A new Shepard rocket launched by Blue Origin, a company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, malfunctioned on Monday after the rocket booster malfunctioned. An emergency escape system carried the capsule containing three dozen experiments to safety.
There were no people on board the flight that took off from the Blue Origin launch site in West Texas. The rocket was based on the design of the New Shepard vehicles that have carried celebrities including Mr Bezos, William Shatner and Michael Strahan to the edge of space.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate the company’s flights until it determined “whether any system, process or practice related to the crash affected public safety.”
“This is standard procedure for all accident investigations,” the FAA said in a statement.
New Shepard flights do not enter orbit around Earth, but instead make short, low-descent trips that provide a few minutes of weightlessness at the top of an arc that passes more than 62 miles above the surface.
In addition to space tourism flights, Blue Origin sells the new Shepard planes as an economical means for scientists to conduct experiments in near-zero gravity.
On Monday, one minute and four seconds after the new Shepard rocket passed through a period known as max-Q — when the vehicle experiences maximum atmospheric pressure — a huge yellow flame erupted from the booster’s engine. As the booster began to tilt, the emergency abort system quickly ejected the capsule carrying the experiments from the failed booster.
“It appears we experienced an anomaly on today’s flight,” said commentator Erica Wagner during a live broadcast of Blue Origin’s launch. “It’s not planned, we don’t have any details yet.”
The capsule reached an altitude of more than 37,000 feet, or seven miles, much lower than a normal airplane.
After its parachutes were deployed, the capsule landed in the Texas desert, a little harder than usual.
“Booster failure on today’s unmanned flight,” Blue Origin later tweeted. “The escape system performed as designed.”
No one on the ground was injured in the crash, Blue Origin said.
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