Uncrewed Blue Origin suborbital research mission cut short due to launch anomaly

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The New Shepard spaceship’s booster blinks as it ascends. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

A monumental failure brought an early end today to an uncrewed space mission launched by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

It was the first Blue Origin mission to miss its target since the first flight of the company’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft in 2015. Blue Origin did not immediately say what caused today’s anomaly.

There were no humans on board the spaceship. Instead, this mission was dedicated to scientific payloads and STEM education. The New Shepard spacecraft carried 36 payloads, half of which were funded by NASA, plus tens of thousands of postcards sent by students and flown thanks to Blue Origin’s educational foundation. the Club for the Future.

This was the first dedicated payload launch since August 2021, amid a series of six crewed suborbital flights that saw 31 customers and special guests (including Bezos himself) go into space and back.

Today’s flight from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas began following the same trajectory as crewed missions. New Shepard’s hydrogen booster sent the capsule into a clear sky after a series of engagements at the launch pad.

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifts off in West Texas.  (Blue Origin via YouTube)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket lifts off in West Texas. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

But at about the 27,000-foot level — just after the rocket experienced maximum dynamic pressure, or Max-Q — the booster ignited with a bright flash. The capsule’s launch escape system then kicked in, blasting the capsule further into the sky while the burned booster fell away.

“Our crew capsule was able to escape successfully,” said launch commentator Erika Wagner from Blue Origin headquarters in Kent, Washington. next tweetBlue Origin said the capsule escape system was “operating as designed”.

The capsule reached a maximum altitude of just over 37,000 feet—well short of the target altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers). He deployed his parachutes and made a safe landing among the Texas mountain range.

“Safety is our highest value at Blue Origin,” Wagner said. “That’s why we created so much redundancy in the system.”

Today’s payloads included a NASA-funded experiment aimed at testing hydrogen fuel cell technologies that could be used to power rovers and equipment on the lunar surface. Another experimental payload called ASSET-1 — which was built by Honeybee Robotics, a subsidiary of Blue Origin — was intended to pave the way for studying the ground on asteroids and other celestial bodies.

Still other experiments were designed to study how zero G affects phenomena ranging from supersonic sound waves to the production of non-toxic propellants. Because the capsule did not follow its planned trajectory, today’s experiments will likely have to be repeated on a future research mission.

Two-thirds of the payloads flown today were provided by K-12 schools, universities and other organizations focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. This is a new high for Blue Origin’s STEM research program.

Blue Origin plans to further boost STEM education through a program announced last week in connection with a National Space Council meeting. The Space Days program, organized by the Club for the Future, will organize community events and film screenings across the country.

Bezos’ space company is also part of an industry coalition that will focus on meeting the growing demand for a skilled technical workforce in aerospace.

Other members of the coalition include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Amazon, Jacobs, L3 Harris, Planet Labs, PBC, Rocket Lab, Sierra Space, SpaceX and Virgin Orbit. These commercial ventures will include the Florida Space Coast Consortium Apprenticeship Program and its sponsors: SpaceTEC, Airbus OneWeb Satellites, Vaya Space and Morf3D.

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