Blue Origin now has an explanation for the booster failure that cut a New Shepard flight short last September. Jeff Bezos’ company has determined that a “thermo-structural failure” in the NS-23 rocket’s engine nozzle was to blame. Operational temperatures for the nozzle climbed higher than expected following cooling system design changes, creating fatigue that misaligned the thrust and activated the crew capsule’s escape system.
Engineers are already taking “corrective actions” that include redesigning the combustion chamber and operating conditions. Blue Origin has also tweaked the nozzle design to improve its structural integrity. The capsule wasn’t damaged and will fly again, Blue Origin says.
The company says it hopes to resume flights “soon,” but hasn’t provided an exact date. It intends to restart operations by re-flying the research payload from the aborted mission. The Federal Aviation Administration has to accept the incident findings before Blue Origin can move forward.
There’s plenty of pressure on Blue Origin to address the issues. The company recently obtained a NASA contract to fly a science mission to Mars using its yet-to-launch New Glenn rocket, and has been pushing for a lunar lander agreement. The sooner Blue Origin can prove that its rocketry is trustworthy, the sooner it can secure customers that include governments and space tourists.
Rivals are facing problems of their own. Relativity Space’s first 3D-printed rocket failed to reach orbit earlier this month. SpaceX, meanwhile, has yet to successfully fire all of Starship’s engines at the same time. That’s not including past problems like Rocket Lab’s setbacks. Private spaceflight remains difficult, and Blue Origin is just the latest to illustrate that fact.