Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Rocket Crashes During Uncrewed Launch

Photo courtesy of Tim Mossholder on

Emma Li, Staff Writer

On September 12, Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, was forced to abort a launch shortly after takeoff, causing the rocket to crash back to earth. The incident marked the company’s first launch failure since it began offering commercial flights to paying passengers through its New Shepherd system. Altogether, Blue Origin has flown thirty-one people into space, beginning with Bezos and three other passengers in July of last year. However, on this occasion, the vehicle was uncrewed and instead contained payloads from research institutions across the globe. 

The incident occurred around the time that the spacecraft entered “Max Q”, or maximum dynamic pressure condition, which is when the greatest amount of atmospheric stress is placed on the vehicle. At this point, the rocket had reached an altitude of approximately 8,500 meters and was traveling at a velocity of over 1,000 km/hr.

The New Shepherd vehicle consists of a booster rocket and a capsule; the capsule, which carries payloads and passengers, is intended to separate from the booster and coast briefly in space before re-entering the atmosphere. However, during the recent incident, the capsule prematurely ejected itself from the booster when the emergency abort system—designed to propel the capsule a safe distance upon sensing a problem with the rocket—kicked in approximately a minute after launch. The capsule was shot into the air, and the booster crashed back to earth. With the aid of parachutes, the capsule made a soft landing in the desert. Had the rocket been carrying a crew, this system would also have guaranteed their safety. Blue Origin later identified the source of malfunction as a “booster failure”.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which licenses commercial launches, is conducting an investigation into whether “any system, process or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety”. According to the FAA, the booster rocket crashed back to earth in the designated hazard area and no injuries occurred upon landing. Blue Origin also stated that the emergency abort system was rigorously tested both on the ground and during flight; however, although the system performed as designed, the company will have to wait for the investigation to conclude before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight.