FAA Wraps Up Blue Origin Launch Crash Investigation

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The FAA has officially closed its investigation into the crash of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket system shortly after launch on Sept. 12, 2022. According to the agency, the loss of the uncrewed research mission was the result of the “structural failure of an engine nozzle caused by higher than expected engine operating temperatures.” The FAA grounded New Shepard pending the results of the investigation and is requiring Blue Origin to complete 21 corrective actions, to include the redesign of engine and nozzle components and undisclosed organizational changes, before the company can resume launch operations.

“The closure of the mishap investigation does not signal an immediate resumption of New Shepard launches,” the FAA said in a statement. “Blue Origin must implement all corrective actions that impact public safety and receive a license modification from the FAA that addresses all safety and other applicable regulatory requirements prior to the next New Shepard launch.”

As previously reported by AVweb, the vehicle’s abort system activated as designed following the failure, allowing the capsule to separate from the propulsion system. The capsule made a safe parachute landing and the propulsion module was destroyed on impact. The FAA emphasized that all debris landed within the launch’s designated hazard area and “public safety was maintained at all times with no injuries or public property damage.” The agency noted that the mishap investigation report will not be publicly released since it contains “proprietary data and U.S Export Control information.”

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Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. By their own admission: “The FAA emphasized that all debris landed within the launch’s designated hazard area and “public safety was maintained at all times with no injuries or public property damage.”

    Nobody was hurt–nobody was in danger–all safety systems worked as designed. Why is this a big issue for the FAA?

    Compare the current regulatory climate with not only aviation pioneers, but those of the past. In addition to the Wrights, the FAA would likely not have allowed “those new-fangled jet engines”–and “supersonic flight is too dangerous to be conducted within our borders and without our supervision (never mind that the regulatory agencies then and now have little or no knowledge of the industry it purports to regulate).

    The United States gained its leadership in technology because of the attitude that anything was legal unless there was a public law against it–“Go ahead, there ain’t no law a’gin it!” There was freedom to innovate, unlike the big-government advocates in other countries.

    It’s a good thing the FAA wasn’t around to “insure public safety” during the early days of the airplane! The Wright Brothers and other early pioneers of aviation would likely decide to stick with ballooning–Chuck Yeager would not have received “permission” to go supersonic, and as for the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo astronauts, and the rest of the space program–“too much of a public danger.” I guess that aviation and aerospace innovators (and subsequently, the manufacturers) will literally have to “go offshore” to satisfy our “protectors.” The USA USED to be the innovator in aviation and aerospace–today–not so much, due to the regulatory burden.

    • Absolutely. Now, how do we fix it?

      I’m not being snarky, I’m frustrated. The majority of people have a natural bias towards the status quo, government, experts, etc. or a near Karen level of risk aversion, or will shout you down just because your issue is even mildly inconvenient to them. Even those who agree mostly look at the situation and decide it’s not worth trying.

      We need Congress to do its job, which means we need voters to do theirs. It’s a mess.

    • Jim, the damn thing blew up. BO (who came up with that corporate name?) were lucky that no one got hurt, but that was simply by good fortune. It’s not like the entire flight zone was devoid of people or private property.

      The Wright brothers did their experiments where the only living things at risk were seagulls and crabs; even after they graduated to Huffman Prairie, they were well out of town where few people would be endangered by a RUD. Likewise, the early supersonic and NASA experiments were conducted primarily in large military expanses.

      Commercial entities (and their stockholders) are profit-driven and not inclined to spend money to ensure that all innocent bystanders are kept safe. It would be more expensive (supply chain lengths, if nothing else) for BO to do their experiments off-shore, so they chose to do them in US airspace, the safety of which the FAA is mandated to maintain. That is for the benefit of all of us, Karens or otherwise.

      In related news, Flytrex just announced their “fully autonomous delivery process — from order placement, to pick-up, through delivery to customers’ yards” in my area. I think it’s pretty unlikely (but not impossible) that one of them could fail in flight and drop a gallon of RockyRoad with shattered-carbon-fiber-blade topping on a kid in his backyard, but there is no mechanism in place to prevent it. By the same token, I fly a helicopter over the exact same area at the same altitudes, yet these drones aren’t equipped with ADS-B/out (yet). At 80kts, there is no way to see-and-avoid those aerial mines, so I want the FAA to mandate that they must S&A ME. Is that “stifling innovation”, probably. But I’m a human, and I was there first.

      • “BO (who came up with that corporate name?) were lucky that no one got hurt, but that was simply by good fortune.”

        You might also claim that the engine failure was simply bad fortune. Neither assertion would be correct. If the failure was simply bad luck, there would be no point in re-designing the structure – but they did, because they were wrong the first time.

        But they were right about what would happen if things went wrong: the capsule released and landed as designed and the debris fell within a designated area (again, according to plan), leading to the FAA’s assertion that “public safety was maintained at all times.”

        Do you believe that the FAA, of all people/groups, would make such a statement if the flight area wasn’t “devoid of people or private property”?

  2. The amusing thing is, in “investigations” of advanced equipment like this lit’s the builder of the craft who typically does the tech work, simply because they are the ones who have the needed expertise. They come up with the fixes, FAA signs off & publishes them.

  3. From the linked statement:

    “The FAA oversaw the Blue Origin-led investigation to ensure the company complied with its FAA-approved mishap plan, the terms and conditions of its license and other regulatory requirements.

    The FAA was involved in every step of the mishap investigation and granted NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board official observer status.”

    Doesn’t sound like they’re just rubberstamp it.