Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, suffered its first launch failure Monday.
The company’s New Shepard rocket suffered an anomaly about a minute after launch from West Texas. The rocket unexpectedly fired its single engine, propelling itself away from its booster and forcing its emergency abort system to kick in during the uncrewed mission.
The rocket crashed back to Earth with no reported injuries or damage, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.
The FAA also said it would investigate the incident.
“Before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight, the FAA will determine whether any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety,” the statement read. “This is standard practice for all mishap investigations.”
The failure happened just as the booster experienced Max Q, a period in spaceflight when rockets experience the highest amount of aerodynamic stress during ascent.
During this period of flight, the booster would throttle back its engine to endure the stress before throttling back up to reach maximum height before a planned separation. But during Monday’s mission, the capsule instead ejected itself away from the booster.
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“This wasn’t planned and we don’t have any details yet,” said Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s web host.
Blue Origin has set its sights on spaceflight tourism, with even Bezos himself taking a trip to space in the New Shepard rocket. But the in-flight failure could have implications for the future of the growing industry, even though Monday’s mission did not feature crewmembers.
It could also serve as a demonstration for the importance of safety during spaceflight, said Laura Forczyk, owner of the consulting firm Astralytical.
“I don’t think most space tourists are going to be paying much attention to this,” she said. “The ones who are already ticket holders are probably already well versed in the dangers. I see this as a tiny blip that Blue Origin will get over, the whole suborbital commercial space industry will get over.”
Although the New Shepard system has tested its crew escape system a number of times prior to human spaceflight, including during a planned scenario exactly like Monday’s occurrence, this is the first time it has ever been used during a mission.
The rocket should have launched nearly two weeks ago, but had been grounded until Monday by bad weather.
Jamie Groh is a space reporter for Florida Today. You can contact her at JGroh@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.