Science & Environment

Jeff Bezos' New Shepard rocket system flies for 10th time

Lift-off Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption This was the 10th time Blue Origin has launched the New Shepard system

US billionaire Jeff Bezos has put up his New Shepard space vehicle from Texas again, carrying a suite of Nasa experiments to an altitude of 107km.

The booster and capsule system separated as planned on the ascent, with both elements then making a controlled descent to the desert floor.

In December, UK entrepreneur Richard Branson saw his rocket plane, Unity, fly to the edge of space.

Both men plan to offer rides to fare-paying passengers in the near future.

Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption The capsule separated from the booster high above the Texas desert

Wednesday's New Shepard mission lifted off at 09:05 Central Time (15:05 GMT).

It was the 10th occasion that Mr Bezos' Blue Origin company had launched the reusable system - the fourth using upgraded hardware.

The New Shepard rocket reached a top speed of 3,582km/h (2,226mph) as it sent the capsule to an apogee of 106.92km (350,775ft) - above the so-called Kármán line, the most widely accepted boundary of space. Unity on its test flight last month got to a height of 82.7km

The eight Nasa experiments aboard the New Shepard capsule were demonstrating a range of new space applications - including electronics, environmental sensors and fuel-handling technologies.

They would have experienced a few minutes of weightlessness around the top of New Shepard's climb into the sky.

Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption The booster was the first element to return to Earth...
Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption ...making a controlled stop on the ground

Investigators will have gained insights on the behaviour of their applications that would otherwise have been very difficult to simulate on the ground.

Twenty-nineteen is shaping up to be a busy one for commercial space, with quite a few new rocket systems expected to make significant progress.

As well as his sub-orbital plane, Richard Branson hopes also to put up his satellite-delivery vehicle, LauncherOne.

And the established American rocket companies Boeing and SpaceX will be testing the taxi services they will use to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption The capsule came back under parachute...
Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption ...touching down 10 minutes and 15 seconds after lift-off and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos