Jeff Bezos’ Spacecraft Blows Up In Secret Test Flight; Locals Describe ‘Challenger-Like’ Explosion

This afternoon, the Wall Street Journal got wordfrom government officials that an unmanned rocket funded by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos crashed during a test flight last week. The Journal was unable to get Bezos’ notoriously secretive private space firm Blue Origin to comment on the accident.

A rendering of Blue Origin's suborbital spacecraft. Via Wikipedia.

Blue Origin’s rep also declined to elaborate on the incident to Forbes. Luckily, some locals living near the remote West Texas space facility were more forthcoming.

A handful of residents of Van Horn, Texas saw the crash firsthand, and described the accident as resembling the notorious 1986 Challenger disaster.

“Rumor has it that it just blew up, but we don’t have anything official,” a senior Culberson County, Texas civil servant told Forbes. “Blue Origin’s facility is remote — it’s about 30 or 4o miles from Van Horn.”

“People in town saw it and reported it, and posted it on Facebook,” added the official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. “One said it was just like the Challenger: an explosion, then a stream of smoke in the sky. They won’t tell us anything officially. This private space industry is so competitive and secretive.”

One Van Horn local updated her Facebook status to say: “Just saw a jet in the sky explode and come down burning towards [Highway] 54.”

Larry Simpson, publisher of local newspaper the Van Horn Advocate, knew the test flight was set to take place, but not because Blue Origin told him — in fact, they never tell him anything, he said. He found out via the FAA, who publish Special Use alerts for these sorts of tests, warning others to stay out of the air space in question.

“Something malfunctioned,” Simpson said. “It was rocketing up pretty well, and all of a sudden it blew apart. I don’t know if [Blue Origin] blew it up themselves because they lost contact, or if it blew up on its own.”

The local Fire Department was called down to Blue Origin’s base as a result of the accident, but no-one close to the incident will talk — and for good reason. “People that go out there are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement,” Simpson said.

Bezos has been funneling money into Blue Origin for years in an attempt to build a successful vertical take-off, vertical landing rocket. Simpson remembers meeting the tech mogul six years ago at the venture’s launch, when the Van Horn Advocate got an exclusive story. “I’d hoped he’d open up a little when he started getting some federal funding,” Simpson said. “But there’s been nothing.”

“Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet,” said Bezos in a Blue Origin blog post. “A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. Not the outcome any of us wanted, but we’re signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job. We’re already working on our next development vehicle.”

Credit: Forbes

Follow me on Twitter: @Clare_OC

 

 

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>