Blue Origin Says Engine Issue Caused September Rocket Crash

Blue Origin, the commercial space company founded by Jeff Bezos, finally revealed what caused the September 2022 crash of its New Shepard rocket.

(Bloomberg) — Blue Origin, the commercial space company founded by Jeff Bezos, finally revealed what caused the September 2022 crash of its New Shepard rocket. 

The mishap, which caused the uncrewed rocket to veer off course and eject its capsule shortly after launch, was due to a structural failure of a nozzle in the vehicle’s main engine, Blue Origin said in a blog post on Friday. 

The company said it hoped to resume New Shepard flights “soon,” and that its next flights will carry the payloads from the failed missions.

On Sept. 12, an uncrewed version of Blue Origin’s New Shepard took off from the company’s launch facility near Van Horn, Texas. Just over a minute after takeoff, the vehicle suffered an apparent engine failure and deviated from its flight path. New Shepard’s escape system activated, prompting the capsule on top to separate from the malfunctioning rocket and land under parachutes. The New Shepard booster crashed in the desert.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is designed to take paying customers to the edge of space and back. Previous flights have ferried Bezos and celebrities like William Shatner, though this particular mission wasn’t carrying any people. The capsule was carrying a suite of scientific payloads. Blue Origin claims that all payloads on board landed safely thanks to the escape system.

In an emailed statement, the US Federal Aviation Administration said it’s reviewing the company’s report, and that it must conclude its review before allowing launches to resume.

Blue Origin had formed an investigating team with the FAA after the crash, the company said. After reviewing video and data, the team came to the conclusion that an engine nozzle failed after experiencing higher than normal temperatures during the flight. Blue Origin said it’s making “corrective actions” and “design changes” to prevent the incident from happening again.

A company executive had previously said they expected to finish the investigation last December.

Even before the explanation Friday, Blue Origin has said the capsule ejected safely and that if humans had been aboard the flight, they would have survived the failure.

“The experiments that were on board, because it was a payload flight, came back to us,” Ariane Cornell, a vice president at Blue Origin, said at a satellite industry conference in Washington on March 15. “That would have been the case if we had had people on board. It’s a real jolt, but that is also by design. We want to get the capsule far and fast away from the booster.”

Cornell also confirmed that Blue Origin was looking to get back into flight by the end of 2023.

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