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ROCKET RACING TO SPUR SPACE INTEREST ANSARI X PRIZE FOUNDER STARTING LEAGUE.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

MOJAVE - Peter Diamandis, founder of the Ansari X Prize, has a new venture he hopes will spur interest in space technology - a rocket plane racing league.

Diamandis, who created the $10 million Ansari X Prize awarded last year to the SpaceShipOne team for the first private manned spaceflights, said his new Rocket Racing League will join together entertainment with the pursuit of space technology.

``We are taking NASCAR into the space age,'' Diamandis said.

Plans call for holding the first race next fall in New Mexico at the X Prize Cup, a space expo event Diamandis is starting up. From there, the league envisions a series of races each year with semifinals being held at the Reno Air Races in Nevada followed by the finals at the X Prize Cup.

Diamandis said there is a possibility of one of the race venues being Mojave.

Pilots of the rocket planes planned for the competitions will have the ability to shut down and restart engines during flight. It is expected that each plane will have about four minutes of rocket engine burn time and eight minutes of glide time.

``The challenge for the pilot will be to decide when to use the burn time,'' Diamandis said.

The planes will be able to be refueled in five to eight minutes.

``You're looking at doing a pit stop and going again,'' Diamandis said.

The league has landed two notable pilots - former astronaut Rick Searfoss, a Tehachapi resident, and Erik Lindbergh, a commercial glider and test pilot and grandson of Charles Lindbergh. Searfoss is serving as the league's chief test pilot while Lindbergh plans to be one of the pilots in the inaugural race.

``Erik's intrepid spirit and superior piloting skills will thrill RRL fans and advance our mission to reignite the public's interest in flight and space,'' said Granger Whitelaw, the league's president and co-founder.

The league has contracted with XCOR Aerospace of Mojave and Velocity, a Sebastian, Fla., company, to design and build the first racing planes. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

XCOR will base the design of the first racers on its EZ-Rocket plane, a Long-EZ experimental aircraft modified to carry two rocket engines. XCOR will build the racers with airframes provided by Velocity.

While the racers will be based on the EZ-Rocket design, there will be differences. Instead of EZ-Rocket's two alcohol and liquid oxygen-fueled engines, each racer will be powered by a single engine fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene.

That fuel will create a bright, 20-foot-long plume that will be visible to onlookers on the ground, Diamandis said.

The EZ-Rocket has a top speed of about 225 mph; the racers will hit speeds of 320 mph.

Race courses will probably be two miles long and one mile wide at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. Each pilot will have an individual three-dimensional ``track'' in order to avoid collisions, league organizers said.

Race organizers envision spectators tracking the progress of the racers by viewing each plane's bright engine flame and by watching large screen televisions. Organizers also envision having spectators watch the races with handheld devices with live video streams from cockpit cameras.

Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 6, 2005
Words:540
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