FAA Closes Blue Origin NS-23 Investigation, Company Says Will Fly Again “Soon”

FAA Closes Blue Origin NS-23 Investigation, Company Says Will Fly Again “Soon”

The FAA closed its investigation into Blue Origin’s New Shepard-23 launch failure today. The flight carried a variety of scientific payloads but no people when it lifted off just over a year ago. The capsule detached from the rocket as programmed after computers detected a problem and landed safely, but the rocket was destroyed. Blue Origin has not conducted any launches since then.

New Shepard is a suborbital rocket named after Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space on a suborbital Mercury-Redstone rocket on May 5, 1961.

Launched September 12, 2023, New Shepard-23 (NS-23) was the 23rd flight in the series and the first in two years to fly without human customers aboard.

NS-16 on July 20, 2021 — the anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon — was the first New Shepard to carry a crew that included Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, famed aviatrix Wally Funk and German teenager Oliver Daemen, the son of a wealthy hedge fund owner.

Six more passenger flights followed with luminaries like actor William Shatner who portrayed Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series traveling above the Karman Line at 100 kilometers altitude that the international community uses as the delineation between air and space.

The entire flight lasts about 10 minutes with two or three of them in microgravity, enough to be useful for scientific experiments. On NS-23, experiments were the only payloads aboard when something went awry during launch.

Blue Origin has said very little about the failure, only the second since the very first launch in 2015, stressing that the capsule separated as planned and landed safely with the scientific experments intact and ready to fly again.

The FAA’s statement today identified the root cause as a structural engine failure because of overheating.

FAA Closes Blue Origin Mishap Investigation

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The FAA has closed the Blue Origin New Shepard 23 mishap investigation. The final report cites the proximate cause of the Sept. 12, 2022, mishap as the structural failure of an engine nozzle caused by higher than expected engine operating temperatures. The FAA required Blue Origin implement 21 corrective actions to prevent mishap reoccurrence, including redesign of engine and nozzle components to improve structural performance during operation as well as organizational changes.

During the mishap the onboard launch vehicle systems detected the anomaly, triggered an abort and separation of the capsule from the propulsion module as intended and shut down the engine. The capsule landed safety and the propulsion module was destroyed upon impact with the ground. All debris landed within the designated hazard area. Public safety was maintained at all times with no injuries or public property damage.

The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of New Shepard launches. Blue Origin must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next New Shepard launch.

The FAA, which is responsible for ensuring public safety during commercial spaceflights, said 21 corrective actions must be implemented before they will approve the next flight.

For its part, Blue Origin continues to say little about what happened or when flights will resume, other than a terse statement today that “We’ve received the FAA’s letter and plan to fly soon.”

Blue Origin also is building the orbital New Glenn rocket, named for John Glenn, the first U.S. astronaut to reach orbit in February 1962, and was selected by NASA earlier this year to build a Human Landing System to support human trips to the Moon as a competitor to SpaceX. The company also builds the BE-4 liquid methane-liquid oxygen rocket engines that will power New Glenn and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan.

Yesterday, Bezos announced he is replacing Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith with Dave Limp, who until recently was a top executive at Amazon, also owned by Bezos. Limp will take over in December. He’d been in charge of devices and services at Amazon including the Project Kuiper communications satellite system.

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