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Blue Origin, the private space-rocket firm founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, is to conduct a rocket test this afternoon (Wednesday 24 August).

A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) specifies that "ROCKET LAUNCH ACTIVITY" is due to take place near Van Horn, Texas and clears a volume of airspace extending 17 nautical miles all around Salt Flat VORTAC from the surface up to 18,000 feet above sea level. The time window runs from 1200 to 1700 GMT (1pm to 6pm UK time).

Despite the relatively low altitude the test flight is expected to achieve, the NOTAM specifies that it results from "Space Operations" and lists Blue Origin LLC as the point of contact.

The last actual test flight that Bezos' notoriously secretive rocket company cares to discuss publicly took place in 2006. Since then the firm has landed NASA private-space development contracts, including $22m in April for work on a reusable manned capsule to be carried out on an existing conventional rocket stack.

Blue Origin's "New Shepard" rocket-hopper vehicle, designed for vertical landings as well as liftoffs, is currently intended for suborbital capability only. The parameters of today's test suggest another low-altitude trial flight, but down the road the company plans to produce reusable boosters capable of coming in to land intact after hurling payloads into orbit. ®

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