Amazon's CEO, Elon Musk and Richard Branson all want to send the public to space. Bezos took another step toward that goal Wednesday.
Elon Musk's SpaceX may send rockets to space more frequently, but Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is working up to swiping another milestone from its rival. On Wednesday, Blue Origin performed another test flight of its New Shepard vehicle as it prepares to send humans to space as soon as next year, perhaps before SpaceX manages to.
The 12th flight of the Blue Origin reusable rocket design utilized a booster dubbed "Tail 3" that the company has now launched and landed six times, a new record for a commercial space company as far as I can tell.
The crew capsule atop the booster carried a number of science and technology experiments to the edge of space for NASA, along with thousands of postcards from the Bezos-led education nonprofit Club for the Future. The capsule, which is designed to carry human passengers, successfully separated from the booster and made a soft landing in the Texas desert aided by parachutes.
This week's launch was originally planned for Tuesday but was pushed back a day because of weather conditions.
The company is one of three tycoon-led outfits hoping to begin regularly sending humans to space in the coming months.
SpaceX aims to send astronauts to the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft for the first time, while Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic hopes to send its famous founder and then paying customers on weightless sightseeing flights to space in 2020.
Virgin Galactic has a bit of a leg up, having already sent its first passenger -- the company's astronaut trainer Beth Moses -- to space in a February test flight.
It should also be noted that sending a spacecraft on top of a larger orbital rocket to dock with an orbiting space station, as SpaceX does, is more complicated than, and a technically very different mission from, what Virgin and Blue Origin are working on in the short term. Musk's plan to use his Starship rocket for super-speedy international flights is more in that vein, but involves an exponentially larger vehicle and is likely years down the road. Blue Origin is also building its own big orbital rocket, New Glenn, to rival the SpaceX Starship.
But Blue Origin is making steady progress toward loading humans into one of its rockets by 2020. Unlike Virgin's space plane, New Shepard launches and lands vertically, just like a SpaceX Falcon 9. In fact, Blue Origin actually managed to pull off the first landing of a rocket before SpaceX did.
However, while Blue Origin hopes to start sending space tourists into microgravity very soon, the company has yet to start taking reservations.
Meanwhile, you can watch the company slip another test flight of New Shepard under its belt in the launch replay below:
Originally published Dec. 9.
Updated Dec. 10: Notes that the launch time has been delayed to Wednesday.
Updated Dec. 11: Details the successful launch and landing.