Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s space company Blue Origin has been launching both humans and science payloads to the edge of space at a fast clip. Monday’s NS-23 mission, the 23rd for the New Shepard rocket system, didn’t go as planned. The rocket turned fiery shortly after launch, resulting in the capsule performing an emergency separation.
The live launch broadcast showed the capsule moving away from the rocket and then parachuting back down to the ground near Blue Origin’s launch site in Texas. The livestream host announced the unplanned anomaly and narrated the capsule’s safe return.
“We’re responding to an issue this morning at our Launch Site One location in West Texas,” Blue Origin tweeted. “This was a payload mission with no astronauts on board. The capsule escape system functioned as designed. More information to come as it is available.” Blue Origin later described the issue as a rocket booster failure.
The NS-23 mission was filled with 36 payloads, including experiments engaged with hydrogen fuel cell technology, ultrasonic sound waves and even art. NASA funded 18 of the payloads. The capsule appeared to make a normal landing, which bodes well for the gear on board.
Blue Origin has hosted 31 humans across multiple missions, including celebrities like Star Trek’sand TV host Michael Strahan. Its most recent crewed flight took place in early August.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement on Monday saying it will oversee the investigation into the NS-23 problem. “Before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight, the FAA will determine whether any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety,” the agency said. “This is standard practice for all mishap investigations.”
In can take time to work out the cause of a rocket issue, so there may not be any fast answers as to why the booster encountered problems. The anomaly looked dramatic and dangerous, but the successful operation of the capsule escape system was a silver lining in the mission failure.