An unmanned New Shepard rocket launched by Blue Origin — the company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — malfunctioned on Monday, causing the rocket to crash. The emergency escape system took the capsule, which carried out thirty experiments, to safety.
The flight took off from the Blue Origin launch site in West Texas, with no people on board. The rocket was of the same design as the New Shepard cars that captured celebrities including Mr. Bezos, William Shatner and Michael Strahan to the edge of space.
The FAA said it would investigate and ground the company’s flights so it can determine “whether any system, process or procedure related to the accident affected public safety.”
“This is standard practice for all accident investigations,” the FAA said in a statement.
New Shepard’s flights do not enter Earth orbit, but are short round trips that provide a few minutes of weightlessness at the top of the arc, which reaches more than 62 miles above the surface.
In addition to space tourism flights, Blue Origin also sells New Shepard flights as an economical way for scientists to conduct experiments in near-zero gravity.
On Monday, one minute and four seconds after takeoff, when the New Shepard rocket passed during the period known as max-Q—when the car experienced the forces of maximum atmospheric pressure—a large yellow flame erupted from the booster motor. When the booster began to tilt, an emergency abort system at speed pushed the capsule carrying the trials away from the failing booster.
“It looks like we saw an anomaly on today’s flight,” said Erica Wagner, commentator during Blue Origin’s live coverage of the launch. This was not planned and we do not have any details yet.
The capsule reached an altitude of more than 37,000 feet, or about seven miles, much lower than a normal flight.
Spreading its parachutes, the capsule landed, perhaps a little harder than usual, in the Texas desert.
Blue Origin later reported on Twitter: “Boost fails today’s flight without crew.” “The escape system has been implemented as designed.”
Blue Origin said no one on the ground was injured in the accident.
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