there's Blue Moon, which would facilitate perhaps a permanent settlement on the moon. As Jeff would like to see from there You just take advantage of the resource is and try to push further out into the solar system.


The good news is that if we move out into the source system for all practical purposes, we have unlimited resource is. So we get to choose. Do we want Stasis and rationing, or do we want dynamism and growth? This is an easy choice. We know what we want. We just have to get busy. If we're out in the solar system, we can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we have 1000 Mozarts and 1000 Einstein's. This would be an incredible civilization.


Jeff actually talked about this idea of O'Neill cylinders, which again he's brought up before. He talked about this in quite a bit of depth at ah presentation at the Museum of Flight in Seattle a couple of years ago. But these are self standing, free flying, rotating habitats in space that would be able to accommodate a city's worth of people in all their things. And so this is part of the grand vision. It goes back to the concept advanced by one of Jeff Bezos is mentors Jerry O'Neill, who came up with this book called The High Frontier, where he talked about these cylinders serving as habitats for people living in outer space. So that's a pretty big picture.

Are we better off colonising space than planets like Mars?

According to Jeff Bezos, there are a bunch of problems associated with colonizing other planets that do not exist when it comes to nearby outer space.

Other planetary [which we could attempt to colonize] aren't that big when compared to Earth, maybe a doubling of surface area at best. Considering how far they are, that's not that useful.

Round trip times are a significant logistical problem. Trips to Mars, for example, are on the order of years, and launch opportunities to Mars only occur once every 22 months.

Lastly, other planets are far enough away to do real time communications with Earth, limited by the speed of light.

What could this future look like? Where would a trillion humans live? Well, it's very interesting. Somebody named Jerry O'Neill, a physics professor. Look at this question very carefully. And he asked, Hey, asked a very precise question that nobody had ever asked before. It was is a planetary surface, the best place for humans to expand into the solar system. And he and his students set toe work on answering that question, and they came to a very surprising for them. Counter intuitive answer. No. Why not?

Well, they came up with a bunch of problems. One is that other planetary surfaces aren't that big you're talking about, maybe a doubling at best. It's not that much. They're a long way away. Round trip times to Mars are on the order of years and launch opportunities to Mars or only once every 22 months, which is a very significant logistics problem. And last, you're far enough away that you're not gonna be able to do real time communications with Earth. You're gonna be limited by the speed of light lag. You're certainly the kids sitting here. Probably some of the adults, too. Don't even think about playing fortnight with somebody on Earth. That is not gonna work.

Put this in the scheme of everything that's going on in terms of commercial space. Because if I remember correctly, Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. Jeff Bezos wants to go to Moon. Where are we? Big picture, And where does this blue moon mission


fit in? It's kind of concentric circles moving out. There's a lot happening in Earth orbit relating to, uh, constellations of satellites and also, uh, commercial methods of putting people in tow. Low Earth orbit, specifically the International Space Station and Space X and Boeing are involved in that. I was at a satellite conference, uh, during this past week in during the build up to Jeff Bezos is announcement, and and there's a lot going on with mega constellations, thousands of satellites that would provide ubiquitous access to the Internet and high speed data. And then you go to the moon. And because the moon is targeted by the Trump Administration for 2024 NASA is on board that bus. Everyone is looking to the moon.

Even Elon Musk says that the starship spaceship that he's developing would be suitable as a lunar lander. And so starship could be seen as a big budget competitors to blue origins. Blue Moon and then the moon is seen as a stepping stone further outward to Mars. That's where Elon Musk's main focus is. It's not so much a focus for Jeff Bezos, he says, that Earth is the best planet. If you're looking at Spaces, a Plan B. It's really more about preserving Earth as humanity's plan A to kind of put more of the industry into outer space and leave Earth as more of a residential district in our interplanetary metropolis. So after the Mars, you're looking farther and farther out, and then you kind of get into the science fiction Rome. Or at least you're talking about what's gonna happen in the 22nd century. So ah, lot of folks are speculating where you go from there, but it gets less and less real sounding the further out you move,


Alan, what were your impressions of the Blue Moon Lander. Seeing the mock up in person,


