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Will reusable rockets bring us closer to consumer space travel?

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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s credibility as a space entrepreneur got a big boost this week. His private company Blue Origin succeeded in safely landing its unmanned New Shepard rocket, which had soared to an altitude of 62 miles.

Usually those multi-million dollar rockets are good for one flight.

The New Shepard can now be reused, a goal for many aerospace firms.

“What is a big deal is to be able to reuse any part of the actual rocket, and to be able to reuse, particularly, the engines, because that’s what costs a lot of money,” said Marco Caceres, who’s with the aerospace consultancy Teal Group.

Lowering costs could make space tourism more viable, according to travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt with Atmosphere Research Group.  That said, Harteveldt said space travel has a long way to go before it will become cheap or commonplace.

“Don’t expect to see $69 trips into space any time soon,” he said.

Harteveldt noted that tickets for a Virgin Galactic flight to the edge of space have sold for $250,000 a pop. It’s unclear when that flight will launch. A Virgin Galactic test flight crashed last year.

Apart from cost, safety has been the other big barrier to space tourism, according to Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

“As long as we can make progress on the safety front, this is a market that could open up in the next five to 10 years,” he said.

The New Shepard was unmanned this week, but Jeff Bezos reportedly expects it will be just be a couple years of test flights before passengers can hitch a ride.

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