An unmanned New Shepard rocket launched by Blue Origin — the company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — malfunctioned Monday, causing the rocket booster to crash. An emergency exit system brought the capsule, which contained three dozen experiments, to safety.
The flight, which took off from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site, had no people on board. The rocket had the same design as New Shepard’s vehicles that celebrities like Mr. Bezos, William Shatner and Michael Strahan to the edge of space.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate and ground the company’s flights until it can determine “whether any system, process or procedure related to the accident has compromised public safety.”
“This is standard practice for all accident investigations,” the FAA said in a statement.
The New Shepard flights don’t orbit Earth, but rather are short up-and-down flights that provide a few minutes of weightlessness at the top of the arc, which reaches more than 100 miles above the surface.
In addition to space tourism flights, Blue Origin also sells New Shepard flights as an economic means for scientists to conduct experiments in near-zero gravity.
On Monday, one minute and four seconds after launch, as the New Shepard rocket passed through the period known as max-Q — when the vehicle experiences forces of maximum atmospheric pressure — a large yellow flame erupted from the booster’s engine. . When the booster began to overturn, an emergency stop system quickly propelled the capsule carrying the experiments away from the failing booster.
“Looks like we experienced an anomaly with today’s flight,” said Erika Wagner, the commentator during Blue Origin’s live coverage of the launch. “This was not planned and we don’t have any details yet.”
The capsule reached an altitude of more than 37,000 feet, or about seven miles, much lower than a normal flight.
After the parachutes were deployed, the capsule landed, perhaps a little harder than usual, in the Texas desert.
“Booster failure on today’s unmanned flight,” Blue Origin later reported on Twitter. “Escape system performed as designed.”
Blue Origin said no one on the ground was injured in the accident.