Unmanned Spaceship Funded by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos Misfires

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An unmanned spaceship funded by internet billionaire Jeff Bezos suffered a major failure during a recent test flight, according to US government and industry officials, highlighting the dramatic risks of private space ventures, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The vertical takeoff and landing spacecraft, developed by closely-held Blue Origin LLC, was on a planned suborbital flight from the company's West Texas spaceport last week, these officials said, when ground personnel lost contact and control of the vehicle.

The mishap dealt a potentially major blow to the ambitions of Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, to develop a system able to reliably blast tourists and eventually astronauts out of the atmosphere.

The serious malfunctions, which have not been disclosed by the company or reported previously, also could set back White House plans to promote a range of commercially developed spacecraft designed to transport crews to the International Space Station by the second half of this decade.

Championed by President Barack Obama's administration, the goal is to support a number of rival projects, including Blue Origin, to ensure that in the end the U.S. will have alternatives to reach the orbiting station, following last month's permanent retirement of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's space shuttle fleet.

A spokesman for Blue Origin, based in Kent, Wash., declined to comment.