NASA awards Blue Origin $35 million contract to unlock 'unlimited solar power'

Jeff Bezos' private space company will now perform a demonstration of its Blue Alchemist technology by 2026.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Blue Alchemist solar panels.
An artist's impression of Blue Alchemist solar panels.

Blue Origin 

NASA awarded Blue Origin a $35 million Tipping Point contract today to help it continue to develop its Blue Alchemist project, a press statement reveals.

In February this year, Jeff Bezos' space company announced it had developed an autonomous method for making unlimited solar panels for space missions using only lunar regolith.

What's more, the firm believes that space technology could also be utilized on Earth to help fight climate change by massively expanding our capacity for deploying solar farms on a global scale.

The new NASA contract will allow Blue Origin to demonstrate its technology in a simulated lunar environment by 2026.

Blue Origin aims to unleash unlimited solar power

Blue Origin's Blue Alchemist technology has the potential to massively alter power production for space missions as well as for businesses and households on Earth.

In a press statement released on February 10, the private space company explained that Blue Alchemist "will put unlimited solar power wherever we need it," adding that it "can scale indefinitely, eliminating power as a constraint anywhere on the Moon."

"Because our technology manufactures solar cells with zero carbon emissions, no water, and no toxic ingredients or other chemicals, it has exciting potential to directly benefit the Earth," the February statement continued.

NASA awards Blue Origin $35 million contract to unlock 'unlimited solar power'
A Blue Alchemist prototype solar cell.

Alongside the announcement of Blue Alchemist, Blue Origin shared an image of a prototype solar cell built using simulated lunar regolith.

Now, the private space company has announced that the new NASA Tipping Point contract will allow it to carry out a "demonstration of autonomous operation in a simulated lunar environment by 2026."

"Blue Alchemist is a proposed end-to-end, scalable, autonomous, and commercial solution that produces solar cells from lunar regolith, which is the dust and crushed rock abundant on the surface of the Moon," the company continued in its new statement.

The process is based on molten regolith electrolysis, which would also produce oxygen as a byproduct for rocket propulsion and breathable air for astronauts.

Blue Alchemist could allow lunar astronauts to "live off the land"

NASA's Tipping Point program is designed to help companies grow their cutting-edge technologies into viable commercial solutions. On July 24, the space agency announced that it had selected 11 awardees for the program, with a combined prize of $150 million.

Aside from Blue Origin, other awardees include United Launch Alliance (ULA), which will develop the LOFTID heatshield technology NASA demonstrated in orbit last year, as well as Astrobiotic Technology, which aims to develop its LunaGrid project for supplying rovers with solar power using a cable.

"Harnessing the vast resources in space to benefit Earth is part of our mission, and we're inspired and humbled to receive this investment from NASA to advance our innovation," Pat Remias, vice president of Capabilities Directorate of Space Systems Development at Blue Origin explained in the statement. "First, we return humans to the Moon; then we start to 'live off the land.'"

Blue Origin is also investigating the explosion of one of its BE-4 rocket engines during tests ahead of use on ULA's Vulcan Centaur debut launch and Blue Origin's in-development New Glenn orbital rocket. The private space company's suborbital New Shepard rocket has been grounded since last year, though CEO Bob Smith recently stated it could fly again within a "few weeks".

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