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Blue Origin launches again, as it gets closer to its first human space flight

Jeffrey P. Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket New Shepard completed its ninth flight as it tested the vehicle’s escape and self-landing system. (Video: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin completed the ninth flight of its New Shepard rocket Wednesday, wrapping up another test of the vehicle’s escape system as the company works toward its first human space flight as soon as this year.

The booster and spacecraft blasted off from the company’s launch site in West Texas shortly after 11 a.m. Eastern and then performed a test designed to ferry passengers to safety in the case of an emergency. Once it reached the threshold of space, the capsule fired its motors, shooting it away from the booster in a maneuver the company said would “push the rocket to its limits.”

Blue Origin is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

The company plans to start selling tickets next year for passengers to take short flights just past the edge of space, where they would experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. The company has not said what the price of the tickets would be.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic also plans to start flying paying customers to space on suborbital flights. The company says more than 700 people have signed up to fly. Its tickets cost $250,000.

On Wednesday’s flight, Blue Origin said it was carrying out several scientific experiments, including one to test the use of WiFi Internet access in space. A dummy the company calls “Mannequin Skywalker” was onboard to give the company data on what the flight would be like for real passengers.