Blue Monday for Blue Origin as rocket bursts into flame

No one hurt as crew-free mission goes awry

An uncrewed flight test of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket failed about one minute after launch on Monday when the rocket booster erupted in flames.

The crew capsule, carrying experiments but no people, separated and parachuted back to Earth.

"This was a payload mission with no astronauts on board," the company said in a statement on its website. "The capsule escape system functioned as designed. The booster impacted the ground. There are no reported injuries; all personnel have been accounted for."

The mission, dubbed NS-23, took off at 1027 EDT (1427 GMT) from Blue Origin's Launch Site One site in West Texas, near the town of Van Horn. It was delayed by an hour, and no reason for the delay was disclosed.

About a year ago, Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket took company founder and initial funder Jeff Bezos into space, among others, and brought him back. A similar flight some months later lifted Star Trek's William Shatner skyward and similarly saw his safe return.

Last month, NS-22 took six space tourists aloft and returned to Earth without incident.

The NS-23 rocket carried 36 payloads, including a plant experiment from the University of Florida, a wax fabrication system for testing from MIT's Media Lab, and an AI sensor system from Titan Space Technologies.

In a statement via Twitter, Titan said it aims to recover its payload. "In spaceflight, you always have to expect the unexpected," the company said. "The capsule is being recovered and we’ll be retrieving our payload as soon as it is safe to do so."

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 in Kent, Washington, two years before another billionaire-backed space company, Elon Musk's SpaceX. Yet SpaceX launches far more rockets and is far more successful.

The US Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for protecting the public during commercial space launches and landings and the agency said it will look into the mishap.

"The FAA will oversee the investigation of Blue Origin’s NS-23 mishap that occurred at its Launch Site One location in West Texas," a spokesperson told The Register in an emailed statement.

"The anomaly that occurred triggered the capsule escape system. The capsule landed safely and the booster impacted within the designated hazard area. No injuries or public property damage have been reported."

According to the FAA, Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle is grounded until the FAA can determine whether the incident affected public safety, per standard investigatory practice for the agency. ®

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