Bezos’ Blue Origin Launches to Space in Long-Awaited Return

Blue Origin LLC’s space tourism rocket voyaged to space and back for the first time in 15 months, potentially marking the resumption of regular flights for the Jeff Bezos-founded company following an in-flight failure last year. 

The flight served as a much needed win for the company, which has struggled with executing its most ambitious spaceflight programs. While its New Shepard rocket did not carry passengers during Tuesday’s flight, Blue Origin signaled its intent to restart crewed missions in the near future.

“Following a thorough review of today’s mission, we look forward to flying our next crewed flight soon,” Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s senior director for emerging space markets, said on a webcast.

Following takeoff, the vehicle reached a peak height of roughly 66.5 miles (107 kilometers), what many institutions consider to be beyond the boundary of space. The rocket and capsule then returned to Earth, with the rocket landing upright at seven and a half minutes after takeoff. The capsule also successfully touched down under parachutes roughly 10 minutes after takeoff.

The New Shepard mission ferried research experiments meant to be tested briefly in space, as well as postcards from students. 

Recently, Bezos said he thinks Blue Origin needs to move more quickly, which is one of the main reasons he left his role as chief executive officer at Inc. Bezos’ goal was to devote more attention to his rocket company.

“We’re going to become the world’s most decisive company,” Bezos said on a podcast hosted by Lex Fridman on Dec. 14. “We’re going to get really good at taking appropriate technology risk and making those decisions quickly.”

The development of its larger New Glenn rocket and BE-4 engine have suffered from numerous delays. Earlier this month, Amazon veteran Dave Limp started as Blue Origin’s new CEO in a major leadership shakeup.

Numerous Setbacks

New Shepard had been grounded since September of 2022, after an uncrewed flight of the rocket suffered an engine explosion a little more than a minute into the mission. The halt gave Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.’s rival venture months of uncontested suborbital tourism operations. 

The mishap triggered New Shepard’s emergency abort system, prompting the capsule on top of the rocket to quickly detach and escape from the malfunctioning vehicle.  

During the mishap, the capsule, which was carrying research payloads, landed safely under parachutes, while the rocket crashed into the Texas desert. Blue Origin said that had people been on the rocket, they would have survived.

“The experiments that were on board, because it was a payload flight, came back to us,” Ariane Cornell, a vice president at Blue Origin, said at a satellite industry conference in Washington in March. “That would have been the case if we had had people on board.”

The Federal Aviation Administration oversaw a mishap investigation, led by Blue Origin, which wrapped up in September, placing blame on a faulty engine nozzle. The agency identified 21 “corrective actions” the company needed to take in order to resume flights, and Blue Origin made design changes to the vehicle, according to a company email sent to employees.

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