The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has said that it will launch a review into work practices at Blue Origin, the space company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The announcement comes after 21 current and former employees claimed the company had ignored safety concerns to gain an advantage in the space race.
Staff also complained of a culture of sexism within the company.
Blue Origin rejected the charges and said it stands by its safety record.
A spokesperson for the company said that it provides “numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct”.
It added that it “has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind”.
Staffers led by Blue Origin’s former head of internal communications, Alexandra Abrams, made the allegations in a letter that was sent to the FAA before being published on the whistleblowing website, Lioness, on Thursday.
Raising concerns over the standard of the company’s flagship New Shepard rocket, which Mr Bezos travelled into space on in July, the essay writers said: “In the opinion of an engineer who has signed on to this essay, ‘Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far’.”
The letter also alleged that more than 1,000 reports of issues related to the engines that power Blue Origin’s rockets have never been addressed. “Many of this essay’s authors say they would not fly on a Blue Origin vehicle,” the letter added.
The FAA, which regulates rocket launches in the US, said that it “takes every safety allegation seriously, and the agency is reviewing the information”.
In addition to the safety concerns, staff also claimed that the company’s management embraces a “particular brand of sexism” under which numerous managers and senior staff displayed consistently inappropriate behaviour towards women.
One senior executive was reported to the HR department multiple times for sexual harassment, the authors claim. However, no action was taken and they allege that the individual was later placed on a panel overseeing the appointment of a new senior HR role.
Another executive was reportedly so notorious for sexist behaviour that new female staff were warned to avoid him. “It appeared to many of us that he was protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos — it took him physically groping a female subordinate for him to finally be let go,” the group alleged.
A Blue Origin spokesperson said Ms Abrams “was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations”. Ms Abrams told CBS News, which first reported the allegations, she never received any warnings related to export control issues.
In July the company made the first crewed flight of its rocket ship, New Shepard, with Mr Bezos onboard.
When the capsule touched back down after the 10 minute, 10 second flight, the Amazon founder exclaimed: “Best day ever!”
The rocket is designed to serve the burgeoning market for space tourism. However, it faces stiff competition to corner the market from Elon Musk’s company SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.