Tests of Vulcan Centaur engines end with a powerful explosion

The Blue Origin rocket engine exploded during a ground test last month, which was another failure for the space company, owned by Jeff Bezos. The incident occurred at the Blue Origin test site in West Texas on June 30, but it became known only now, CNBC reports.

Blue Origin performs a ground test of the BE-4 engine. Photo: Blue Origin

One of the BE-4 engines exploded, which was to be used for the second mission of the yet-to-be-launched Vulcan Centaur rocket of the United Launch Alliance, which would replace the Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets of ULA. CNBC sources who witnessed the incident reported that the rocket exploded about 10 seconds after the start of the launch, destroying the engine and causing damage to the infrastructure of the test stand.

A representative confirmed to CNBC on Tuesday that the company encountered a problem while testing the Vulcan rocket’s third engine. According to him, no one was injured from the explosion, adding that the company already had a reasonable idea of what caused the explosion; and now it is working to eliminate the consequences. 

The company said it had another stand in West Texas available for engine testing. Therefore, Blue Origin insists that they are still able to fulfill their obligations to deliver engines to their customers by the end of 2023.

We cannot yet know how the incident affected Blue Origin’s operations until the company fully analyzes what went wrong. It is also worth remembering that one of the main reasons for testing is the detection of anomalies during heavy loads. Although the explosion would be unexpected, it is better that it occurred during the testing phase than on the day of launch.

In September 2022, there was another unfortunate incident with the New Shepard suborbital rocket, which crashed during flight. Fortunately, when the rocket exploded in the air, there were no passengers in the capsule. To ensure the safety of passengers, the rescue system will eject the capsule in case of a serious malfunction. In that case, the emergency exit system worked as expected.

Engineers are investigating the cause and plan to launch a test flight without a crew in the coming weeks. If the flight is successful, New Shepard may start carrying paying passengers again in a few months.

Earlier, we reported on how Blue Origin was preparing to send two spacecraft of the ESCAPADE mission to Mars.

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