My impression I I was I was, frankly, a kind of astonished because I've seen renderings of the lander before, and I kind of imagined that as something that had a top on it, like a table top, you know that it's like a billiards table in space, but this is huge. I was amazed to see how big the full size mock up is. It's more like Uh oh, gosh, I I, um I don't know if there's a vehicle that quite compares to it in size no bigger than a helicopter, that's for sure. So think about a helicopter may be scaled up to twice the size. And so that was the thing that that struck me the most. That was the show stopper for me. Just to see the curtain literally. He pulled away and to see this huge thing with Jeff Bezos giving a guided


tour thistles, Blue moon, little soft land and precise way 3.6 metric tons onto the lunar surface. The stretch tank variant of it will soft land 6.5 metric tons onto the lunar surface. The deck is designed to be a very simple interface so that a great variety of payloads can be placed on to the top deck and secured on the left hand side. You can see our star Tracker so that this vehicle can autonomously navigate in space. On the right hand side, you'll see an optical communication system that gives us gigabit bandwidth back to Earth. It's a laser that transmits data back to Earth. We also have expand for 10 megabit radio. Yeah, I'm looking at a picture of her right now that you took from the event, and it's got four legs and a giant sphere in the middle. It's basically got a propulsion cone at the

Is liquid hydrogen the best fuel for a lunar expedition?

Liquid hydrogen fuel can be replenished using water from the Moon, thus enabling longer missions that don't require all the fuel to be packed ahead of time, that is Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin is using it as the future for their moon lander.

bottom of it, right? That's the being seven engine. Yep. And then those large ears are propellant tanks for the liquid hydrogen and the liquid oxygen

Is liquid hydrogen the best fuel for a lunar expedition?

Liquid hydrogen fuel can be replenished using water from the Moon, thus enabling longer missions that don't require all the fuel to be packed ahead of time, that is Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin is using it as the future for their moon lander.

liquid hydrogen. Why are we using liquid hydrogen? This is not how Apollo did it. Why are we using liquid? Hydrogen is our fuel a couple of reasons? One. It's very high performance, and so that helps a lot when you're landing on the moon. That's that after you've got to carry all of your propellant to the moon second reason we're using liquid hydrogen is because ultimately we're gonna be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon and be ableto refuel these vehicles on the surface of the moon and used them.


There's a frame around it, and there are electricity, generating a little cells in the frame that would take advantage of some of the hydrogen that comes off the propellant tanks. And then there's a big deck on top, and the top flat deck is where you could put up, too four rovers the size of saying NASA's Curiosity Rover or in the stretch version, you could put what's called in a sense stage on there. And that would be analogous to the ascent stage that the Apollo astronauts used to lift off from the lunar module during the Apollo missions.


Is it coincidence that this is coinciding with the buildup to the Apollo 11 anniversary? The landing on the moon?


Well, it's a good hook, uh, and, uh, and there's a lot of talk about what might be done in the next few years. Of course, the 2024 date is looming large in the plans for lunar missions and It just so happens that if Donald Trump is reelected, 2024 would come toward the end of that second term. And so that's one of the reasons why it has a little bit of a political cast to it. And there are a lot of question marks about whether 2024 was doable before the latest push, led by vice President Mike Pence, 2028 was being talked about is the timeframe for human landing on the moon. So they are really going to have to rush it. And NASA is expected to tell Congress in the next week or two how much this is gonna cost. And then a rail debate begins over how doable this is gonna be.


So as you've been reporting, Jeff Bezos is selling about a $1,000,000,000 worth of Amazon stock per year to invest in blue origin, his space venture. And there's this funny sort of joke among his friends that the reason he started Amazon was to basically get into space to support this space venture. I don't know how much right that actually is, he


said. He would not. He would neither confirm


nor deny,


but but uh, the you know that he's got a smile on his face as he says that he sent to me a couple of years ago.


But one thing that struck me from his presentation was he was talking about customers, people who would use this blue moon lunar lander to get their own payloads onto the moon. It was a reminder that this is not philanthropy for him. We also have already a bunch of customers for Blue Moon, many of whom were in the audience. They're gonna be deploying science missions to the moon as well. People are very excited about this capability to soft land their cargo, the rovers, their science experiments onto the surface of the moon in a precise way. There is no capability to do that today.


