U.S. House panel seeks briefing on FAA Blue Origin probe

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Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) attends a news conference in Washington, U.S., about the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The chair of a subcommittee overseeing space issues and a top Republican asked the Federal Aviation Administration for a briefing on the investigation into the booster failure on Monday by Blue Origin’s New Shepard-23.

The rocket from Jeff Bezos' space company failed mid-flight shortly after liftoff, aborting its cargo capsule to safety before crashing into the Texas desert.

House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chair Don Beyer, a Democrat, and Representative Brian Babin, a Republican, in a letter asked the FAA to outline the "timetable for the NS-23 anomaly investigation, the root cause of the failure once determined, and plans to ensure that actions to address the root cause or causes are completed."

The FAA declined to comment immediately. Blue Origin did not immediately respond to a request for comment

Without humans on board, the rocket lifted off aiming to send NASA-funded experiments and other payloads to the edge of space to float for a few minutes in microgravity.

The lawmakers noted in August that a New Shepard vehicle carried out Blue Origin’s sixth human commercial suborbital spaceflight in just over a year, writing: "On a different day with a different mission, this vehicle’s anomaly could have put human lives in danger."

Just over a minute after liftoff and roughly five miles (8 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, the FAA said. 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.

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 (100 km) high for a few minutes of microgravity at the edge of space before their capsule returns to land under parachutes.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)