Monday, April 26, 2010

Rocket Racers - Racing for the Space Age

This past weekend was a milestone for bringing space technology to the masses. The first demonstration of a type of race never seen before took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two X-Racers took off and competed in the sky, in what seems to be described as a combination between NASCAR and Star Wars pod-racing. The X-Racers, delta-winged rocket engine planes with 2000 lbs of instantaneous thrust at a flip of a button, go through a virtual course in the sky, projected onto the pilot helmet and also on huge screens for the audience enjoyment.

This is the work and vision of Peter Diamandis, also founder of X-Prize (among many initiatives and companies), a leading organization of innovation through competition. In this case, Peter and the Rocket Racing League take rocket technology and produces a spectator sport of a new kind - looking up.

This kind of sport may end up funding suborbital research or at least help perfecting the engines that will be used for suborbital vehicles, which are (at least some) planes with a rocket engine propelling them, in this case up to an altitude of more than 100 km rather than maneuvering a virtual course in the sky.

There is also an Israeli connection - Elbit Systems, a company from Haifa Israel (my home-town), long involved in the development of fighter-jet technologies, produced the helmet that, in this case, assists in flying the X-Racer through the course rather than aiming at enemy aircraft.

Here's a summary, narrated by Miles O'Brien from This Week In Space:

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