Jeff Bezos' moon lander
This week Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos joined the club of Moon-sighted billionaires when he revealed his vision, Blue Moon. But is it a proper moonshot, or is it something else? Adam Murphy spoke to Angel Investor Peter Cowley.
Peter - Bezos has announced that he's produced a device or a module which will lift off from the earth and will land on the moon. It won't return at the moment, it will just go over there and deliver rovers, it will deliver satellites potentially, and instruments. It's part of his own programme but it's got to the point where he's designed, though not yet launched, a moon lander.
Adam - Now, Elon Musk has his fancy big heavy rocket as well, why is this one different?
Peter - Well, there are many many scores of companies outside governments that are looking at going into space, and the three big ones for the entrepreneurs are, as you say, Bezos with Amazon, there's Musk we know through Tesla and SpaceX, and then Branson with Virgin Galactica, so all of these are sort of competing. There's plenty of other companies doing it as well and what Musk has said - I don't know if you were aware he launched his Tesla Roadster some months ago into space, a very large publicity stunt to some extent, whereas Bezos is really aiming for the moon, so he has got a different view on this. In both cases they are entrepreneurs who have made a lot of money and are funding these space programs. Now we should point out that Musk has actually got to the point now where they have a turnover in the billions and will probably break even, where Bezos is funding it with his own money.
Adam - So there are at a very different stage in terms of where they're going?
Peter - In terms of size and the amount of funding they have from customers. Musk has had some external capital to start with and now got lots of contracts, a much bigger organisation. Bezos has claimed that he is putting in a billion a year of his own money into this project.
Adam - So that means he's got a lot of catching up to do with Blue Moon, so when are they planning to get going?
Peter - Well again, a big difference here, Bezos has only actually sent up 11 rockets so far, whereas Musk has sent up 70 odd and a lot of successful rockets. In both cases they've had failures of course. This is ‘new space’, as it's called, rather than ‘old space’ and Bezos has said that he should be able to get the device, the launcher, up in 2024. Musk has got a reputation for things being late but I don't think that really matters. These are small companies doing stuff that was generally done by governments and through NASA for instance.
Adam - What chance does it have of succeeding? Is it a pipe dream?
Peter - No. I suspect it will succeed providing there is enough money to do that. In all cases, what they're doing is taking engineering and money and converting it to something. But bearing in mind, well before you two were born - I was about 12 or 13 - a man landed on the moon, and a lot of things have happened since then in terms of technology and materials science etc., so it's pretty likely that will happen. It's more interesting though is the fact at the moment they're shipping up non-animate objects i.e., satellites etc. I noticed when I was doing a bit of research on this that a successful human flight has a 1 in 500 chance of failure, that’s still acceptable. If 1 in 500 aircraft crashed every year that's 80,000 aircraft killing 10 million people. So the safety margins are clearly less, but neither of these entrepreneurs have yet put a human being beyond a certain distance. Branson's done that, of course, with his module but the other two haven't.
Adam - Is Bezos ever planning to do anything with people or is he just sticking with things?
Peter - No, absolutely. Both Musk and Bezos are planning on doing that.
Adam - So what's Bezos hoping to do in the long run with people then?
Peter - Well, his idea is to set up a base on the moon so I presume it will be for and Amazon depot perhaps, or is that too horrible a joke? Musk has also said with SpaceX he would expect to have a base on the moon but that is the bigger project which is to go further out to Mars. Both are looking at somehow meaning that the human race doesn't have to stay on this planet, as we gradually ruin it, in the longer term.
Adam - It would also mean the competing nations will become SpaceX and Amazon which is an interesting thought.
Peter - Well, and they still need funding for a lot of places and the Russians, and Chinese, and Indians and Japanese are all on these paths.
Adam - We know he's planning to put the thing into space soon enough, does he have any visions and when we are going to have a moon base?
Peter - No, and I've not seen that. But if you take 2024 to go up there and the fact that once this is only delivering autonomous robots or whatever and materials, I would suspect it’s going to take a lot of trips to get the things up there - like dozens - and then it's got to be built. This is my guess, but I would have thought 2035/2040 really before we get something where it's human habitable.
Adam - So still in the realms of sci-fi a little bit then?
Peter - I think I might be dead by then, but you two can watch it.