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A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket ascends in the skies above West Texas. Image: Blue Origin

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, conducted a successful launch and landing of its New Shepard rocket and crew capsule on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The launch and landing bring the company closer to flying humans to suborbital space, which it hopes to begin by the end of 2019. In addition to space tourism, the company is also vying with Elon Musk's SpaceX — as well as a host of other private sector firms — to win contracts to carry cargo payloads to space.

Details: The New Shepard rocket carried a crew capsule with 8 NASA science experiments to a maximum height of 350,775 feet over Blue Origin's West Texas launch site. This is just past the typically recognized boundary between where the Earth's atmosphere ends and space begins.

  • At this altitude, the crew capsule experienced a microgravity environment — useful to some of the scientific payloads aboard, including one to measure the cooling of closely packed electronics during spaceflight.
  • Both the rocket and the capsule successfully returned to Earth for landings. The recovery of the rocket and the capsule is significant, since reusing rockets is a major way for companies like Blue Origin to lower the cost of access to space.
  • This was the 4th time this particular New Shepard rocket has been to space and back.

Between the lines: Notably, the test flight was broadcast live online. Historically, the company has been known for its secrecy — and, for a time, it did not announce test flights in advance. The livestream put it in line with its rivals, chiefly SpaceX.

Go deeper: The new global race to space

Go deeper

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.