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Blastoff for Blue Origin?

Blue Origin, the suborbital space venture created by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos, is gearing up for a round of rocket testing at its private spaceport in West Texas over the next few days. The first tests would involve sending up a prototype rocket vehicle to about 2,000 feet (610 meters) for no more than a minute - but between now and 2010, Blue Origin plans to shoot its rocket ships up 62 miles or more, to the edge of outer space.

Notice of the upcoming tests came in the form of a notice to airmen, or NOTAM, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. The notice sets aside airspace in a 5.75-statute-mile radius around Bezos' launch site, near Van Horn, up to an altitude of 10,000 feet (just to be safe). The area will be off-limits to pilots between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. CT, starting Friday and ending Monday.

The notice was posted to aRocket, a popular discussion list for rocketeers, and air traffic controllers in Albuquerque, N.M., confirmed that they had the notice on file.

All this is consistent with Blue Origin's plans, stated in the venture's environmental assessment (PDF file), to conduct up to 10 rocket tests at the West Texas spaceport this year. The launch equipment has been shipped down from Blue Origin's production facility near Seattle, and there are reports that a lot of Blue Origin personnel have converged on the Van Horn area for something big.

However, Blue Origin spokesman Bruce Hicks is keeping mostly mum, as is his habit. When I contacted him for comment, he said the schedule called for test launches to begin in November. "It's November," he observed.