Rocket Racing League (RRL)
The Rocket Racing League was originally planned to begin racing in 2007 and serve as the primary race support and hosting element of the X Prize Cup to be held annually in New Mexico. The X Prize Cup is a competition established in 2005 by Peter Diamandis, the man behind the $10 million Ansari X Prize for suborbital space travel. The Rocket Racing League (RRL) will involve races between rocket planes, flown by top pilots through a three-dimensional trackway just 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above the ground. The first X-Racers will be identical and purpose-built for the series, but it's hoped new teams will eventually enter with novel designs. Events will be staged across the United States, culminating in a grand final. The object of the RRL, like that of the Ansari X Prize, is to serve as a technology accelerator, speeding up development in the areas of airframe, propulsion, and spacecraft design.
The first prototype X-Racer was launched in October 2005. Designed and built by XCOR Aerospace, it was flown by Colonel Rick Searfoss, a former astronaut and space shuttle commander. The first RRL events are expected to take place in October 2006. The races will be run over aerial tracks about 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) long, 1.6 kilometer (one mile) wide, and about 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) high, running perpendicularly to spectators. The X-Racers will take off from a runway both in a staggered fashion and side by side, and fly a three-dimensional course with long straights, vertical ascents, and deep banks. Each pilot will follow his or her own "virtual tunnel" of space with the aid of satellite-navigation technology, safely separated from their competitors by a minimum distance. Spectators will be able to follow the races by looking at the exhaust plumes in the sky and on hand-held GPS tracking devices. The project has the support of the US Federal Aviation Administration.
The RRL has stated it will generate revenues in six main ways:
• Sponsorships – The RRL's core demographic will be led by families, teenagers, and young adults similar to mainstream car racing audiences. Companies will be able to sponsor the X-Racer aircraft, pilot uniforms and helmets, and endorse awards such as fastest lap, fastest pit stop, and overall series champion.
• Ticket sales – Though the price of tickets will vary based on the type of race held and the venue in which it is performed, the RRL will ensure the prices are comparable to other mainstream sporting events.
• Broadcast rights – The RRL is initiating talks with major broadcasters to sell the rights to air Rocket Racing League events.
• Merchandising – League-branded items such as hats, T-shirts, posters, key chains, and model X-Racer planes will be available at RRL events, sold online through RocketRacingLeague.com or through approved licensees.
• Tours – Rocket racing fans will be able to see an X-Racer up-close, meet RRL pilots and enjoy educational initiatives which focus on aviation and aeronautics.
• Gaming – A RRL-based video game will be launched in 2007 and is expected to operate on popular platforms such as the X-Box, Game Cube, PlayStation and PC. The game will enable fans to race their own X-Racers and compete against friends online.
Jan 19, 2006: Granger Whitelaw, President of the Rocket Racing League and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion team partner, announced that the League is establishing its world headquarters in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It has been granted its own taxi lane off one side of the city's airport and 12 acres of land on which it will build of 10 X-Racer hangars and a 50,000-square-foot office to house upwards of 200 employees.
Jan 31, 2006: Two former US fighter pilots became the first team chosen to compete in the Rocket Racing League. Robert "Bobaloo" Rickard and Don "Dagger" Grantham, Jr – both veteran US Air Force F-16 pilots – paired up to form a team called Leading Edge Rocket Racing.
Jan 28, 2009: The Rocket Racing League lost its lease on land at its intended headquarters in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and officials said the first races, originally set to take place in 2007, would not begin until at least 2011. The league signed the lease in 2006 but failed to build hangars on the lots according to the timetable and conditions of the lease.
Rocket races in science fiction
The concept behind the League is reminiscent of the pod race in The Phantom Menace, the first of the Star Wars prequels, in which 18 craft equipped with giant afterburner-powered engines compete at low altitude and speeds of over 600 mph. The Star Trek Voyager episode "Drive" also portrays a high-velocity race between futuristic vessels – Voyager's Delta Flyer, piloted by Tom Paris and B'Ellana Torres, pitted against the top pilots of the Delta Quadrant.