While I barely mentioned this incident when it happened,
last September marked an in-flight failure of one of Blue Origin's New
Shepard rockets, the backbone of their space tourism business. As a result, we're
approaching five months since the mishap with
no explanation from Blue of what happened, how they've addressed it, and
when they plan to fly again. The New Shepard as well the that sector of their business is in limbo
with no end in sight.
The rocket's single main engine failed about one minute into the flight, at an altitude of around 9 km, as it was throttling back up after passing through the period of maximum dynamic pressure. At that point a large fire erupted in the BE-3 engine, and the New Shepard capsule's solid rocket motor-powered escape system fired as intended, pulling the capsule away from the exploding rocket. The capsule experienced high G-forces during this return but appeared to make a safe landing.
A bit surprisingly to me, Blue Origin doesn't seem to have any spare hardware, booster or capsule. According to the source article (2nd link), at the time of the loss of this mission Blue had exactly two boosters, called numbers three and four. Only B4 had unspecified upgrades that made it "human-rated" for spaceflight. The capsule they referred to as RSS H.G. Wells was flying science missions on Booster 3, and the newer RSS First Step was flying crewed missions on Booster 4. Booster 3 is the one that was destroyed in the September mishap.
Given the fact that it is approaching five months from the incident it's possible they have spares by now.
The New Shepard and booster on mission NSS-22, about a month before the loss of the NSS-23 mission. Blue Origin photo.
I have to admit to being a bit spoiled by how how open SpaceX is with their operations. We get to watch launches and booster landings from every site they use, onshore or off, and on days like today, when a mission is postponed or stood down from, they tweet out a short explanation like this one: "Now targeting tomorrow at 8:15 a.m. PT for launch of Starlink and D-Orbit’s ION SCV009 Eclectic Elena to allow additional time for pre-launch checkouts; weather is looking good for liftoff." It appears Blue Origin doesn't have that openness in their DNA, or we wouldn't be sitting around months after the inflight problem trying to read tea leaves; or simply trying to find the tea leaves to read.
BO carefully handcrafts their engines like most legacy aerospace companies.ReplyDelete
Why no new engine yet? Because they don't produce them until needed and the lead time is measured in years, just like their rockets.