Blue Origin Uncrewed Capsule Saved by Abort after New Shepard Rocket Fails on Science Mission

Blue Origin Uncrewed Capsule Saved by Abort after New Shepard Rocket Fails on Science Mission
The Blue Origin New Shepard capsule fired its launch abort motor to get away from its booster after a malfunction about a minute after liftoff on an uncrewed mission Sept. 12, 2022 from West Texas. Credit: Blue Origin 

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Blue Origin and company founder Jeff Bezos suffered a significant setback when their commercial New Shepard rocket failed for the first time ever about one minute after liftoff Monday morning, Sept. 12 from West Texas. Fortunately, however the capsule survived when it was saved by the abort motor which was automatically triggered in flight while on a suborbital science mission.

The abort motor kicked in when it detected a rocket emergency about 65 seconds after blastoff and pushed the capsule, named RSS H.G. Wells, safely away – exactly as it should have.

Thus the capsule abort system functioned exactly as it was designed to do – a major confidence builder in Bule Origin’s New Shepard rocket and capsule system.

No crew were on board Blue Origin’s NS-23 capsule mission which was dedicated to science – including three dozen science payloads – about half supplied by NASA as well as from other entities.  Furthermore no one was injured at the launch site.

The New Shepard rocket lifted off on the NS-23 mission at 10:27 a.m. EDT (1426 GMT) from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One north of Van Horn in West Texas.

Neither the cause nor the exact nature of the malfunction is known at this time.

A frame-by-frame view of the apparent engine failure on Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster, followed by ignition of the capsule’s abort motor. Credit: Blue Origin/Spaceflight Now

However it appeared the rocket started to go off course and the color of the engine exhaust plume changed just moments before the capsule abort motor fired – right around max q or maximum aerodynamic pressure at approximately 5 mi (8.0 km) altitude.

The booster appeared to fail and flames could be seen emanating from it.

“It appears that we have experienced an anomaly on today’s flight. This wasn’t planned and we have no details yet,” said Blue Origin’s launch commentator Erika Wagner on the launch webcast shortly after the abort motor fired.

 

The four-ton R.S.S H.G. Wells capsule deployed its drogue chute and three main parachutes and soft landed about five and a half minutes later

 

The booster rocket was destroyed on impact since the did not refire for soft touchdown as is normally the case so it can be recycled and reflown again.

This tweet from Blue Origin shows the launch, capsule abort and safe touchdown.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket has been grounded and the FAA which is responsible for ensuring public safety during commercial spaceflight operations has initiated a complete investigation of the incident determine the root cause, make recommend fixes and certify changes have been implemented successfully before any rocket flights can resume.

“The anomaly that occurred triggered the capsule escape system,” the FAA said in a statement. “The capsule landed safely and the booster impacted within the designated hazard area. No injuries or public property damage have been reported.”

“This was a payload only mission; there were no humans aboard,” the FAA said. “
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. This is standard practice for all mishap investigations.”

Blue Origin has had little to say.

“We are not prepared to talk about what actually happened,” said Jarrett Jones, senior vice president for New Glenn at Blue Origin, speaking on a panel at World Satellite Business Week in Paris on Sept. 13, when asked about the accident during the panel, as reported by Jeff Foust of Space News on Sept. 14.

“It’s a little premature to assume that it was something related to the engine.”

The New Shepard launch was carried live on a Blue Origin webcast – which cut out after the capsule was shown safely soft landing on the ground after a trio of parachutes deployed at altitude and slow the descent for a safe touchdown at the firms sprawling West Texas launch base.

The six-story tall rocket is powered by Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine and normally flies to the edge of space to an altitude of approx. 65 miles (100 km) above Earth.

This particular rocket is dedicated to uncrewed missions and was the first in more than a year following a series of crewed missions.

Presumably since this was the only New Shepard built for uncrewed flights they will have to build another one

Blue Origin used a separate rocket for human missions – which is also the only one currently available.

Thus far Blue Origin has safely and successfully launched six New Shepard crew flights with human passengers – including the billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and Amazon.com on the first crewed one on July 20, 2021.

The solid-fueled abort motor at the base of the crew capsule fired instantaneously ater the rocket failure with 70,000 pounds of thrust to push the ship away from the failing New Shepard rocket.

Watch my commentary about the Blue Origin NS-23 launch failure:

Sept. 12:  Watch my comments at Fox 35 Orlando about the failed rocket launch by Blue Origin in which the booster failed but the capsule safely aborted. No crew members aboard only science experiments, This will halt Blue Origin flights and there will be a full FAA investigation with corrective actions before they can resume:

Video: https://www.fox35orlando.com/video/1116991

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Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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