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FARNBOROUGH: Virgin out to steal the show with SpaceShipTwo display

If you're looking out for show stealers at Farnborough, Virgin Galactic (OE23) is likely to be one of the candidates.

The company will be lighting up the static display with a mockup of its SpaceShipTwo (SS2), which is set to begin rocket-powered flight trials this summer, with plans to blast its first "astronauts" beyond the atmosphere in early 2013.

Sir Richard Branson himself will be appearing at the show on Wednesday to announce an expansion of the company's current business plans for space tourism and research.

Virgin has been granted a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) experimental launch permit and hopes to see the first powered flights of SS2 by the end of the year.

The aircraft is carried to 50,000ft (15,200m) by its twin-fuselage carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo before it is released. For flights into suborbital space, SS2 will engage its own rocket power after the release to reach Mach 3.5 and climb beyond the atmosphere's official 100km (62 miles) frontier to a maximum altitude of about 110km.

The six passengers and two pilots will experience about 6min of weightlessness - and stunning views - before re-entry. Drop tests conducted to date have verified the SS2's capability to glide to a runway landing, which will be on the 10,000ft runway at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.

Following powered flight testing, the SS2 would undertake its maiden voyage into space, with the first paying passengers getting their taste of space sometime in 2013 after Virgin obtains a commercial permit for a suborbital reusable vehicle from the FAA.

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