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Blue alert for blastoff

Blue Origin, the secretive rocket venture backed by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos, has set aside time between this Thursday and Dec. 2 for another test launch from its ranchland spaceport in West Texas. The first test was conducted earlier this month, with Blue Origin calling it a success.

Word of the second scheduled launch opportunity comes in a notice to airmen issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, and picked up by the brand-new blog Futuresheet (thanks, John!). The required issuance of a notice to airmen is how we found out about the first test launch as well.

The latest notice sets up flight restrictions near Blue Origin's launch site, extending out in a 5-nautical-mile radius and up to an altitude of 10,000 feet, between 7:30 a.m. CT Thursday and 12:30 p.m. CT Dec. 2. The flight profile for these initial tests calls for an unmanned, rocket-powered prototype to lift off vertically, take a controlled flight to an altitude of a few hundred feet or even more, then come back down.

Over the next four years, the test flights would become increasingly ambitious, climaxing in passenger flights that would rise to altitudes in excess of 62 miles (100 kilometers). At that height, riders would feel a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space. Technically speaking, they would be space travelers (although it might be too much of a stretch to call them astronauts).

Blue Origin was tight-lipped about the first test, although the venture's project manager did tell the Van Horn Advocate that the outcome was successful. That might be as much as we'll hear going forward.

"Blue Origin does not plan to comment on its ongoing test program and won't be releasing information on the individual tests scheduled," a spokesman for the venture, Bruce Hicks, told me today in an e-mail.

So if you're near Van Horn, Texas, and are disposed to keep an eye out for some rocket action, keep me posted on what you see over the next few days. But don't forget the binoculars: The launch pad is on Bezos' ranch, set off quite a ways from Highway 54. Daniel Schmelzer's Carried Away travelogue provides several pictures that will help you get situated.