More than four months have passed since the launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ended in failure. There were no humans aboard the vehicle because it was on a suborbital scientific research mission, but the failure has grounded the New Shepard fleet ever since.
The rocket’s single main engine failed about 1 minute into flight, at an altitude of about 9 km, as it was accelerating again after going through the period of maximum dynamic pressure. At that moment, a large fire broke out in the BE-3 engine, and the New Shepard capsule’s solid rocket motor-driven exhaust system fired as intended, pulling the capsule away from the exploding rocket. The capsule experienced high G forces during this return, but appeared to make a safe landing.
Three days after this accident with the New Shepard-23 mission, the bipartisan leadership of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, calling for a thorough investigation. In an interview with Ars later that month, the subcommittee’s chair, US Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., urged Blue Origin to be transparent.
“I’m all for transparency, and I hope the FAA gets this done pretty quickly,” Beyer said. “I highly recommend Blue Origin to be as transparent as possible, because that builds trust. It doesn’t have to be overnight, but it would be nice to keep people up to date on the progress they’re making.”
The company has not heeded this advice. Founded by Jeff Bezos more than two decades ago, Blue Origin has been largely unrestrained in its activities during its existence, only rarely offering glimpses of its work through carefully choreographed PR campaigns. Bezos himself rarely talks to space journalists about the company’s activities. This has continued with the New Shepard-23 investigation. To date, Blue Origin has not said anything publicly about the flaw, its investigations, or next steps.
based on an app filed with the Federal Communications Commission last week, it appeared that Blue Origin may be targeting an April 1 to June 1 time frame of this year for its next New Shepard flight. However, a company spokesperson said not to read too much into this date as it is not tied to a specific release. “Of course, we submit FCC license applications to ensure we have continuous coverage for launches,” the spokesperson said.
Another question is whether this will be an unmanned or a manned mission. At the time of the accident, Blue Origin was flying two different New Shepard systems. the rss HG wells capsule was flying scientific missions in Booster 3, and the newest RSS First step was flying manned missions in Booster 4.
Booster 3, which launched the failed mission in September, was the company’s oldest operational rocket, debuting in December 2017. The company has used its newest rocket, Booster 4, exclusively for human launches. It has some mods from Booster 3 to qualify it as a human-rated rocket.
Blue Origin could choose to fly a crewed mission on Booster 4, an uncrewed test flight on the rocket, or debut a new booster with modifications made as a result of learnings from the New Shepard-23 accident investigation. The company did not respond to inquiries about which rocket would fly next and whether there would be people on board.
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