What happened in September 2022?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it has closed its investigation into the failure of a cargo mission by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in September 2022. The uncrewed flight, dubbed NS-23, was carrying 36 research payloads when it lifted off from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas. However, about 65 seconds after launch, the reusable first-stage booster of the New Shepard rocket suffered a serious problem and crashed back to Earth. The capsule, which was designed to carry passengers to the edge of space, activated its emergency escape system and landed safely under parachutes.
What caused the failure?
According to Blue Origin, the source of the issue was an overheated part in the rocket engine’s nozzle, which led to a “thermo-structural failure”. The company recovered fragments of the BE-3PM engine’s nozzle and found “clear evidence of thermal damage and hot streaks resulting from increased operating temperatures”. The company said it had conducted a thorough mishap investigation with oversight from the FAA and input from the National Transportation Safety Board and NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program and Commercial Crew Office.
What are the corrective actions?
The FAA’s final report, which is not publicly available due to proprietary data and export control information, agreed with Blue Origin’s finding and required the company to “implement 21 corrective actions to prevent mishap reoccurrence”. These include redesigning the engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance, as well as making organizational changes. The FAA said that Blue Origin must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety and other applicable regulatory requirements before the next New Shepard launch.
When will New Shepard fly again?
Blue Origin has not announced a date for the return to flight of New Shepard, which has flown 31 people past the edge of space in previous missions. The company said it had received the FAA’s letter and planned to fly soon. The next flight is expected to carry the same research payloads that did not make it to space on the NS-23 mission, without crew. Blue Origin is also developing a larger orbital rocket called New Glenn, which is slated to debut in 2024.