take a tight turn during a hotly contested race in this
artist's conception. (Courtesy of Rocket
World Ready for Rocket Racing?
Rocky gunned his engine and a twenty foot long
stream of fire roared out from behind his racer as he came out
of the last curve. He could take Buzz on the next turn if he was
careful. The rocket engine's acceleration pressed Rocky back into
the seat like some giant, invisible hand as the ground below shot
by at the dizzying speed of three-hundred miles per hour. If he
was going to win the race he knew he would have to make his move
soon. They were on the last lap...
This might sound like a script from some George
Lucas movie or perhaps part of a sales pitch for a new video game.
It isn't either. What it maybe, if two entrepreneurs have their
way, is a new sport called rocket racing.
"For me, it is a remembrance of sort of 'Star Wars'
pod racing," said one of the inventors, Dr. Peter H. Diamandis,
referring to the rocket race portrayed in 1999's "Star Wars: Episode
I -- The Phantom Menace."
Diamandis and Granger Whitelaw are co-founders of
the Rocket Racing League. The league was founded to encourage
the sport which involves small, piloted rocket planes which will
compete by racing through the heavens. If the inventors have their
way, the first races could start as early as 2007.
far only one prototype racer has been built.(Courtesy
of Rocket Racing League)
Rocket races will operate much like auto races,
with the exception that the "track" is up in the sky. Courses
are expected to be approximately two miles long, one mile wide,
and about 5,000 feet high, running perpendicularly to spectators.
The rocket planes, called X-Racers, will take off from a runway
both in a staggered fashion and side-by side and fly a course
based on the design of a Grand Prix competition, with long straight-aways,
vertical ascents, and deep banks. Each pilot will follow his or
her own virtual "tunnel" or "track" of space through which to
fly, safely separated from their competitors by a few hundred
feet. Highly skilled X-Racer pilots will employ state-of-the-art
differential GPS technology to ensure minimal chances of physical
contact between the racers.
Upon take off, onlookers will easily follow the
race as the rocket planes remain in view and sport 20-foot rocket
plumes. Fans can also track their favorite pilots' progress via
large screen televisions and hand-held GPS tracking devices using
WiFi to stream video of the cockpit, live "on-track" shots, "side
by side" views and wing angle views. Fans at home will be treated
to a three-dimensional course where the "tracks" pilots are following
can be seen. Special effects for lap completions, barrier violations
and penalties will also be a part of the show.
So far only one prototype rocket racer has been
created, but it's estimated that the X-Racers will cost less than
$1 million to build. The engines will use a liquid oxygen/kerosene
fuel mix, calculated to last for four minutes in continuous use.
Pilots will have to shut down their engines repeatedly during
the race and then glide, only restarting their engines to pass
opponents. A typical race is expected to last for about an hour.
The idea of rocket racers harkens back to the golden
era of aviation when small, high speed planes competed on a small
circuit outlined with pylons. Such races were popular throughout
the United States many years ago, but currently are only held
in Reno, Nevada, one a year.
will have to shut down their engines repeatedly during the
race and then glide, only restarting their engines to pass
opponents.(Courtesy of Rocket Racing League)
The RRL plans to host a variety of races as it grows
and each race will result in points awarded to its top finishers
and qualifiers. Timed qualifying rounds can be incorporated into
the races, comparable to the 24-hour Le Mans race.
Will rocket racing catch on? Its co-inventor seems
to think so. "The Rocket Racing League will inspire people of
all ages to once again look up into the sky to find inspiration
and excitement," said Diamandis. "New aerospace technologies coupled
with the spirit of competition will not only extend the boundaries
of entertainment, but continue the public's appetite for space
ignited a year ago when the Ansari X PRIZE was awarded."
Update: The Rocket Racing League hoped to
get the first races in the air by 2008 or 2011. However, financial
difficulties have delayed the start of this sport. As of 2013
the Rocket Racing League continues to develop flyers and plans
for racing in the future. See their website at http://www.rocketracingleague.com/
Lee Krystek, 2005. All Rights Reserved