Among the newcomers to Farnborough this year is Virgin Galactic, a California-based offshoot of Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group, which is developing a commercial suborbital spaceship for passenger flights.
The centerpiece of Virgin’s exhibit at the show is a full-scale, high-fidelity replica of SpaceShipTwo, complete with tread on the tires.
“How lovely it feels to be showcasing our spaceship replica in the U.K., especially during such a historic year for Britain,” Branson told an invitation-only crowd gathered to hear about the firm’s new service, LauncherOne, which will send small satellites into orbit from an aircraft for less than $10 million.
“We would have loved to have flown (carrier aircraft) WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo over from their current home, Mojave, for an actually flyby at Farnborough, but the vehicles are in the middle of an extremely important part of their test program which actually can’t be interrupted,” Branson said.
“But wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have them stay on and fly over the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games -- especially since British Airways was sponsoring them.”
By the time the biennial airshow returns in 2014, Branson may be able to speak first-hand about what it's like to fly on SpaceShipTwo. The 61-year-old entrepreneur said he expects to be aboard the first operational flight of the ship, along with his two children, next year.
Simulating Mars on the ISS -- with or without China
Having successfully completed a 500-day Mars simulation last year, Russia and Europe have plans for a follow-on, this time aboard the International Space Station.
But aside from the formidable logistics, the project presents a thorny political problem—whether to invite China.
“Russia would like to make the full-up Mars500 aboard the space station, which is a very different type of simulation, and the question is how can we associate with Chinese for that?’” European Space Agency director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said during a Tuesday briefing with reporters at the Farnborough Air Show.
A Chinese "astronaut" joined two Europeans and three Russian volunteers as test subjects for the 17-month dry run to Mars.
Not only is the People’s Republic of China not part of the 15-nation space station partnership, Congress last year banned NASA from any joint scientific activities with the Chinese. That may sound like a show-stopper, but not to ESA, which is talking to China about various space collaborations, including cross-training of astronauts.
“We’ve not yet got any concrete recommendations from the meetings. We are interested in what they are doing and they are interested in what we are doing, so we talk,” Dordain said.
Europe and Russia also are trying to convince the United States to consider China’s space capabilities.
“Why ignore it?,” Dordain said.
At the end of the day, nothing will happen aboard the space station without the full consent of all the partners, Dordain added.
Dreamliner's debut, and new Boeing designs