Before launch, Blue Origin flight controllers called a series of holds, which delayed the flight. It took off shortly before 10:30 am ET from the company’s launch site in Van Horn, Texas. After clearing the launch tower, it entered what’s known as “Max Q,” or the moment when aerodynamic pressure is greatest on the vehicle as it pushes through the atmosphere on its way into space.
Suddenly, approximately 1 minute and 5 seconds into the flight, bright flames erupted from the booster and the capsule’s emergency abort system activated, quickly pulling it away from the rocket. The capsule’s parachutes later deployed and it touched down softly in the West Texas desert.
During a live stream of the event, Erika Wagner, director of payload sales for Blue Origin, said: “It appears we have experienced an anomaly with today’s flight. This was not planned and we don’t have details yet. But our crew capsule was able to escape successfully.”
On Twitter, Blue Origin wrote: “We are responding to an issue this morning at our Launch Site One location in West Texas. This was a payload mission with no astronauts on board. The capsule’s exhaust system worked as designed. More information to come as it becomes available.”
Blue Origin has repeatedly said that it designed the vehicle to ensure safety, and before it flew with people, it rigorously tested the capsule emergency escape system on the ground and twice during the flight. During a test, they simulated a parachute failure so that the spacecraft landed under two parachutes instead of three.
“Security is our greatest value at Blue Origin,” said Wagner. “That’s why we built so much redundancy into the system.”
In an interview last year, Gary Lai, senior director of the New Shepard design team, said that “the flights are just the tip of the iceberg, the part that floats on the water that people can see. We test the vehicle on the ground, the components, the software, many, many more times than we fly them. To the point where when we do the flight tests we’re pretty sure it will work.”
On board the capsule were 36 payloads from schools, universities and organizations, including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It was New Shepard’s fourth flight this year and the ninth flight for the reusable vehicle, which the company says is dedicated to bringing science and research to space.
In all, Blue Origin has flown 31 people into space and hoped to fly more this year. That will be on hold while the company investigates what went wrong with Monday’s flight.
The mishap comes as the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been working to clarify investigating spaceflight accidents. last week, the agencies signed an agreement detailing how you will work together in the event of a mishap. The NTSB would be the lead agency in any commercial space accident that results in fatal or serious injury to any person, or if there is property damage not associated with the launch.
In a statement, the FAA said it would oversee Monday’s accident investigation, because “the capsule landed safely and the booster impacted within the designated danger area. No injuries or damage to public property have been reported.”
Before New Shepard can return to flight, the FAA “will determine if any systems, processes or procedures related to the mishap affected public safety,” he said.
In addition to Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic also aims to bring paying customers to the edge of space. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has flown a number of NASA astronaut crews to the International Space Station, as well as private astronaut missions. Boeing also plans to start flying astronauts early next year.
The industry has been slightly regulatedenjoying a mandate from Congress that commercial spaceflight is still in its infancy and thus in a “learning period.” space start-ups They must be allowed to innovate and grow, advocates say, before the government can impose strict rules governing their operation.