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Blue Origin Reaches Space, Safely Returns Craft and Rocket in Second Test Flight

Blue Origin's "New Shephard" space craft takes off from the company's West Texas facility for a second test flight. (Blue Origin)

The space company owned by billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launched its second-ever test flight of its "New Shephard" spacecraft from its secretive facility north of Van Horn Monday morning.

Marfa Public Radio received reports on a "loud boom" heard across Van Horn the morning of the launch. Early Tuesday morning, Blue Origin confirmed it had launched the test flight and released a slickly-produced video showing the countdown, the launch and rarely-seen images of the company's rural West Texas facility.

[iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/9pillaOxGCo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]

The company reached space for the first time, blasting the craft to an altitude of 329,839 feet, just above the line between the Earth's atmosphere and space.

During its first test flight in April, the company performed a safe return landing of the craft's six-person crew capsule, but failed to safely land its rocket system.

This time, both parts of the craft landed back on the ground, marking a huge moment for the company as it pushes the reusability factor of its technology as a competitive advantage over rivals such as Space X.

Bezos had said less than a week ago that a second test flight would happen "very soon," but  he didn't say when. Blue Origin is notoriously secret about its work, often refusing to talk to reporters other than through from carefully-crafted press releases and multimedia presentations.

Still, locals in Van Horn figured something was happening soon.

Local hotels had started filling up with Blue Origin employees in recent days. Larry Simpson, the former owner of the Van Horn Advocate, works at the local airport. He assumed something big was coming.

"I'm a fixed-base operator at the airport, and some people that are with Blue Origin had flown in over the weekend, and they normally don't come unless something's up," he said.

In a statement, Bezos described the successful return landing of the craft is a "game changer" and said the company "can't wait to fuel up and fly again."

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.