Potential Setback for Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin as Rocket Engine Explodes in Test

Potential Setback for Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin as Rocket Engine Explodes in Test

During a test firing in late June, a Blue Origin rocket engine exploded at the company’s West Texas facility in what could be another major setback for the launch of the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine exploded about 10 seconds into the test on June 30, destroying the engine and heavily damaging the test stand infrastructure, CNBC reported based on anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

“No personnel were injured and we are currently assessing root cause,” a Blue Origin spokesperson is quoted as saying in CNBC, confirming the anonymous reports. “We already have proximate cause and are working on remedial actions.”

The BE-4 engines are designed for Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, as well as United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket. The highly anticipated debut of the Vulcan Centaur was scheduled to take place on May 4 but has suffered multiple delays, with its inaugural flight now likely being pushed to late 2023. ULA is currently trying to resolve an issue with its rocket’s upper stage, which surfaced during a pressure test in late March.

The Colorado-based company had originally wanted to launch its Vulcan Centaur in 2020, but the rocket was held back by the delivery of its two BE-4 engines, which were delivered more than four years past the deadline.

ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno, however, doesn’t seem to be phased by the BE-4 engine explosion. “Many parts on a rocket, individual ATP [acceptance test] failures not uncommon,” Bruno wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Many other BE4s have passed ATP & gone on to hot fire. This one had failed an earlier ATP attempt & was reworked.”

Blue Origin is no stranger to anomalies. In September 2022, the booster on the company’s New Shepard rocket exploded mid-flight and its capsule abandoned ship while carrying 36 payloads, more than half of which belonged to NASA. Following an investigation into the rocket failure, Blue Origin identified a “thermo-structural failure of the engine nozzle” as the main culprit. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, however, remains grounded.

The company’s New Glenn rocket, which relies on seven BE-4 engines, has yet to debut. Blue Origin had originally scheduled New Glenn to liftoff in 2020 but delays in the development of the engines changed its inaugural plans. It’s still unclear when the rocket will get to fly.

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