Jeff Bezos Suffers a Setback in Battle With Elon Musk

Amazon’s founder and executive chairman is competing against with archrival Elon Musk for the conquest of space.

Silence is golden, the saying goes. At least this once, Elon Musk seems to have understood this. 

Musk, who founded the rocket-technology company SpaceX, has not, yet, said a word about the setback taken by his biggest rival, Jeff Bezos. 

The world’s richest man (fortune estimated at $265 billion as of Sept. 12 by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index) and the world’s second-richest man ($160 billion) are competing to conquer space. 

Indeed, SpaceX faces Bezos’s Blue Origin. Certainly there are other players like Boeing  (BA) – Get The Boeing Company Report and Virgin Galactic  (SPCE) – Get Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. Report

But the duel between Musk and Bezos is the one that’s so fascinating because of their personalities, their taste for innovation and their financial power.

One Minute and … Boom

Blue Origin’s uncrewed New Shepard rocket crashed on Sept. 12, just one minute after launch, failing to send a capsule into space. The emergency ejection system worked well, however, and enabled the capsule and its payload to be recovered without damage. 

This failure of the suborbital flight came after three postponements. 

One minute after takeoff, the booster malfunctioned, which caused the New Shepard launcher to explode and the capsule to be immediately ejected. No space tourists were on board this flight, only equipment.

The NS-23 mission took off almost one hour after the initial scheduled time in Corn Ranch in Texas. 

Drilling down a bit: One minute and two seconds after takeoff, the engine propulsion appeared to malfunction and a large flame appeared. Two seconds later, the BE-3 main engine spat out another abnormal flame. A second later, the New Shepard’s onboard computer decided to eject the capsule for safety.

“We’re responding to an issue this morning at our Launch Site One location in West Texas,” the company said in its first message after the incident. “This was a payload mission with no astronauts on board. The capsule escape system functioned as designed.”

Thirty-five minutes later, Blue Origin provided additional information: “Booster failure on today’s uncrewed flight. Escape system performed as designed,” it said.

“During today’s flight, the capsule escape system successfully separated the capsule from the booster. The booster impacted the ground. There are no reported injuries; all personnel have been accounted for,” the firm updated almost three hours later.

The capsule was carrying equipment designed for experiments supposed to take place in microgravity, at an altitude of about 100 kilometers (60 miles). 

This is the first time that a New Shepard mission was abandoned since the company was founded, in 2015. The anomaly that occurred on the launcher, which was on its ninth flight, is not yet known.

“Before the New Shepard vehicle can return to flight, the FAA will determine whether any system, process, or procedure related to the mishap affected public safety,” the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

The federal agency added that it would oversee the investigation into the incident.

A similar version of this capsule is used for commercial flights organized by Blue Origin.

Bezos and three others had participated in New Shephard’s first spaceflight carrying humans, in July 2021. 

Since then, the vehicle has transported around 30 people, including Star Trek star William Shatner, 90. His trip to space took place last October.

In early August, the vehicle completed its sixth human spaceflight and the 22nd flight for the New Shepard program. The crew included the first person from Egypt, Sara Sabry, to fly to space. 

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