October 3, 2005 1:28 PM PDT

Never mind Nascar--let's race rockets!

Auto racing is taking to sky.

The aerospace junkies behind the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million flight contest, on Monday introduced the Rocket Racing League (RRL), an organization to host and run rocket competitions throughout the United States.

Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the RRL, called it the next-generation racing industry: "The Rocket Racing League will inspire people of all ages to once again look up into the sky to find inspiration and excitement."

A debut exhibition race is planned for the X Prize Cup in September 2006. In the six months after that, the league expects to see races at an additional two air shows and two auto race events, with a championship event in New Mexico at the 2007 edition of the X Prize Cup.

The events will take a page from auto racing.

Rocket planes called X-Racers will compete on a sky "track" in the design of a Grand Prix race, with long straightaways and the added dimenson of vertical ascents and deep banks. The race will run perpendicular to spectators and be about two miles long, one mile wide and 5,000 feet in the air. The X-Racers will be staggered upon takeoff and fly their own "tunnel" of space, each separated by a few hundred feet.

Pilots will be guided by differential GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to help them avoid collisions.

A prototype of the X-Racer, being built in partnership with XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., will be flown this weekend at the X Prize Cup 2005 in Las Cruces, N.M. The X-Racer rocket is modeled after XCOR's EZ-Rocket, but the next version will draw from the airframe of Velocity, based in Sebastian, Fla.

Retired Air Force Col. Rick Searfoss, a former commander of the space shuttle Columbia, will fly the rocket.

The venture has its eye on marketing the races as entertainment. The races will be open to the public around the United States, and by the third year of racing, the league expects that one out of three venues will be outside the country.

RRL plans to introduce a video game based on the competitions in late 2007.

Diamandis founded the X Prize, an annual contest promoting personalized space flight. In October 2004, the contest made history when the SpaceShipOne craft, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sped 100 kilometers above Earth's surface and then landed safely in the Mojave desert twice in less than a week.

16 comments

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Ok... one small problem
NASCAR is exciting in large part due to the crashes, which are mostly non-lethal and the drivers usually walk away fine.

Crash one rocket into another, or into the ground, and you're SOL
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: One Small Problem...
Yeah, I tend to agree with you there. I have been attending the Reno National Championship Air Races <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.airrace.org" target="_newWindow">http://www.airrace.org</a>) for 26 years. It's bad enough when we lose pilots here. At these races, pilots are flying a few hundred feet off the group at most, and the unlimited class has broken the 500MPH mark in the recent years. When a crash DOES happen, it's usually confined to a small crash site. If these are going to be held at altitude (5000 FT AGL?) the crash pattern from an "event" can be quite widespread. Now that there are racing jets at reno, I just hope someone doesn't get a hairbrained idea to race rockets next.
Posted by (5 comments )
Link Flag
I disagree...
I think crashes of rockets will be far more spectacular than those seen in Nascar :)

How many times as a kid did I get to see the space shuttle explode? Countless times, and it was just as exciting every time!
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Rockets' Red Glare ...
"Crash one rocket into another, or into the ground, and you're SOL"

And your point is ... ? :D

The biggest thrill of living is cheating death, or at least feeling like you could, or someone else could while you're living through them vicariously. Otherwise, the second roller coaster ever built would never have seen the light of day, much less alpine skis, skateboards, auto or aircraft racing, etc. Different people have varying levels of need/tolerance for this, of course ("different strokes and folks", and all that). People with the biggest cajones need to live at the extremes - but, we'd just rather not be in the same insurance pool with them (much less the same car pool).

As for safety in general, let's try to eliminate the 30,000-plus deaths a year in the U.S. alone due to traffic accidents (about half of which are due to alcohol), the hundreds of thousands of needless deaths associated with smoking and/or drinking, and the millions of deaths due to obesity before we go trying to outlaw a very small number of pioneers trying to get their jollies in front of millions of interested spectators.