I think. For Jeff Bezos, this is one of the things that, uh, where he started, really, With this presentation, he started with this idea of. There are a lot of things you could do, tow, help, humanity, and and, uh, as you know, the Basil family has been involved in some of those philanthropic ventures. But there are other things that are longer range that can help humanity.

And that's where he classifies this space effort that that it's worth spending some money on this. Ah, I know that there's a lot of questions about how much he's spending and whether this money could be better spent back on Earth. And I think Jeff would probably say, Well, I'm doing that and other people are doing that, But you have to kind of take care of this long range effort as well in terms of the customers, these are people who would be also applying scientific payloads or engineering payloads, perhaps to test the equipment in the lunar environment. And the impression I get is that rewards and would very much like to have NASA beauty anchor customer for this. And NASA is going to be putting out a solicitation for lunar lander concepts that could be used for human space missions and George and definitely wants to get in on that. But I got the impression just from the enthusiasm with which Jeff has talked about this over the years and this week as well that even if blue origin did lose out to some other company, like Lockheed Martin or a Space Six for having that human lunar lander contract from NASA. I get the impression that work would continue on Blue Moon for other purposes. It's just that this is kind of the Marquis mission, and Jeff would like to be in on this as he would love to be in on it seems everything from the cloud to retail.


And you were mentioning those constellations earlier the satellites that are going to be all around the earth providing Internet access. Amazon itself has recently announced plans for one of those not related to blue origin directly but potentially right, working with them, possibly down the road.

What are challenges and opportunities for Amazon's partnership with Blue Origin?

On one hand, it would be incredibly convenient for Amazon to use Blue Origin as a launch rocket for their upcoming satellite array. These satellites would enable Amazon to provide better services for their stream and cloud businesses, among other.

On the other hand, because Amazon is a public company, they have to make sure that Blue Origin doesn't just get a contract by default, thus enabling Bezos to stash money from his public company into his private venture.

Yeah, that's an interesting play, and there was a lot to talk about that at the satellite conference, and I'm sure I'm going to try to write up more of my thoughts in a coherent banner about that in the next week or so. But Amazon has its own purposes for having satellites in space. One person compared it to a self licking ice cream cone because Amazon could use that satellite network to extend its reach in terms of selling stuff through amazon dot com or providing cloud service is or streaming service is car for prime video. But it's a delicate thing because Amazon is a publicly held company and you can't just say automatically that blue origin would get the contract for those launches because the shareholders want to make sure that it's not ah, self dealing sort of situation for Jeff Bezos, where he is inappropriately using one money from a public venture to shore up his private venture so that that's going to be delicate matter as Project Piper Amazon satellite effort proceeds.


Did you say self licking ice cream cone? Yeah, I have not heard that one. That's that's new to me. I'm sheltered from that. One thing


out of the meaning is obvious is that, uh, that the satellite network is something that the Amazon would do that basically benefits Amazon.


No, there you go. So I know you've got to run to other interviews. You've got some good interviews coming up later today, there in Washington, D. C. Allen, but but big picture. What would be your key takeaways from what you saw yesterday,


Just that Blue origin is really serious about this one thing. And it's not just power point that's been known internally for several years in fact, some of the people from blue origin said, At last I can talk about this thing that I've been working on our three years, this Israel, and it may be a mock up now, but the amount of effort that blue origin is putting into this will, I think, make this a reality in terms of what it's used for that's yet to be seen. But Jeff Bezos is clearly committed to this and, like England musk who kind of made a little bit of fun about how how much Jeff has been promising but not delivering


yet. But


just liking on, uh, Jeff, Uh, really, once he latches on to something, he's not gonna let go. And I don't think he's gonna let go of the moon based on what we saw on Thursday.


Yeah, so this is a family podcast. So I won't quote Elon musk ce tweet or the Photoshopped version of the Moon Lander that he tweeted but a link to basically


Ellen saying, Jack, you're such a team,


So we'll leave it at that exactly all right. Alan Boyle requires aerospace and science editor calling in from Washington, D. C. Where he witnessed the unveiling of the Blue Moon Lunar Lander by Jeff Bezos Is commercial space venture blue origin? By the way, Alan, clearly this was the master plan all along in naming the company blue origin. Right? Because then the name Blue Moon just follows as part of the branding. Yeah. Watch out. If you start hearing about Blue Mark, it's all right. Thanks, Alan. Thank you.

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