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Blue Origin suborbital flight aborted during ascent

Capitalism in space: For what appeared to be an engine issue in the booster during the ascent phase, Blue Origin was forced to abort an unmanned New Shepard suborbital flight today.

I have embedded the live steam below, cued to just before the abort. It appears that something went seriously wrong with that first stage booster. The abort system immediately activated, separating the capsule and firing the capsule’s abort engines to take it safely away, with its parachutes bringing it down safely. That first stage booster was likely destroyed.

This particular suborbital flight fortunately was the first carrying no passengers since Blue Origin began commercial flights. Its payloads were a variety of experiments and commercial packages.

Regardless of the issue, Blue Origin will not be doing suborbital flights now for a considerable time, pending an investigation into this failure.

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  • Richard M

    Hello Bob,

    You are unquestionably correct to think that Blue Origin will not be doing suborbital flights now for a considerable time, but it won’t be because they don’t have a booster – this actually wasn’t the booster they use for crewed flights. This was NS booster 3. Booster 4 is what they use for crew.

    Berger’s article has a decent summary:

    “The company’s first booster, Booster 1, was lost during the April 2015 flight. Booster 2 was retired in October 2016 after performing a successful test of the launch escape system on its fifth and final flight. Booster 3, which launched Monday’s mission, was the company’s oldest operational rocket, making its debut in December 2017. The company has used its newest rocket, Booster 4, exclusively for human launches. It has some modifications from Booster 3 to qualify it as a human-rated rocket.”

    I expect there will be a considerable investigation into this, which will almost certainly prevent any New Shepherd flights until spring of 2023.

  • Richard M. You are correct. I have edited the post, correcting it.

  • Richard M

    As an aside, I am a little surprised that they only have a single booster (what BO calls a “propulsion module”) for crew flights, given the mission cadence they’re trying to ramp up to. Even setting aside the possibility of a RUD like this, it gives them no flexibility, no backup, if any lesser issues arise.

    Maybe they’re building a New Shepard 5, but if they are, I have heard or seen no sign of it.

  • Jay

    I have heard nothing about a New Shepard 5. The only ones around now are the retired New Shepard 2 and New Shepard 4. New Shepard 4 was built in 2018 and I bet they switched over from New Shepard to New Glenn during that time.

  • TL

    Did the retro thrusters on the capsule fire prior to landing? To my eyes it looked like the capsule just hit the ground and fell over.

  • pzatchok

    Looks like the engine got fuel starved at the end.
    I wonder if it was a fuel pump coming apart?

    But yes this is a considerable set back.

    I wonder if the experiments data can be used or if they can even be saved.

  • David Ross

    >I am a little surprised that they only have a single booster
    This means their mass-production chain isn’t SpaceX’s.
    Which also means Blue Origin will remain a Bezos vanity-project. I’d think twice before investing in Orbital Reef.

  • David Ross wrote, “Which also means Blue Origin will remain a Bezos vanity-project. I’d think twice before investing in Orbital Reef.”

    I agree, though we must remember that Blue Origin is only one partner in Orbital Reef, which increasingly appears a very minor partner.

    As for Blue Origin itself, in 2016 it looked like it would soon be an orbital rocket company competing head-to-head with SpaceX. Six years later, it has done practically nothing, and in that time three new rocket companies have achieved their first launches, with three more scheduled before the end of this year.

    And still we wait for New Glenn, its first launch forever receding into the future.

  • Tom

    The lady doing commentary was useless without a script. Total silence for many seconds once the capsule boosted itself away from the failed booster. She was either looking through a book for the correct verbiage or was waiting for someone to hand some copy to her. And then she wraps up the commentary with, “Safety is our highest value at Blue Origin. That’s why we build so much redundancy into the system.”. Well, they obviously fell short on their built in redundancy during this flight but don’t tell the clueless commentator that.
    Good thing they had an effective launch escape system and it did its job.

  • George C

    Hasn’t been a good summer for hydrogen fueled rockets.

  • Richard M

    Which also means Blue Origin will remain a Bezos vanity-project.

    Without endorsing or rejecting this stance, I do have to say it would have to be an extraordinarily elaborate and expensive vanity project, given the scale of the Blue Origin facilities now emerging down at the Cape. I was just looking at NSF’s latest video review of the Merritt Island factory progress, and it’s just….massive. 650,000 feet of floor space and counting. 200 open positions!

    Now, to be sure, history does not lack for very elaborate and expensive vanity projects by very wealthy men. But I wonder if the reality with Blue Origin is not more complicated. That perhaps Bezos really did, at some point, desire Blue Origin to be a serious player in the launch industry; but by throwing far more money than personal engagement at it (the opposite of Elon Musk, over the long term), the results he have perhaps unwittingly ended up producing actually look like a very expensive vanity project at times.

    Of course, the secret to Elon’s success is much more than that he spends 40-80 hours on SpaceX in a given week. He clearly knows almost every aspect of the rocket business down to first principles, and he knows how to identify the most talented people and and get the most out of them. It’s hard to see Jeff Bezos being able to acquire all these traits, especially at his time of life.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I watched this. It was interesting to see the failure mode in action on an actual mission, and re-assuring that there were no passengers.

    That would be a wicked ride on abort. The single thruster in the middle is certainly adequate, but it rolled hard to the side at least once.
    With Dragon, assuming everything worked properly, all of the DRACO escape motors would provide better stability.

  • Jeff Wright

    Happened at Max Q I hear. Anything to the scuttlebutt of Starlink-Starships going expendable for a time?

  • sippin_bourbon

    It did happen at or just passed Max-Q however, I think the failure was internal.
    The engine flickers, and then there a small fireball, with debris that flies away.
    I am not an expert, but is appears something failed, mechanically.
    And then the entire thing was engulfed by the escape engine on the capsule.

    If you have seen pics of the inside of the BO capsule there is what looks like a table or pedestal in the center.
    That is the escape motor and fuel.

    Now that it fired, I would like to see the inside of the capsule, so we can see of it caused any issues inside.

    I know this was not crewed, but this may put a damper on their tourism business.

  • Edward

    Yahoo has an update to the article that you linked:

    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will oversee the investigation into the anomaly, the agency said in a statement just hours after the mishap occurred. Blue Origin will not be prohibited from flying New Shepard until the investigation is concluded.

    It looks as though Blue Origin will be able to fly customers during the investigation.

  • Edward: Heh. Not only would it be foolish for Blue Origin to fly people before this incident is fully understood, it would be crazy for any passenger to agree to go.

    And if they try it they will prove to me that Blue Origin is not a serious company.

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