An uncrewed New Shepard rocket launched by Blue Origin — the company started by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon — malfunctioned on Monday, causing the rocket booster to crash. An emergency escape system took the capsule, which carried three dozen experiments, to safety.
The flight, lifting off from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas, did not have any people aboard. The rocket was the same design as New Shepard vehicles that have taken celebrities including Mr. Bezos, William Shatner and Michael Strahan to the edge of space.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would investigate, and grounded the company’s flights until it can determine “whether any system, process or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety.”
“This is standard practice for all mishap investigations,” the F.A.A. said in a statement.
The New Shepard flights do not enter orbit around the Earth, but rather are short up-and-down trips that provide a few minutes of weightlessness at the top of the arc, which reaches more than 62 miles above the surface.
In addition to the space tourism flights, Blue Origin also sells New Shepard flights as an economical means for scientists to conduct experiments in near-zero gravity.
On Monday, one minute and four seconds after liftoff, as the New Shepard rocket passed through the period known as max-Q — when the vehicle experiences forces of maximum atmospheric pressure — a large yellow flame erupted from the booster’s engine. As the booster began to tilt, an emergency abort system quickly propelled the capsule carrying the experiments away from the failing booster.
“It appears we’ve experienced an anomaly with today’s flight,” said Erika Wagner, the commentator during Blue Origin’s live coverage of the launch. “This wasn’t planned and we don’t have any details yet.”
The capsule reached an altitude of more than 37,000 feet, or about seven miles, far lower than a normal flight.
After its parachutes deployed, the capsule landed, perhaps a bit harder than usual, in the Texas desert.
“Booster failure on today’s uncrewed flight,” Blue Origin reported on Twitter later. “Escape system performed as designed.”
Blue Origin said no one on the ground was injured by the mishap.