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New Shepard booster
Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster stands on its West Texas landing pad after a successful touchdown. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos keeps racking up the awards for his Blue Origin space venture: He just found out that Blue Origin is winning the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy for its New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

The 2016 Collier Trophy was awarded to the Blue Origin team, headquartered in Kent, Wash., “for successfully demonstrating rocket booster reusability with the New Shepard human spaceflight vehicle through five successful test flights of a single booster and engine, all of which performed powered vertical landings on Earth,” the National Aeronautic Association said today in a statement.

The trophy is awarded annually to recognize the previous year’s greatest achievement in American aeronautics or astronautics. Past winners range from aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss (1911 and 1912) and Orville Wright (1913) to the teams behind SpaceShipOne (2004), NASA’s Curiosity rover (2012) and NASA’s Dawn probe to Ceres (2015).

“Winning the Collier Trophy is incredibly emotional for me and the whole Blue Origin team,” Bezos said in today’s announcement. “Everyone on the team has given so much to get to this point, and we are deeply encouraged by this recognition. We will never stop working to drive down the cost of getting to space.”

In addition to the Collier Trophy, New Shepard’s achievements have earned Bezos and the Blue Origin team the Heinlein Prize, the Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, Aviation Week’s Space Laureate Award and the Museum of Flight’s Pathfinder Award.

New Shepard is already flying scientific payloads during its test flights, and paying passengers could start climbing aboard for suborbital space trips as early as next year.

In the course of developing the New Shepard, Blue Origin built a new type of hydrogen-fueled rocket engine, the BE-3. Now Blue Origin is working on the BE-4, a more powerful rocket engine that uses liquefied natural gas for fuel, for use on its own New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket.

We’ll be hearing more about Blue Origin’s progress, and seeing the space-flown New Shepard for ourselves, next week at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

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