October 3, 2005 1:28 PM PDT
Never mind Nascar--let's race rockets!
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.
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