FAA finishes investigation of Blue Origin launch mishap

The Federal Aviation Administration says that it’s closed its investigation of last year’s mishap involving Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship, but that Jeff Bezos’ space venture isn’t yet cleared to resume flights.

New Shepard’s engine anomaly occurred during an uncrewed research flight on Sept. 12, 2022, and led to the suspension of further flights. The booster’s misfire marked a rare setback for the New Shepard program, which had conducted more than 20 successful launches at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas — including six missions that provided suborbital space trips to a total of 31 people.

During last year’s aborted mission, Blue Origin’s launch escape system worked as planned, blasting the capsule away from the booster for a parachute-assisted landing while the booster fell onto the Texas spaceport’s open terrain. The company said that if people had been in the capsule, they would have survived. No one was hurt on the ground.

This March, Blue Origin reported that the booster’s BE-3 rocket engine malfunctioned when its nozzle suffered a structural failure, due to engine operating temperatures that were higher than expected. The FAA said its final report reflects that conclusion.

The FAA also said Blue Origin was required to take 21 corrective actions to prevent a reoccurrence of the mishap. Those measures included a redesign of the engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance during operation, plus organizational changes.

Back in March, Blue Origin said it had already begun implementing corrective actions. “We’ve received the FAA’s letter and plan to fly soon,” the company said today in a posting to X / Twitter.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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