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.