FAA Grounds Blue Origin After Launch Crash


The FAA has grounded Blue Origin’s space tourism flights after one of its rockets blew up a minute after launch on Monday. The rocket was on an uncrewed suborbital mission when something went wrong at 65 seconds. The rocket was enveloped in flame while the crew capsule, which was carrying 36 scientific and technological payloads, blew clear, as designed, thanks to the abort system. The capsule descended to a safe parachute landing but the rocket, which normally lands itself vertically, crashed “within the hazard area” of the launch facility.

The FAA said in a statement that the system won’t fly again until the cause of the explosion is known. “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 in a tweet. The anomaly occurred at about 28,000 feet as the rocket was nearing 700 MPH and close to max-q, the point at which the vehicle is undergoing maximum aerodynamic pressure.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I suspect Blue Origin would be the most interested in knowing what went wrong, and they would ground the rocket even if the FAA didn’t.

  2. I was thinking along the same lines. I don’t think the FAA is actually “doing” anything here, aside from creating a headline for itself.

    • And patting themselves on their own back.

      Now, if the launch escape system *didn’t* work, then they might have a case to make. But as it is, everything worked as it should (other than the rocket itself, obviously).

  3. Kind of like an “unscheduled rapid disassembly” – these things are essentially a controlled bomb, just short of an explosion every time. And as someone else said in another comment section, until we come up with another way to blast into the Great Beyond, these risks and occurrences will always be present. As for the FAA, well……..

  4. Again, everything works on paper! I wonder when Jeff plans another trip when he is onboard. That is when you know it is safe to board!

  5. Those of you who criticize EveryThing the regulatory agency does should stand down and THINK… What if FAA did NOTHING about an explosion aboard a commercial-carrier? What if they FAILED to ACT when, in fact, FAA is BOUND by LAW and by Congress to take such action? I suppose you nay-sayers would then blame FAA for IN-action and Failure to meet obligations and DEFUND FAA. Doh.

    • It’s different in this case, because it involves spaceflight, which never will be as safe or reliable as commercial air transportation. At least, not with the existing technology.

      This is actually closer to the FAA grounding all Cirrus aircraft because of a CAPS deployment due to a failed engine.

      Now if the escape system didn’t work, that would be a different matter.

  6. I don’t think it is different in this case, George H has a valid point. 90 years ago people said that commercial aviation would never be safe and that it was inherently dangerous – “if God intended us to fly, he’d have given us wings”. Yet here we are today where aviation is one of the safest forms of transportation. This is in no small part thanks to the FAA and the NTSB.

    But it takes time, money to fail and, unfortunately blood. Safety is an iterative process, but hopefully we learn and move forward.

  7. Rockets operate at limits which won’t compensate for balky hardware. Man Rated rockets are as safe as they can be, but there are still enormous risks taken when they’re launched. The folks who board these ships (I’ve met and worked for a few of them) are quite brave.