Washington: Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin called off a return-to-flight mission with its suborbital New Shepard rocket in Texas over what it described as a ground system issue encountered during preparations for liftoff, the company said.
“We’re scrubbing #NS24 today due to a ground system issue the team is troubleshooting,” Blue Origin wrote on social network X, formally Twitter. “We’ll provide a new launch target for this week soon.”
New Shepard, the company’s only active rocket that can carry humans and cargo on short trips to and from the brim of space, was scheduled to launch at 9:30 a.m. CT (1530 GMT) on Monday for the first time since a mission failure last year triggered a 15-month grounding.
No humans, but 33 research experiments, were to be on board for the mission, named NS24 for what would have been its 24th flight. A ground system issue typically concerns a snag with the rocket’s launch pad, rather than the rocket itself.
New Shepard’s last mission early last year failed mid-flight because of a “structural failure” in the rocket’s engine nozzle that had been caused by excessive heat blasting from the engine’s combustion chamber, Blue Origin said.
The US Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees mishap investigations by private rocket companies, required Blue Origin to redesign New Shepard’s engine and make 20 other fixes before returning to flight.
The 15-month long launch hiatus held up Blue Origin’s centerpiece space tourism business, where New Shepard launches groups of wealthy tourists to the edge of space for a few minutes in microgravity before parachuting back in their capsule.
Bezos, the company’s founder and main owner, was among New Shepard’s first crew in 2021 to fulfill his personal aim to reach space and as a show of confidence in the rocket’s design.
Bezos in recent months has shaken up Blue Origin’s leadership and reorganized the business as it faces mounting competitive pressure to debut New Glenn, a much bigger rocket that will rival SpaceX’s dominant Falcon 9 rocket and forthcoming Starship system in the satellite launch market.
(Published 18 December 2023, 17:33 IST)