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New Shepard NS-23 in-flight mishap

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

The emergency escape system brought the capsule safely to the ground

Time of activation of the exhaust system, which demonstrated the reliability of the mechanism designed by Blue Origin in real-life situations.

Blue Origin aborted the launch of its New Shepard suborbital rocket shortly after liftoff on September 12, 2022, in the first major failure of Jeff Bezos' company since transitioning to routine commercial flights. The launch took place at 14:27 GMT (10:27 EDT) from the 'Launch Site One' at the Corn Ranch property of Blue Origin, near Van Horn, Texas.

There were no passengers aboard the CC2.0-1 capsule 'RSS H.G. Wells', which carried a number of payloads. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would investigate the incident. This was the first New Shepard flight with a payload since August 2021. The mission was named NS-23 and used the reusable rocket-booster NS-03 in its ninth launch.

The launch was originally scheduled for August 31st and then September 1st – and both times had to be delayed due to weather.

The FAA, which licenses commercial launches, said in a statement it would oversee the accident investigation. The entity analyzes incidents in space flights, but Congress prevented it from enacting security regulations and protecting uninvolved bystanders. "No injury or damage to public property has been reported," the FAA said, noting that the booster rocket crashed within a designated “danger” area, or exclusion zone. "Before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight, the FAA will determine whether any system, process, or procedure related to the accident has affected public safety."

Blue Origin began transporting passengers routinely since July 2021, when it launched Jeff Bezos, its founder, into space. In September 2021, a group of current and former Blue Origin employees wrote a collective essay accusing the company of a "toxic work environment" in addition to claiming security problems. In December, the FAA released the company after conducting a review of its safety culture.

The failure to launch

Details of the breach were not disclosed. Just over a minute after takeoff, the propulsion module (Propulsion Module - PM, in the nomenclature of Blue Origin) appeared to suffer a problem in the BE-3 engine and deviate from the course, leading the emergency breakdown system into action at T + 01min05s. "This has not been planned and we still have no details," said Erika Wagner, senior director of emerging space markets, during the live broadcast of the launch. "But our crew capsule ["CC": Crew Capsule] managed to escape successfully."

Once the malfunction occurred, the CC2.0-1 capsule fired its emergency solid fuel engine and quickly separated from the rocket, and landed safely under parachutes. A similar escape technique would be used to rescue passengers if they were on board during a failure. "You can see how our backup safety systems came into play today to keep our payload safe during an off-nominal situation,"