A Blue Origin rocket experienced a “booster failure” during an uncrewed launch of its New Shepard rocket from West Texas on Monday morning, triggering an abort system that allowed the capsule to parachute to Earth.
“This was a payload mission with no astronauts on board. The capsule escape system functioned as designed,” the company tweeted shortly after the unsuccessful launch. In a follow-up tweet later Monday, the company said the incident was the result of a “booster failure,” but that the escape system for the capsule on the uncrewed flight “performed as designed.” By Monday afternoon, the company confirmed the rocket booster had crashed back on Earth, writing in another tweet, “The booster impacted the ground. There are no reported injuries; all personnel have been accounted for.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to CNN Business on Monday that it will oversee an investigation of the “mishap,” and noted that there were no injuries or property damage reported.
“The anomaly that occurred triggered the capsule escape system,” the FAA statement said. “The capsule landed safely and the booster impacted within the designated hazard area.”
“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 added. “This is standard practice for all mishap investigations.”
A livestream of the launch showed the crew capsule, which had no one inside at the time, dramatically ejected from the rocket as it approached Max Q, or the time during the flight when the vehicle is buffeted by the atmosphere the most. The capsule at the top of ship then parachuted back to earth.
“It appears we’ve experienced an anomaly with today’s flight, this was unplanned and we do not have any details yet, but our crew capsule was able to escape successfully,” Erika Wagner, a Blue Origin employee, said during the livestream of the launch.
This was the first dedicated payload flight for the New Shepard since August 2021, and the ninth flight for this specific vehicle, according to Blue Origin.
The mission, dubbed NS-23, was flying 36 payloads, with two flying on the exterior of the booster. Eighteen of the payloads on the flight were funded by NASA, Blue Origin has said. Among the payloads on the NS-23 mission were nine that had been developed by students in elementary, middle, and high schools, according to a tweet from Blue Origin. Other science projects included included tests on how paraffin and beeswax can be fabricated in space to create cleaner rocket motor propellants, and an artificial intelligence experiment aimed at capturing suborbital data from multiple sensors and analyzing it in real-time. Two of the payloads were set to fly on the exterior of the New Shepard booster for “ambient exposure to the space environment,” according to a company statement about the mission released ahead of the launch.
The private space-faring company, which was founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, tweeted at 10:40 a.m. ET it was “responding to an issue this morning at our Launch Site One location in West Texas.” The tweet continued: “More information to come as it is available.”
Blue Origin did not immediately respond to CNN Business’ request for further comment Monday morning.