The Latest: Virgin Galactic sending rocket to edge of space

This May 29, 2018 photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows the VSS Unity craft during a supersonic flight test. The spaceship isn’t launched from the ground but is carried beneath a special aircraft to an altitude around 50,000 feet (15,240 meters). There, it’s released before igniting its rocket engine and climbing. (Virgin Galactic via AP)

MOJAVE, Calif. — The Latest on scheduled test flight of a Virgin Galactic rocket ship (all times local):

4:45 p.m.

Virgin Galactic plans to fly a rocket ship Thursday to the edge of space.

The company says two test pilots will fly the craft early Thursday above the Mojave Desert at an altitude of more than 50 miles (80.4 kilometers), which it regards as the boundary of space.

CEO George Whitesides says that's the standard used by the Air Force and other U.S. agencies.

That differs from a long-held view that places the boundary at 62 miles (99.8 kilometers.) But Whitesides says Virgin Galactic is a U.S. company and will use the U.S. standard.

Virgin Galactic is eager to reach space after years of developing its space tourism rocket.

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11:39 a.m.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is gearing up to finally send its rocket ship to the edge of space.

If successful, it would be a major step toward the long-delayed dream of commercial space tourism.

The next test flight could come as early as Thursday with the rocket-powered spacecraft soaring high above California's Mojave Desert.

Development of the Virgin Galactic spaceship took far longer than expected and endured a setback when the first one broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot. A company statement says the next test flights aim to "reach a space altitude for the first time."

Hundreds of people have signed up to pay as much as $250,000 for a supersonic thrill ride on the six-passenger spaceship.

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