Blue Origin, the spaceflight company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, tested its flagship rocket again Saturday, marking the third time that the same rocket booster has returned to Earth and successfully completed a smooth vertical landing.
The rocket, called New Shepard, climbed to nearly 340,000 feet — more than 64 miles — over the launch site in West Texas before gracefully returning to Earth and landing vertically on the ground, a feat that Bezos hopes will usher in a new era of commercial space travel by drastically reducing its cost. (In the past, boosters were typically discarded into the sea following the launch; reusing rockets, which is substantially cheaper, was virtually unheard of.)
Space reports that there were also two research payloads onboard: one to test how debris responds to the conditions of microgravity; another to ascertain the interactions between dust and large bodies in the days of the early Solar System.
Blue Origin’s objective is to democratize spaceflight — to make space tourism something more than a relic of science fiction. In November, Bezos told the Washington Post that he hopes to one day have “millions of people living and working in space.” The company hopes to launch a manned spaceflight by 2017, and to send tourists into space by following year.
In the meantime, watch the company’s video of Saturday’s test launch.