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Blue Origin successfully launched (and landed) the 11th uncrewed test of its suborbital New Shepard launch system Thursday in Texas. This was the 5th launch for this particular rocket and capsule.

Why it matters: This most recent launch paves the way for the Jeff Bezos-founded company to launch people to space. According to Blue Origin, those crewed launches could begin as early as the end of the year. Eventually, Blue Origin hopes to fly groups of paying passengers on tourist trips to the edge of space on a regular cadence.

Bezos has often stated that Blue Origin's goal is to help bring about a future in which millions of people are living and working in space.

  • To that end, the company is also building its orbital New Glenn rocket, designed to bring larger payloads to orbit and perhaps beyond.

Details: This particular New Shepard launch carried 38 payloads to weightlessness during this flight.

  • A new Shepard flight is designed to bring paying customers up to at least 62 miles above Earth — known as the unofficial line where "space" begins — before coming down under parachutes, and landing in Texas.
  • That flight profile will allow passengers to see the Earth against the blackness of space and feel weightlessness.
  • It's not yet clear how much Blue Origin will charge for a seat aboard the capsule, though Virgin Galactic has offered seats aboard its suborbital system for about $250,000.

Background: Blue Origin is part of a broader commercial space landscape that includes SpaceX and other private companies focused on democratizing access to space. Instead of seeing space as just the realm of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, these private companies want to reduce the cost of launching to space, thereby making it more accessible to all.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.