- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK - Personal spaceflight pioneer Peter Diamandis has announced plans to take Formula One racing into the skies with rocket aircraft that will race around a three-dimensional course at up to 300 mph.

Mr. Diamandis, the founder of the $10 million X Prize for private spaceflight, said his Rocket Racing League would seek to tap into the lucrative market enjoyed by Formula One and NASCAR racing.

“It’ll change the face of racing completely,” he told reporters Monday in New York.

The aerial racetracks will be approximately 2 miles long, 1 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 straights, vertical ascents and deep banks.

Each pilot will follow his or her own virtual “tunnel” or “track” of space, separated from his or her competitors by a few hundred feet.

“Of course it’s risky,” Mr. Diamandis said. “We’re dealing with a new frontier.”

Pilots will use state-of-the-art Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to reduce the chance of any midair collision.

The X-Racers, which are still in the development stage, are expected to cost about $1 million each. They will be powered by a single 1,800-pound liquid and kerosene rocket engine.

Instead of a throttle, the racers will have a simple on/off switch to operate the rocket burner.

“It’s either a glider, or it’s a rocket, depending on which way the switch is clicked,” said Rick Searfoss, a former space shuttle commander who will be among the first X-Racer pilots.

Four of the aircraft will be brought online next year, and the league expects to have 10 X-Racers competing by 2007.

The project envisages competitions across the United States, with annual finals at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico.

Mr. Diamandis, an aerospace engineer turned entrepreneur, is best known for the X Prize, which he offered to the first privately funded spaceflight. The prize was won by SpaceShipOne, whose successful suborbital flight was seen as ushering in a new era of space tourism.

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