Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is still running into technical problems. The company has confirmed that a BE-4 engine exploded roughly 10 seconds into a firing test in Texas on June 30th. No one was hurt during the incident, but CNBC understands the engine was supposed to be sent to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for use in its second Vulcan rocket flight.
An investigation is still underway. Blue Origin says it has a “proximate cause” for the explosion, and is working on unspecified “remedial actions.” The company will keep testing rockets and expects to meet its customers’ engine demands, according to a spokesperson.
The explosion comes several months after a New Shepard rocket failure that was ultimately pinned on a bad engine nozzle. ULA has had its own share of trouble. A rocket’s upper stage exploded in March, prompting an investigation and fixes that include thicker steel walls on the stage.
However much the setback is affecting Blue Origin’s production levels, it’s not good news for a company whose business revolves around engines. ULA needs two BE-4 engines for every Vulcan rocket, while Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn needs seven. Both vehicles will be crucial for space exploration missions as well as Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband satellites.
Blue Origin’s private spaceflight competitors have had their own problems. SpaceX is still struggling to put Starship into orbit, and Virgin Galactic only just completed its first commercial flight. The flawed engine won’t necessarily represent a major hurdle, then, even if it does force the company to adjust its schedule.
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