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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 11:14 GMT
Amazon boss shows off spacecraft
The development vehicle Goddard on the back of a lorry
The Goddard launch took place in Texas in November 2006

The billionaire founder of Amazon.com has released the first images of the launch of a private spacecraft that could bring space travel to the masses.

A video of the cone-shaped Goddard vehicle shows it climbing to about 85m (285ft) before returning back to Earth.

The test launch took place in November 2006 in a remote part of Texas, but details have only now been released.

The images mark the first time Jeff Bezos has broken his silence on the work of his space company, Blue Origin.

Writing on the company's website, Mr Bezos said: "We're working, patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go; and so that we humans can better continue exploring the Solar System."

"Accomplishing this mission will take a long time, and we're working on it methodically."

Short trip

Mr Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the intention of developing a vertical take-off and landing vehicle, called New Shepard, able to take passengers to the edge of space.

No timescale for commercial trips has been announced but documents released by the US Federal Aviation Administration suggest they could start as early as 2010.

The latest videos show there is still a lot of development work to do before the company reaches that stage.

My only job at the launch was to open the champagne
Jeff Bezos

The footage shot on 13 November 2006 from a site about 200km (120 miles) east of El Paso in Texas shows the first craft to launch under the New Shepard programme.

Called Goddard, the retro-looking development vehicle is shown standing on four legs before blasting off in a cloud of smoke from thrusters on its base. The vehicle continues to ascend for approximately 10 seconds, reaching a height of nearly 300ft (90m).

It then starts to descend before making a controlled landing back on its feet approximately 25 seconds after take-off.

The launch, described by Mr Bezos as "both useful and fun", was watched by friends, family and a team of engineers.

"My only job at the launch was to open the champagne," said Mr Bezos.

The website message does not say whether the vehicle contained any passengers or why there was a delay between the launch and release of the footage.

Commercial space

Mr Bezos now hopes to recruit a team of engineers to the New Shepard programme to develop the design and increase the altitude and duration of flights.

Artist's impression of Genesis 1 in space
Companies like Bigelow Aerospace hope to construct space hotels

In particular, he is looking for "experienced propulsion engineers" and people with "experience on large, modern vehicles such as Delta IV or Atlas V".

Blue Origin is one of several private companies vying to open up space to the public.

US-based Space Adventures has already taken four space tourists to the International Space Station, while in September 2006, Sir Richard Branson unveiled a mock-up of a rocket powered vehicle that will carry six passengers and two pilots to an altitude of about 140km (85 miles).

His Virgin Galactic design is based on SpaceShipOne, the craft designed by Scaled Composites that won the Ansari X-Prize in 2005. The first passengers could take off in 2009.

Other entrepreneurs jostling for their place in space include hotel tycoon Robert Bigelow who launched Genesis 1, an experimental inflatable spacecraft, in July 2006.

Mr Bigelow hopes the water-melon shaped craft could form the basis of a future space hotel.

Inflatable space module puffs up
14 Jul 06 |  Technology
Human spaceflight goes commercial
21 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
SpaceShipOne rockets to success
07 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature
Virgin Galactic: The logical next step
27 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature

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