Jeff Bezos’ rocket company suffered its first launch failure Monday. No one was aboard, only science experiments.
The Blue Origin rocket veered off course over West Texas about a minute after liftoff. The capsule’s launch abort system immediately kicked in, lifting the craft off the top. Several minutes later, the capsule parachuted onto the remote desert floor.
Blue Origin’s launch commentary went silent when the capsule catapulted off the rocket, later announcing: “It appears we’ve experienced an anomaly with today’s flight. This wasn’t planned.”
The mishap occurred as the rocket was traveling nearly 700 mph (1,126 kph) at an altitude of about 28,000 feet (8,500 meters). There was no video shown of the rocket — only the capsule — after the failure occurred. The rocket usually lands upright on the desert floor and then is recycled for future flights; clearly, that did not happen this time.
Launch commentator Erika Wagner said the capsule managed to escape successfully, with the webcast showing it reaching a maximum altitude of more than 37,000 feet (11,300 meters). Thirty-six experiments were on board, half sponsored by NASA.
“Booster failure on today’s uncrewed flight. Escape system performed as designed,” the company tweeted later.
No further details were provided.
It was the 23rd flight for the New Shepard program, named after the first American in space, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard. The same kind of rocket and capsule have been used to carry paying passengers on 10-minute rides to the edge of space. It was the ninth flight for this rocket.
Its most recent passenger flight was just last month. Bezos was on the first New Shepard crew last summer. Altogether, Blue Origin has carried 31 people to the edge of space. The company’s headquarters is in Kent, Washington.