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Virgin Galactic aims for space — but how high?

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic is getting VSS Unity ready for a crucial series of test flights. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

Virgin Galactic says it’s beginning a series of SpaceShipTwo test flights that could cross the edge of the space frontier as early as Dec. 13 — amid a debate over where exactly that edge kicks in.

The company has been flight-testing its VSS Unity rocket plane for more than two years, with its most recent rocket-powered flight rising to a height of 32 miles (52 kilometers) in July. The plan for the next stage of testing at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port was laid out in a statement issued today.

“During this phase of the flight program we will be expanding the envelope for altitude, air speed, loads and thermal heating,” Virgin Galactic said. “We also plan to burn the rocket motor for durations which will see our pilots and spaceship reach space for the first time. Although this could happen as soon as Thursday morning, the nature of flight test means that it may take us a little longer to get to that milestone.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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