Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin: Successful New Shepard Test Flight Brings Amazon Boss Closer to Space Tourism

Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's space company, has successfully completed the latest test flight of its fully reusable launch system, New Shepard, which could soon be taking private citizens into suborbital space.

On Sunday, the rocket took off from the company's West Texas launch site at 1:06 p.m. EDT, reaching an altitude of 347,485 feet (nearly 66 miles)—New Shepard's highest flight to date—before making a successful landing. (You can watch a replay of the live stream below.)

The altitude was slightly higher than New Shepard's usual target of 62 miles (100 kilometers), otherwise known as the Kármán line, the widely accepted boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

The rocket, which takes off and lands vertically using boosters (much like SpaceX's Falcon rockets), was carrying a passenger capsule containing a test dummy known as Mannequin Skywalker, as well as research payloads from NASA, the German Aerospace Center and other commercial customers, according to the company's blog.

The capsule landed successfully after detaching from the top of the rocket and deploying its parachutes. This was the eighth flight of the New Shepard system since its first launch, in 2015, and the second test of the newly redesigned rocket and capsule.

Blue Origin will probably not begin taking passengers into space aboard New Shepard until 2019. But the company has outlined what paying customers can look forward to.

After more than two minutes of vertical ascent, the capsule, which can carry six people, will detach from the rocket as it reaches the edge of outer space, at which point passengers will experience weightlessness. They will also be able to see the curvature of the Earth through large windows—the biggest of any spacecraft to date.

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and crew capsule mockup at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing

About four minutes later, the capsule will reenter the Earth's atmosphere and descend toward the surface before landing, in a process that is entirely automated. In addition to ferrying space tourists to and from the Kármán line, New Shepard will be available to hire in order to carry out experiments.

For example, payloads on the latest test mission were used to investigate the effects of microgravity on gene expression and test the feasibility of providing commercial Wi-Fi access to users in space, among other experiments.

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Bezos with the goal of developing reusable rockets to enable private human access to space while driving down costs. The company is also working on a heavy-lift orbital rocket known as New Glenn, which is slated for launch in 2020.