Blue Origin blames the accident in the New Shepard on a faulty engine washer

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin says it is preparing to resume flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle after completing an investigation into a launch failure last September.

Blue Origin announced on March 24 that its investigation into the NS-23 launch had concluded that the nozzle in the BE-3PM motor in the rocket’s propulsion module had suffered a structural failure that caused misalignment of the caused thrust. That activated the aborted engine in the vehicle’s crew pod, removing it from the propulsion module. The capsule, carrying payloads but no people on the Sept. 12 flight, landed safely under parachutes.

The propulsion module, named Tail 3 by the company, stalled the BE-3PM engine after nozzle failure and crashed into a predicted area at the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas. An accident investigation team organized by Blue Origin recovered “all critical flight hardware” within days of the accident.

That investigation found evidence of structural fatigue failures in the engine’s nozzle associated with temperatures exceeding design. “Forensic evaluation of the recovered nozzle fragments also showed clear evidence of thermal damage and hot streaks due to elevated operating temperatures,” the company said. “The fatigue location on the nozzle is aligned with a persistent hot streak identified during the investigation.”

Ground testing of the engine showed that the flight configuration was hotter than expected. Investigators concluded that “design changes to the engine’s boundary layer cooling system accounted for an increase in nozzle heating and explained the hot streaks present.” The company did not elaborate on the nature of the design changes.

Blue Origin said it is making design changes to the BE-3PM’s combustion chamber and operating parameters. Additional, unspecified design changes to the nozzle also improved structural performance.

The company said it would resume flights from New Shepard “soon,” beginning with the reflight of the NS-23 payload-only mission. It was not more specific about the schedule, nor did it say when it would resume manned flights.

The company had said little about the investigation in the six months since the accident. “We’ll get to the bottom of it,” Gary Lai, chief architect of New Shepard at Blue Origin, said during a talk at a suborbital research conference Feb. 28. “I can’t talk about specific timelines or plans for when we’ll resolve that situation, other than to say we fully intend to get back to work as soon as we’re ready.”

“We are still closing the investigation. We work closely with the FAA,” Ariane Cornell, vice president of commercial orbital, astronautics and international sales at Blue Origin, said during a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference on March 15. details about that.”

She said the company planned to get New Shepard flying again “by the end of this year,” but wasn’t more specific. She noted that the escape system on the vehicle worked “perfectly” on NS-23, a point the company emphasized in its statement about the investigation: “The Crew Capsule’s escape system worked as designed and delivered the capsule and its payloads to a safe landing at Launch Site One with no damage.’

Cornell noted that the company has not lost customers for its manned flights since the accident. “Demand remains strong,” she says. “We continue to have customers sign up for New Shepard. Some of them even asked to fly a “breakout mission” because it seemed so exciting. We politely declined.”






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