Kent-based Blue Origin’s New Shepard on the launch pad Sept. 12, 2022 in West Texas going through nominal checkouts in advance of its flight to space. After a mishap on the unmanned flight, no more flights have occurred. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

Kent-based Blue Origin’s New Shepard on the launch pad Sept. 12, 2022 in West Texas going through nominal checkouts in advance of its flight to space. After a mishap on the unmanned flight, no more flights have occurred. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

FAA closes Kent-based Blue Origin flight mishap investigation

Agency requires company to implement 21 corrective actions before next launch

The Federal Aviation Administration has closed the Kent-based Blue Origin New Shepard 23 mishap investigation.

The final report cites the proximate cause of the Sept. 12, 2022, mishap after a launch in West Texas as the structural failure of an engine nozzle caused by higher than expected engine operating temperatures, according to a Sept. 27 FAA news release. No people were on the test flight.

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,” according to the FAA. “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, according to the FAA. 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.

“We’ve received the FAA’s letter and plan to fly soon,” Blue Origin posted Sept. 27 on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The company, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, opened in Kent in 2000 and expanded its headquarters in 2020 to a 236,000-square-foot blue-colored facility along 76th Avenue South between South 212th and South 228th streets.

Blue Origin launched its first rides into space in 2021 and eventually plans to have people living and working in space.

Background

Starting right after the mishap, the FAA oversaw the Blue Origin-led investigation to ensure the company complied with its FAA-approved mishap plan, the terms and conditions of its license and other regulatory requirements, according to the FAA news release.

The FAA was involved in every step of the mishap investigation and granted NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board official observer status.

The mishap investigation report contains proprietary data and U.S Export Control information and is not available for public release.

Just over a minute after takeoff, the New Shepard rocket appeared to suffer an engine problem and veer off course, prompting the emergency abort system to kick in, according to an article on Bloomberg.com.

“Once the failure occurred, the capsule on top of the rocket, used to carry payloads, ignited its thrusters and quickly separated from the rocket,” according to the Bloomberg report. “The capsule landed safely under parachutes. A similar abort technique would be used to save passengers in case people were flying on board the rocket during a failing launch.”


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