Amazon chief Bezos announces plans to send spacecraft to the Moon

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The robotic ship will supposedly be the size of a small house, capable of carrying four rovers and using a newly designed rocket engine.

The move is seen as a way to capitalise on the Trump administration’s renewed push to establish a lunar outpost in just five years and an eventual manned mission to mars

Bezos, who was dwarfed by a mock-up of the Blue Moon lunar lander at his presentation on Thursday, said: “This is an incredible vehicle and it’s going to the Moon. It’s time to go back to the Moon. This time to stay.”

His media event followed vice president Mike Pence’s announcement on 26 March 2019 that Nasa plans 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.

“I love this,” Bezos said of Pence’s timeline. “We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago. It’s time to go back to the Moon, this time to stay.”

Bezos made the announcement in front of astronauts and other space luminaries, before unveiling the spacecraft which features four long, spindly landing legs.

Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post newspaper, walked off the stage without providing any further details such as launch dates, customers or the plan for humans on his rockets.

It is known that 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.

A Blue Origin executive, speaking to Reuters in April, said that the New Glenn rocket would be ready by 2021. On Thursday, Bezos said that launching humans on suborbital flights would take place later this year on New Shepard, although he mostly spent the time talking about his dream of future generations living on orbiting space station colonies than on concrete details about Blue Origin missions.

Blue Origin officials gave conflicting answers to questions about when the company would land on the Moon with and without people. Blue Origin vice president Clay Mowry said 2024 was not a concrete goal for a mission with people and said it was more up to Nasa as a potential customer.

Former US representative Robert Walker – a private space consultant who is working with Blue Origin – said it plans for a 2023 launch without people.

The new Moon race has a lower profile than the one in the 1960s. It involves private companies, new countries and a Nasa return mission to place astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024.

While a $30m prize for private companies to send robotic probes to the Moon went unclaimed last year, one of the competitors, from an Israeli private non-profit company, crashed last month as it tried to land.

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