After years of work behind closed doors, founder Jeff Bezos has gone public with a plan to build a suborbital space facility on a sprawling ranch under the wide open skies of West Texas.

Bezos’ Seattle-based Blue Origin suborbital space venture is starting the process to build an aerospace testing and operations center on a portion of the Corn Ranch, a 165,000-acre spread that the 41-year-old billionaire purchased north of Van Horn, Texas. Over the next six or seven years, the team would use the facility to test components for a craft that could take off and land vertically, carrying three or more riders to the edge of space.

Blue Origin’s team has been laying the groundwork for the hush-hush project from a 53,000-square-foot warehouse in Seattle, but this week’s announcement fills out a puzzle that previously could only be guessed on the basis of isolated rumors. Blue Origin has been the most secretive of several space ventures bankrolled by deep-pocketed private backers — a club that also includes software pioneer Paul Allen (SpaceShipOne), Virgin Group entrepreneur Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) and video-game genius John Carmack (Armadillo Aerospace).

Details of Bezos’ plan were first reported in this week’s edition of the Van Horn Advocate, the community’s newspaper, and confirmed Thursday by Blue Origin spokesman Bruce Hicks.

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