Bezos’ Blue Origin launches first crew to edge of space since 2022 grounding


The grounding of New Shepard, Blue Origin’s only active rocket, came after a mid-flight failure in September 2022 during an unmanned research mission. A structural failure in the rocket’s engine nozzle, the company concluded, forced the capsule full of science experiments to abort.

The US Federal Aviation Administration examined Blue Origin’s probe into the failure and required the company to take 21 corrective actions, including an engine redesign and “organizational changes”.

New Shepard returned to flight in December 2023 with an unmanned mission, carrying 33 science and research payloads to the edge of space.

The FAA did not immediately respond to questions about the New Shepard capsule’s parachute and whether the agency would investigate. Without specifying whether the company would investigate the matter, a Blue Origin spokesperson said the crew capsule is “designed to safely land with one parachute” and called the mission an overall success.

Resuming New Shepard’s routine missions was a top priority for Blue Origin’s new CEO Dave Limp, plucked from’s AMZN.O devices unit late last year by Bezos, the billionaire founder of both companies. Bezos is working to boost his space company’s competitive footing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

While New Shepard is back to flying people, other pressing priorities remain at the company. Chief among them is debuting Blue Origin’s much larger rocket, New Glenn, a reusable heavy-lift rocket designed to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in the business of launching commercial and government satellites into Earth’s orbit and beyond.

Limp, who started as CEO in December, has sought to speed up the company’s production line for BE-4, which is also used by the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket.

In the suborbital space tourism business, Blue Origin faces competition from Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, whose VSS Unity spaceplane sends passengers to space horizontally much like a traditional aircraft.

Sunday’s New Shepard launch marked Blue Origin’s seventh crewed mission. Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity is due to launch its seventh commercial mission next month before the company pauses its spaceflight program until 2026 to upgrade its fleet.

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