Blue Origin’s Rocket Fails After Launch As Capsule Blasts To Safety In A Jet Of Flames

The New Shepard's cargo capsule blasts off to safety after the malfunction in today's launch attempt. Image: Blue Origin/YouTube

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Blue Origin, the aerospace company founded by retail billionaire Jeff Bezos, experienced its first anomaly during flight earlier today as its New Shepard rocket saw a large fire underneath its engines blaze out a little over a minute after the company's latest mission, dubbed NS-23 took to the skies. The mission was uncrewed, and the capsule on board the rocket performed as it was designed to do so in an emergency, with its rocket motors firing immediately as the anomaly occurred and carrying it away to a safe distance before the parachutes deployed for a soft landing. The company is as of now unaware of the reasons behind the anomaly, the first for the rocket which has successfully flown 22 times before today's launch for a variety of missions that have seen it take both crew and cargo to suborbital altitudes.

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Today's mission would have carried a host of payloads to suborbital altitudes before the capsule coasted around and returned to the Earth's surface. The launch was initially slated to take place earlier this month, but weather constraints forced Blue Origin to stand down and pick the window which opened at 8:30 am CDT today.

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The broadcast went normally, with all systems of the rocket cleared for takeoff and at 10:26 am EDT today, its BE-3 engine lit up and took it to the skies. The launch proceeded normally until the one minute and four second mark, when the BE-3 engine emitted a large flame plume, and almost immediately, the capsule mated to the rocket saw its launch abort system rocket motor fire up and carry it away from the malfunctioning booster. The camera also switched to tracking the rocket, and it is unclear what happened to it as the capsule jetted towards safety.

The New Shepard's BE-3 engine malfunctioned during its launch attempt earlier today. Image: Blue Origin/YouTube

After an initial lull of silence, Blue Origin's presenter for the live stream assured viewers that the capsule was safe, and more footage saw it deploy its parachutes to land safely. She stressed that safety is her company's top priority, and the malfunction demonstrated that safety systems on the capsule, also responsible for crewed missions, worked as designed.

Soon afterward, Blue Origin put out a statement on its Twitter page where it promised that more details will follow as it becomes available. The full statement was as follows:

We’re responding to an issue this morning at our Launch Site One location in West Texas. This was a payload mission with no astronauts on board. The capsule escape system functioned as designed. More information to come as it is available.

11:04 AM · Sep 12, 2022 · Twitter Web App 

The NS-23 mission was a dedicated payload flight that was aiming to fly 23 payloads. Out of these, 18 were funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and two were placed on the exterior of the vehicle to provide them with exposure to the space environment.

One payload would have seen a hydrogen fuel cell being tested in microgravity, with the potential to act as a fuel source for rovers designed to operate on the lunar surface. NASA's Artemis program aims to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon, and as part of this, the crew will require transportation options for their lunar forays.

Another, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), aimed to test the production of environmentally friendly propellants such as paraffin and beeswax in space. The status of these payloads is unclear as well, and more details should surface as the company becomes ready to share them.

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