22 April 2010
News - Vehicles (Good)
The Rocket Racing League
The Indy 500 of the Sky
by G B Leatherwood
Look up, Indy 500 fans. The next great race may be in the clouds.

During the Indianapolis 500 sleek open-wheel racers jockey with each other around a ten-mile oval at speeds over 200 mph. But the new breed of craft to be showcased at the QuikTrip Air and Rocket Racing Show promises to reach a speed of 250 mph in 4 seconds — straight up.

On April 24, 2010, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium will be sponsoring the Rocket Racing League’s (RRL) demonstration of next-generation rockets. The RRL described themselves as “…a new entertainment sports league that combines the exhilaration of racing with the power of rocket engines. To be held at venues across the country, the Rocket Racing League will feature multiple races pitting up to 12 Rocket Racers going head-to-head in a 4-lap, multiple elimination heat format on a 5-mile ‘Formula One’ like closed circuit raceway in the sky.”

The Rocket Racers are being built by Velocity Aircraft of Sebastian, FL (directly east of Tampa and just south of Cape Canaveral), a builder of sleek canard-wing aircraft. The engines are provided by Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, TX, and are fueled by a mix of liquid oxygen and alcohol. Unlike the solid rocket boosters that kick the US Space Shuttle into orbit, the advantage of the liquid rocket engine is that it can be started, shut off, and re-started with the flick of a switch on the pilot’s remarkably uncluttered instrument panel.

On takeoff, the aircraft accelerates down the runway and up into the sky. The pilot lines up on the images projected inside his helmet visor, alternately shutting off the engine to conserve the four minutes of powered flight time and gliding around the course for another ten minutes. This mixture of powered and free flight requires a great deal of skill and courage, plus keeping track of the curving, climbing, and diving flight path and eventually the other racers.

This year’s race is only a demonstration, however there are currently five racing organizations signed up to begin competitive racing in 2011: Bridenstine Rocket Racing, Santa Fe Racing, Rocket Star Racing, Team Extreme Rocket Racing, and Canada-based Beyond Gravity Rocket Racing. An additional five teams will be enlisted to round out the schedule.

The first two-hour live webcast of the Mark III X-Racer will be presented from 12 noon to 2 p.m. Central Time Saturday, April 24, 2010. Log in to the webcast of this event here.
The program will be hosted by award-winning national anchor Miles O’Brien. And in addition to the live demonstration, flights will include interviews and commentary from such distinguished guests as NASA Astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Dr. Peter Diamandis, Co-founder of RRL; NASA Astronaut Owen K. Garriott (Ph.D.); Private Astronaut Richard Garriott; the Honorable James Inhofe, US Senator, State of Oklahoma; and others.

It’s hard to avoid the nagging feeling that at least some of the companies involved – Armadillo, for one – are participating in rocket racing because they can’t yet do what they really want to do: build reusable launch vehicles carrying goods and/or people to space.

At least some of the motivation behind the RRL is to help develop technologies for space travel by means of a closer-to-Earth (figuratively and literally) activity with less up-front cost and more achievable sponsorship goals. Be that as it may, racing rockets is undeniably cool, at least for enough people to make it a sport worth running.
Share |
G B Leatherwood 22 April 2010
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.