Named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, the New Shepard system is reused by Blue Origin. Reusability is a key part of Blue Origin's plan to turn space tourism into a business. Similar to SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket system, New Shepard's booster – the bottom and largest section of the rocket – launches straight up and then returns straight down to land.
This was the fourth test flight for this individual rocket booster, which is the third booster Blue Origin has built. The company said on Twitter that it has "two rockets in the barn in West Texas," with the latest addition planned to begin "flying humans to space next year."
Blue Origin is nearing commercial operations in several of its businesses. Bezos' space company won a massive rocket engine deal for its propulsion business in September, completed a key flight test for New Shepard in July and won NASA support for its Blue Moon lunar lander program.
Bezos has called Blue Origin "the most important work I'm doing." Bezos also believes there will be more than 1 trillion humans living and working across the solar system one day. Wall Street has begun to pay attention to Bezos' extra-terrestrial efforts. Morgan Stanley told clients "to take notice" of Bezos investments in the space industry through Blue Origin, pointing to him as a "force" bringing financial muscle. Blue Origin is one of several space companies which Morgan Stanley says "will up the ante starting in 2019."
While New Shepard is in the final stages of testing, competitor Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is now a step ahead of Bezos in the space tourism business. Virgin Galactic completed its longest rocket-powered flight ever on Thursday, making its pilots the company's first astronauts to reach the edge of space. Virgin Galactic said the test flight reached an altitude of 51.4 miles, or nearly 83 kilometers.
While Virgin Galactic has more than 600 people signed up for future launches, at $250,000 per ticket, Blue Origin has not begun selling tickets. Blue Origin told CNBC earlier this year that the company will only offer tourists a ride to space "after our first human flights."
NASA is reaping the benefits of the rising commercial capabilities. Blue Origin's flight carried three versions of the four NASA-funded payloads that Virgin Galactic carried along last week.
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