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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will launch its New Shepard rocket for the fourth time this year but, despite carrying the billionaire founder in a crew on the last flight, Thursday’s mission will not carry people inside the capsule.

Known as NS-17, this New Shepard mission is dedicated to carrying cargo. Blue Origin is flying a NASA lunar lander technology demonstration and 18 customer research payloads inside the capsule — as well as an art installation on the top of the capsule.

“Suborbital Tryptych,” a series of three portraits by Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, is painted on a panel on the top of the New Shepard crew capsule.

Blue Origin

The rocket will launch from Blue Origin’s private facility in West Texas, aiming to reach above 100,000 kilometers (or more than 340,000 feet altitude) before returning to Earth safely a few minutes later.

Billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos is launched with three crew members aboard a New Shepard rocket on the world’s first unpiloted suborbital flight from Blue Origin’s Launch Site 1 near Van Horn, Texas, July 20, 2021.

Joe Skipper | Reuters

This New Shepard rocket booster, which is reusable, is launching for its eighth time. The booster and capsule for NS-17 are dedicated to flying cargo missions, with Blue Origin rotating it with another booster and capsule for crew missions. The company expects to launch its second crew flight before the end of the year.

While the company has not disclosed pricing, New Shepard competes with Virgin Galactic in the realm of suborbital space tourism. Bezos last month said Blue Origin has sold nearly $100 million worth of tickets for future passenger flights.

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