FAA Grounds Bezos After New Shepard Booster Goes Up In Flames

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos during a post-launch briefing on July 20, 2021.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos during a post-launch briefing on July 20, 2021.
Photography: Tony Gutierrez (AP)

The suborbital flights of the Blue Origin space tourism rocket are suspended pending a federal Aviation administration review of Monday’s in-flight anomaly. There were no passengers at the time, but an apparent booster failure activated the vehicle’s escape pod system.

The apparent booster failure occurred 65 seconds into the Blue Origin NS-23 mission, which lifted off from Launch Site One in West Texas at 10:27 a.m. ET on Monday. The anomaly caused the rocket’s abort system to engage, throwing the unmanned capsule away from the fire booster. The capsule landed successfully with the help of a parachute, but the booster crashed to the ground instead of performing his usual vertical landing.

The New Shepard rocket appeared to be completely engulfed in flames before the capsule was ejected from the launch vehicle.
The New Shepard rocket appeared to be completely engulfed in flames before the capsule was ejected from the launch vehicle.
Screenshot: Blue Origin

There are no reports of injuries or property damage, and we are still awaiting information on the fate of the 36th scientific and technological cargo that participated in NS-23. Of these payloads, the majority belonged to NASA.

Monday’s booster failure “is a stark reminder of the risks of spaceflight,” said Don Beyer, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. statement. “I take our oversight role in this area very seriously. I will await further information from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation as it begins its investigation into the anomaly that occurred today.”

Indeed, the Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation into the incident and has suspended launches of New Shepard pending the outcome. Before the rocket is allowed to fly again, the FAA “will determine whether any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety,” the agency explained in a statement. The FAA said their investigation is “standard practice” after an accident of this type and that the agency is “responsible for protecting the public during commercial space shuttle launch and re-entry operations.”

The rocket usually carries paying passengers on short suborbital trips to the edge space, in which the capsule reaches an altitude of more than 60 miles (100 kilometers). The capsule, separated from the first booster stage, then returns to Earth by parachute. Founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin has sent 31 people into space since the company launched its space tourism offering.n July 20, 2021 Blue Origin has not announced a fixed price for these tripsbut some passengers claim that he paid as much as 30 million dollars.

The cause of the anomaly has yet to be identified, but as reported in SpaceNews there is speculation that something is wrong with New Shepard’s BE-3 engine. The appearance of the engine plume changed before the crash, while debris could be seen falling from the rocket. “We’re not ready to talk about what actually happened,” said Jarrett Jones, senior vice president for New Glenn at Blue Origin, speaking at a panel at World Satellite Business Week currently taking place in Paris. “It’s a little premature to assume it’s something to do with the engine.”

Fair enough, but if it’s an engine problem, that’s potentially bad news for Blue Origin. Technology from the BE-3 engine was transferred to the BE-3U engine that powers Blue Origin’s upper stage The new Glenn heavy lift rocket, according to SpaceNews. The new Glenn is due to launch for the first time next year, but a faulty engine could change those plans.

This isn’t the first time the FAA has had to press pause on space tourism offerings. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo had to be grounded after the incident on July 11, 2021, when the Supreme Court Unity strayed from authorized airspace and its pilots ignored warning lights during the ascent.

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