Space

Launches: Blue Origin crewed flights grounded

Launches: A bald man in sunglasses and a flight suit, standing in front of a rocket.
Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon in 1994 and Blue Origin in 2000 – poses with the rocketship he rode into space in July 2021. Today in Launches, the FAA has grounded Blue Origin crewed flights following a launch misfire on September 12, 2022. Image via Blue Origin.

Launches: Blue Origin crewed flights grounded after misfire

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has halted crewed missions aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard-23. This follows a mishap during a launch on Monday (September 12, 2022) from Launch Site One in West Texas. An anomaly in the main booster caused it to misfire seconds into the flight. Fortunately, the unmanned cargo capsule it was carrying rocketed away to safety.

Reuters reported that the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will oversee the FAA’s investigation. It also described the incident:

Just over a minute after liftoff and roughly five miles (8 km) above ground, the New Shepard booster’s engines flared unexpectedly during ascent. The capsule’s abort motor system triggered almost immediately, jetting the craft away from the faulty rocket before parachuting back to land intact.

Blue Origin’s livestream of the liftoff shows the incident. You can see the instantaneous firing of the capsule’s emergency separation rockets and its descent by parachute.

Routine and mandatory investigation

Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Don Beyer (D-VA), in a statement issued after the misfire, described why the failure is being scrutinized:

Today’s booster failure of NS-23 is a compelling reminder of the risks of spaceflight. As Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, I take our oversight role in this area very seriously.

A statement from the FAA (reported by SpacePolicyOnline.com) gave a terse recounting of the events on September 12. It also described the investigation as routine and mandatory:

The anomaly that occurred triggered the capsule escape system. The capsule landed safely, and the booster impacted within the designated hazard area. No injuries or public property damage have been reported. This was a payload-only mission; there were no humans aboard.

Before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight, the FAA will determine whether any system, process or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety. This is standard practice for all mishap investigations.

Bottom line: The FAA has grounded crewed flights aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard until it can complete an investigation of a launch mishap on September 12, 2022.

Read more: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin flight soars to the edge of space

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