WASHINGTON - Billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, founder of rocket company Blue Origin, unveiled on Thursday a mockup of a lunar lander spacecraft and discussed missions to the moon in a strategy tailored to the US government's renewed push to establish a lunar outpost in just 5 years.
Bezos, the world's richest man and also chief executive and founder of Amazon.com, told a rare media event in Washington that the lander, named Blue Moon, could deliver payloads to the moon's surface and deploy payloads during journey to Moon.
US Vice President Mike Pence in March called on NASA to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the moon's south pole by 2024 "by any means necessary," 4 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 3 years ago. It's time to go back to the moon, this time to stay."
During his hour-long presentation at Washington's convention center, Bezos waved his arm and a black drape behind him dropped to reveal the two-story-tall unmanned lander mockup, which he said can deploy up to 4 smaller rovers and shoot out satellites to orbit the moon.
"This is an incredible vehicle and it's going to the moon," he added.
Bezos unveiled a model of one of the proposed rovers, which was roughly the size of a golf cart. Bezos also presented a new rocket engine called BE-7, which can blast 10,000 pounds (4,535 kg) of thrust.
Privately held Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, is developing its New Shepard rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for satellite launch contracts. It is aiming to deliver the New Glenn rocket by 2021, while launching humans in a suborbital flight later this year atop its rocket-and-capsule New Shepard.
Blue Origin has also previously discussed a human outpost on the moon.
NASA has already set its sights on the moon's south pole, a region believed to hold enough recoverable ice water for use in synthesizing additional rocket fuel as well as for drinking water.
Bezos, who has talked about his broader vision of enabling a future in which millions of people live and work in space, has been intent on moving Blue Origin closer to commercialization.
His announcement came about 2 months before the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, and he began his presentation with video of that event.
Bezos spoke of the importance of future human colonization of space and mentioned 2 important issues: reducing launch costs and using resources already in space.
"One of the most important things we know about the moon today is that there's water there," Bezos said. "It's in the form of ice. It's in the permanently shadowed craters on the poles of the moon."
His vision is shared by other billionaire-backed private space ventures like Elon Musk's SpaceX and aerospace incumbents like United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin.
While Bezos is angling to become a leading player in space exploration and win business from the US government, he has been the target of repeated criticism from President Donald Trump, who has referred to him as Jeff "Bozo." Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which Trump has frequently targeted in his broadsides about "fake news."