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Bezos' Blue Origin suffers rocket failure during uncrewed mission

FILE PHOTO: Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A rocket from Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin failed mid-flight shortly after liftoff on Monday, aborting its cargo capsule to safety before crashing into the Texas desert, according to the company and a live video stream of the mission.

Without any humans on board, the rocket lifted off from Blue Origin's West Texas launch site Monday morning as the company's 23rd New Shepard mission, aiming to send NASA-funded experiments and other payloads to the edge of space to float for a few minutes in microgravity.

But just over a minute after liftoff, and roughly 5 miles (8.05 km) above ground, the New Shepard booster's engines flared unexpectedly during ascent. The capsule's abort motor system triggered almost immediately, jetting the craft away from the faulty rocket before parachuting back to land intact.

The booster crashed within a designated hazard area, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees and regulates launchsite safety. Blue Origin's fleet of New Shepard rockets is grounded until the FAA signs off on the outcome of a company-led investigation into the mishap, the agency added.

"During today’s flight, the capsule escape system successfully separated the capsule from the booster," Blue Origin tweeted after the mishap. "The booster impacted the ground. There are no reported injuries; all personnel have been accounted for."

The mission, called NS-23, was the first New Shepard launch without humans aboard in over a year, and the fourth mission in 2022. The rocket-capsule system has flown 31 people in all under Blue Origin's suborbital space tourism business, in which paying customers are launched some 62 miles high for a few minutes of microgravity at the edge of space before their capsule returns to land under parachutes.

Billionaire Bezos, the Amazon.com Inc founder who started Blue Origin in 2000, was among the first passengers to fly New Shepard during its debut crewed mission in 2021.

The rocket that crashed on Monday had flown eight times before, but it was not immediately clear whether those past missions included humans. Blue Origin flew New Shepard 15 times before its first crewed flight.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in WashingtonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)