Blue Origin rocket malfunction triggers dramatic abort

The Blue Origin rocket, which powers an unmanned New Shepard spacecraft loaded with 36 experiments to the edge of space, suffered a serious malfunction shortly after launch on Monday, prompting a dramatic but successful abort, as the pod shot away from its failing booster, deployed three parachutes and landed safely.

“It seems like we experienced an anomaly in today’s fight,” said the Blue Origin launch commentator. “This was unplanned and we don’t have any details yet. But our crew pod successfully escaped.”

The New Shepard 23 mission begins at Blue Origin's launch site in west Texas.  / Source: Blue Origin webcast

The New Shepard 23 mission begins at Blue Origin’s launch site in west Texas. / Source: Blue Origin webcast

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, built the New Shepard system to launch passengers and cargo about 65 miles up to the edge of space and allow about three minutes of zero gravity before the capsule tops the trajectory turned to descend for a parachute landing near the launch pad.

Monday’s flight was Blue Origin’s 23rd and fourth so far this year. Six of the last eight missions dating back to July 2021 have been conducted passengers, including Bezos. Two of the eight most recent flights, including Monday, carried cargo using only a capsule specially reserved for that purpose.

A sudden explosion of flames at the bottom of the single-stage rocket indicates a major disruption (left).  A camera on the rocket shows the Earth sloping downwards.  / Source: Blue Origin webcast

A sudden explosion of flames at the bottom of the single-stage rocket indicates a major disruption (left). A camera on the rocket shows the Earth sloping downwards. / Source: Blue Origin webcast

While Blue Origin’s “human” pod was not involved, figuring out what went wrong on Monday and fixing it will likely have downstream implications for the company’s flight schedule, but the full impact remains to be seen. There was no immediate comment from Bezos.

Meanwhile, the New Shepard spacecraft will remain grounded pending a formal accident investigation overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight, the FAA will determine whether any system, process or procedure related to the mishap has compromised public safety,” the agency said in a statement. “This is standard practice in all breakdown investigations. The FAA is responsible for protecting the public during launch and re-entry of commercial space vehicles.”

Monday’s flight began at 10:27 a.m. EDT, when the hydrogen-powered BE-3 engine powering the New Shepard single-stage booster burst into life, throttled to full thrust, and the spacecraft from Blue Origin’s launch site in west Texas carried to heaven.

A moment after realizing it

A moment after realizing it

The early moments of flight appeared normal as the missile thundered away, but a minute and four seconds after launch the BE-3’s exhaust plume changed color slightly and a moment later a large explosion of flame erupted from the base of the missile.

Within a second, the New Shepard demolition engine fired, immediately pushing the capsule away from the failed booster.

The capsule continued its ascent to an altitude of more than 37,000 feet before the engine burned out and a safe descent to Earth was made.  / Source: Blue Origin webcast

The capsule continued its ascent to an altitude of more than 37,000 feet before the engine burned out and a safe descent to Earth was made. / Source: Blue Origin webcast

The capsule sped away as expected – the abort system was tested during a test flight in 2018 – but the spacecraft didn’t seem as stable on the motor, wiggling back and forth before the motor ran out of solid propellant and burned out.

From there, the descent to Earth seemed normal. About a minute into the demolition began, three small drogue parachutes deployed to stabilize and slow the capsule, followed by three main parachutes, which lowered the spacecraft to a relatively gentle touchdown and kicked up a cloud of dust in the West Texas desert.

“You can see how our backup security systems deployed today to protect our payloads in an off-par situation,” said the Blue Origin commentator. “Security is our highest value at Blue Origin, that’s why we built so much redundancy into the system.”

It was the 23rd New Shepard flight, the ninth launch of a capsule for unmanned cargo missions. Another New Shepard spacecraft carried a total of 31 passengers into space, including Bezos, in six manned missions.

Queen’s death raises questions about the monarchy

The Queen’s coffin arrives in Edinburgh; King Charles III addresses Parliament

Midterm racing is heating up in the US as New Hampshire is next to hold elementary school

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.