SUN VALLEY, ID – An unmanned spaceship funded by Internet billionaire Jeff Bezos crashed during a test flight.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’s privately funded space venture had to destroy an unmanned rocket last week after it lost control during a test flight. The failure of the craft, shown above during multiple tests, is a blow to commercial space programs.
The spacecraft, developed by closely held Blue Origin LLC, was on a suborbital flight from the company’s West Texas spaceport last week when it started to go off course and ground personnel lost normal contact with the vehicle. Investigators are looking at remnants of the craft recovered on the ground to determine the cause.
This is how Bezos reacted when it took off:
He wasn’t so happy when it crash.
After The Wall Street Journal reported on the failure, Blue Origin Friday posted a brief note on its website stating the spacecraft, while going faster than the speed of sound, suffered a “flight instability” at an altitude of 45,000 feet and the company’s automated “range safety system” shut off all thrust and led to its destruction. The problem appeared to stem from thrusters that didn’t respond properly to the initial commands, according to one industry official.
The note, signed by Mr. Bezos, said it was “not the outcome any of us wanted,” but “we’re signed up for this to be hard.”
The failure also could set back White House plans to promote commercially developed spacecraft to transport crews to the international space station by the second half of this decade.
Championed by President Barack Obama’s administration, the goal is to support a number of rival projects, including Blue Origin, to ensure that in the end the U.S. will have alternatives to reach the orbiting station, following July’s permanent retirement of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space shuttle fleet.
NASA on Friday said its officials “have confidence in American industry to help our nation maintain its leadership in space and transport U.S. astronauts and their cargo” into orbit. The agency’s “commercial space program will rely on multiple providers to ensure success,” said David Weaver, NASA’s top spokesman.
NASA in recent years has doled out hundreds of millions in seed money—including more than $25 million earmarked for Blue Origin—to promote development of various private rockets and spacecraft. They are intended to serve as the next generation of simpler, less-expensive vehicles to go back and forth to the space station.
According to NASA, the most recent award to Blue Origin is for work on a crew vehicle able to transfer up to seven astronauts to the orbiting station—first riding on top of a conventional Atlas V rocket and later powered by the company’s reusable booster system intended to “dramatically lower the cost of space access.” The federal money is targeted to speed development of a liquid-fueled engine, heat shields and a crew-escape system.
Here’s a test run the Amazon spaceship, 4 years ago: