Blue Origin rocket crashes in setback during uncrewed launch
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An uncrewed Blue Origin rocket carrying research payloads crashed shortly after liftoff from Texas on Monday, but the capsule carrying the experiments survived and swam safely back to Earth.
The incident marked a blow to the company of Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, as well as the space tourism sector, although observers were encouraged by the fact that had people aboard, they may have survived.
Blue Origin tweeted a short video clip showing the moment the capsule fired emergency thrusters to detach itself from its booster rocket, about a minute after launch from the company’s base in West Texas.
“Booster failure on today’s uncrewed flight. The escape system performed as designed,” Blue said on its website, saying the rocket “impacted the ground” instead of landing straight as it normally would.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the New Shepard suborbital rockets are pending investigation, which is standard procedure.
“The capsule landed safely and the booster impacted in the designated danger zone. No injuries or damage to public property have been reported,” the FAA said.
It was the 23rd mission for the New Shepard rocket program, named after the first American in space, and the first mission to end in failure.
NS-23, which had 36 experiments, was first set for launch in late August, but was delayed due to bad weather.
The discrepancy occurred when the rocket was climbing to an altitude of about 28,000 feet (8,500 m) at 700 mph (1,126 kph). The rocket appeared to be stalling after experiencing a technical problem.
The capsule then began its escape sequence and overtook the booster, engulfing it in bright yellow flames.
The incident is a blow to both Blue Origin and the emerging space tourism industry.
But billionaire entrepreneur Jarid Isaacman, who last year chartered a private space mission with SpaceX, tweeted, “Looks like the launch escape system worked well.”
“With so many launches, so many vehicles, engines and boosters in development across the industry, it shouldn’t be surprising to see events like this happen,” Isaacman said.
Blue Origin began flying humans into space at 10 minutes and a ride back last year for an unspecified ticket price.
Altogether it has flown 32 people – some as paying customers and others as guests. Notable travelers include founder Bezos and Star Trek icon William Shatner.
Passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and observe the curve of the Earth before re-entering the capsule’s atmosphere and floating down for a gentle desert landing.
Other companies offering tourism experiences include Virgin Galactic, which hasn’t flown since taking its founder, Richard Branson, to the edge of space in July 2021.
While Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin offer short nods to the universe, Elon Musk’s SpaceX works with another company called Axiom Space to offer longer missions to the International Space Station.