Watch out, Nascar-the Rocket Racing League is about to start stealing some of your famed thunder. Picture high-tech, rocket-propelled airplanes racing around three-dimensional racetracks-in-the-sky with ear-shattering ferocity. Twenty-foot-long orange plumes will trail the aerobatic X-Racers as the daredevil pilots gun the rockets for critical boosts on long straits and steep vertical climbs. They´ll drop into the pits to fuel up on liquid oxygen and kerosene before reentering the fray.
That´s the vision of Ansari X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and former Indy Racing League team owner Granger Whitelaw, who are hoping to corral enough teams, money and enthusiasm to next year launch a first-ever series of competitive air races featuring rocket-propelled aircraft. â€We want to bring these vehicles to the public and bring 21st-century racing into their living rooms,â€ Diamandis said on October 3 at a press conference at the Yale Club in New York City.
The league will capitalize on the current momentum toward commercial spaceflight-much of it generated by Diamandis´s recent X Prize competition for repeated, private suborbital rocket launches, won last year by Burt Rutan´s SpaceShipOne. The idea, Diamandis said, is that the RRL will be both entertainment spectacle and a way to develop rocket technology for future spaceflight. The airplanes will initially be based on the XCOR Aerospace EZ-Rocket, a modified Long-EZ (a homebuilt aerobatic airplane designed by Burt Rutan) that has been used as a testing platform for the XCOR corporation´s rocket technology. XCOR will upgrade the engines to 1,500- to 1,800-pound liquid-oxygen and kerosene motors that generate twice the thrust of the current 400-pound liquid-oxygen- and alcohol-fueled motors, two of which power the EZ-Rocket. Racing teams will be allowed to modify their vehicles and introduce new technology to enhance performance-hence the development potential for future space-tourist flights.