Monday, April 14, 2008

Rocket Racing League

Rocket Racing League

The Rocket Racing League is a proposed racing league that would use rocket powered aircraft. The formation of the league was announced by Granger Whitelaw two time Indy 500 winning team owner and Peter Diamandis, founder of the Ansari X-Prize, on October 3, 2005, in partnership with the Reno Air Races. According to Diamandis, the purpose of the league is to "inspire people of all ages to once again look up into the sky and find inspiration and excitement."


Projected to be an hour and one half in length, the races would be between proposed X-Racer planes that would use liquid oxygen/kerosene fuel with a burn time of four minutes. The rocketplanes are expected to cost less than US$1 million each. The design is a variant of the Velocity SE FG modified for the purpose of rocket racing. The airframe is derived from a commercially-available kit plane that traces its design heritage to the Rutan Long-EZ, which has been modified to accept rocket power and custom avionics, based on existing test engines. The first prototype flew on October 26, 2007 at the Mojave Spaceport.

The RRL has been called "NASCAR with rockets", and draws heavily on experience from the car racing world. RRL CEO Granger Whitelaw is a venture capitalist and former Indy Racing League team owner. While still in the planning stages, an X-Racer debut is tentatively scheduled for October 2007 at the X Prize Cup, with league competition starting as early as March 2008. If league competition begins, Whitelaw indicated tournament semifinals would be held each September in Nevada, with finals each October in New Mexico at the X Prize Cup competing for a $2 million championship purse.

Races would take place on a race course two miles long, one mile wide, and 1500 feet in the air. A typical race would take about one hour, and fans would be able to see multiple camera views, including cockpit, "on-track," "side-by-side" and wing-angle views.

Additionally, a computer game is planned which will interface with racer position data in real time over the internet, allowing players to virtually compete with the rocket pilots.

The Track

A typical Rocket Race begins with a staggered start. Pilots take off in pairs a few minutes apart, they will be competing against the clock but will maneuver around each other much like NASCAR. The pilots will be guided by a virtual three-dimensional "track" projected in their head-up display. Each racer will have a separate track to follow but the courses will be close together to build the excitement


There are currently six teams registered to compete in the inaugural race season, Rocket Star Racing, Team Extreme Rocket Racing, Canada-based Beyond Gravity Rocket Racing, Bridenstine Rocket Racing, Santa Fe Racing and Thunderhawk Rocket Racing.


XCOR Aerospace flew its XCOR EZ-Rocket rocketplane for several years, the last flight of which occurred in 2005 before the vehicle was retired.

Another attempt to do rocketplane demonstration flying was initiated by Ed Wright circa 2002 when he purchased a surplus Russian MiG-21 jet fighter intending to convert it to rocket power. Though he has formed X-Rocket corporation and is operating high altitude flights with the jet, the rocket conversion has not happened to date.