Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says a launch anomaly that forced the suspension of its suborbital spaceflights last September was caused by a structural failure of the rocket engine’s nozzle.
Corrective actions are being taken, and flights are expected to resume “soon,” Blue Origin said today. The redesigned New Shepard spaceship will re-fly the payloads that were part of the uncrewed mission that went awry.
No people were aboard New Shepard during last year’s launch from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas. No one was injured on the ground, and there was no damage to ground-based systems. All of the debris was recovered in the designated hazard area.
Flights have been suspended during Blue Origin’s investigation, which was conducted by a team including representatives from NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration. In an emailed statement, the FAA said the investigation “remains open.”
“The agency is currently reviewing the company’s submission of its mishap report,” it said. “FAA approval is required to close the investigation and for the New Shepard System to return to flight.”
Before the failure of the uncrewed research mission, known as NS-23, Blue Origin had flown 31 customers and special guests (including Bezos and his brother Mark, and Star Trek actor William Shatner) on six crewed suborbital trips. There were also more than a dozen uncrewed flights, many of which carried research payloads.
Blue Origin’s only other New Shepard failure occurred during the first test flight of the suborbital launch system in 2015. As was the case for that earlier failure, last September’s mishap led to the loss of the rocket booster, but the capsule that would have held crew was recovered safely. Blue Origin said if there had been crew members aboard, they would have had a safe but rocky ride.