After a failure of 4 months, the New Shepard spacecraft remains in limbo

Zoom in / The New Shepard rocket and spacecraft are seen during the NS-22 mission in August 2022.

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It’s been more than four months since the launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepherd It ended in failure. There were no humans on board as it was on a suborbital scientific research mission, but that failure has stalled the New Shepard fleet ever since.

The rocket’s only main engine failed about 1 minute into flight, at an altitude of about 9 km, as it was retracting after passing through a period of maximum dynamic pressure. At this point a large fire broke out in the BE-3’s engine, and the rocket-engine-powered escape system in the New Shepard capsule fired as intended, retracting the capsule away from the exploding missile. The capsule experienced high G-forces during this return but appeared to make a safe landing.

Three days after that incident with the New Shepard-23 mission, bipartisan leadership of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics I sent a message to the Federal Aviation Administration, calling for a thorough investigation. In an interview with Ars later that month, the subcommittee’s chair, U.S. Rep. Don Baer, ​​D-Va., urged Blue Origin to be transparent.

“I’m very much in favor of transparency, and I hope the FAA comes very quickly with this,” Baer said. “I would strongly encourage Blue Origin to be as transparent as possible, because that builds trust. It doesn’t have to be overnight, but it would be nice to keep people updated on the progress they’re making.”

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The company did not adhere to this advice. Founded by Jeff Bezos more than two decades ago, Blue Origin has been largely opaque in its activities during its existence, rarely offering glimpses of its work through carefully crafted PR campaigns. Bezos himself almost never talks with space journalists about the company’s activities. This continued with the investigation of New Shepard-23. So far, Blue Origin has said nothing publicly about the failure, its investigations, or next steps.

Based on Implementation It was submitted to the FCC last week, and it looks like Blue Origin may be targeting a time period from April 1 to June 1 of this year for its upcoming New Shepard flight. However, a company spokesperson said that not much should be read into this date, as it is not tied to a specific launch. “Of course, we are submitting renewable FCC authorization applications to ensure continued coverage of our launches,” the spokesperson said.

Another question is whether this will be an unmanned or manned mission. At the time of the accident, Blue Origin was flying two different New Shepard systems. RSS feed HG Wells The capsule has been flying science missions on Booster 3 and the newer RSS The first step She was flying manned missions on Booster 4.

Booster 3, which launched the failed mission in September, was the company’s oldest operational rocket, debuting in December 2017. The company used its latest rocket, Booster 4, exclusively for human launches. It contains some modifications from Booster 3 to qualify it as a human-class missile.

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Blue Origin could choose to fly a crewed mission on Booster 4, an uncrewed test flight on the rocket, or launch a new booster with modifications made as a result of learning from the New Shepard-23 accident investigation. The company did not respond to inquiries about which rocket will fly next and if people will be on board.

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