Blue Origin pinpoints engine nozzle as issue in September rocket failure

The New Shepard 4 booster suffered an anomaly during flight while going through the region of maximum aerodynamic pressure (max-Q) on the NS-23 mission in September 2022. (Credit:Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the space company that entrepreneur Jeff Bezos founded, has pinpointed an issue with an engine nozzle as the source of its rocket crash in September. 

The company said in a post on its website on Friday that the nozzle experienced a “thermo-structural failure,” causing the rocket to crash back to Earth shortly after taking off. No one was on board the flight, but the capsule escape system that was carrying experiments — and would have carried any passengers — properly ejected and safely parachuted to the ground. 

Blue Origin wrote that all systems that were meant to protect public safety worked properly, and no injuries occurred. The company plans to retry its flight again with the payloads from the September NS-23 mission, according to the post.

Blue Origin formed the “Mishap Investigation Team,” to conduct an investigation into what happened, with oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration and representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program and Commercial Crew Office. 

The team was able to recover all “critical flight hardware” within days of the crash. They observed onboard video and the recovered hardware to determine that an engine nozzle had a structural fatigue failure during the flight. 

Operational temperatures that surpassed the expected levels caused the fatigue. 

The company is redesigning the combustion chamber and “operational parameters” to reduce the temperatures, and other design changes have improved the nozzle’s structural performance. 

The rocket was traveling at about 28,000 feet in the air and at almost 700 miles per hour when it crashed. It was launched as part of the New Shepard program, honoring astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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