I do have to wonder how long a "rocket race" would last, though, with burns that allowed for turns on a circuit less than 5 ~ 10 miles long (even with vertical climbs and dives). Drag racing is about right for today's attention deficit disorder crowd, I guess, and this might last even less time. They wouldn't be able to use Burt Rutan's light-'em-'n'-go tire rubber and laughing gas engines, that's for sure, unless the course were two miles wide - and 62+ miles high!

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Link Flag
Ok... one small problem
NASCAR is exciting in large part due to the crashes, which are mostly non-lethal and the drivers usually walk away fine.

Crash one rocket into another, or into the ground, and you're SOL
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: One Small Problem...
Yeah, I tend to agree with you there. I have been attending the Reno National Championship Air Races <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.airrace.org" target="_newWindow">http://www.airrace.org</a>) for 26 years. It's bad enough when we lose pilots here. At these races, pilots are flying a few hundred feet off the group at most, and the unlimited class has broken the 500MPH mark in the recent years. When a crash DOES happen, it's usually confined to a small crash site. If these are going to be held at altitude (5000 FT AGL?) the crash pattern from an "event" can be quite widespread. Now that there are racing jets at reno, I just hope someone doesn't get a hairbrained idea to race rockets next.
Posted by (5 comments )
Link Flag
I disagree...
I think crashes of rockets will be far more spectacular than those seen in Nascar :)

How many times as a kid did I get to see the space shuttle explode? Countless times, and it was just as exciting every time!
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Rockets' Red Glare ...
"Crash one rocket into another, or into the ground, and you're SOL"

And your point is ... ? :D

The biggest thrill of living is cheating death, or at least feeling like you could, or someone else could while you're living through them vicariously. Otherwise, the second roller coaster ever built would never have seen the light of day, much less alpine skis, skateboards, auto or aircraft racing, etc. Different people have varying levels of need/tolerance for this, of course ("different strokes and folks", and all that). People with the biggest cajones need to live at the extremes - but, we'd just rather not be in the same insurance pool with them (much less the same car pool).

As for safety in general, let's try to eliminate the 30,000-plus deaths a year in the U.S. alone due to traffic accidents (about half of which are due to alcohol), the hundreds of thousands of needless deaths associated with smoking and/or drinking, and the millions of deaths due to obesity before we go trying to outlaw a very small number of pioneers trying to get their jollies in front of millions of interested spectators.

I do have to wonder how long a "rocket race" would last, though, with burns that allowed for turns on a circuit less than 5 ~ 10 miles long (even with vertical climbs and dives). Drag racing is about right for today's attention deficit disorder crowd, I guess, and this might last even less time. They wouldn't be able to use Burt Rutan's light-'em-'n'-go tire rubber and laughing gas engines, that's for sure, unless the course were two miles wide - and 62+ miles high!

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Link Flag
Bigger Problem... Sponsors!
Where are you going to put a logo on the rocket big enough to tell what it is?

Sponsorship is going to be a big problem for the racing pilots who do try to participate. This will likely limit the participation to very few pilots who can fund their own rocket.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sponsor cameras
when they're talking about putting all those logos on the aircraft, undoubtedly you would be able to see them from the cameras. Plus, the pilots become associated with their sponsors more often
Posted by (5 comments )
Link Flag
Bigger Problem... Sponsors!
Where are you going to put a logo on the rocket big enough to tell what it is?

Sponsorship is going to be a big problem for the racing pilots who do try to participate. This will likely limit the participation to very few pilots who can fund their own rocket.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
sponsor cameras
when they're talking about putting all those logos on the aircraft, undoubtedly you would be able to see them from the cameras. Plus, the pilots become associated with their sponsors more often
Posted by (5 comments )
Link Flag
vertical take off
Alright so we're working with rockets here, why not at the start just have a vertical take off? Seeing the shuttle launch is cool enough, how about...ten? 3-2-1-
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
vertical take off
Alright so we're working with rockets here, why not at the start just have a vertical take off? Seeing the shuttle launch is cool enough, how about...ten? 3-2-1-
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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