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« Beep, Beep, Beep... | Main | "The Scientific Method Can Transcend Politics" »

Hard Work Pays Off

Speaking of a new space age, this is a real coup for XCOR. It's been a long slog since the EZ-Rocket first flew, four years ago, but they may now be able to raise the money they need to build a vehicle, and not just engines. In fact, in rereading that old post, it's remarkable how prescient it was:

While EZ-Rocket doesn't fly high, or fast--unlike NASA's reusable rocket programs--it actually flies. And in fact, though it doesn't fly particularly high, or fast, it is a testament to the neglect of this field that, had XCOR bothered to call the appropriate French certification agency to have them witness today's flight, they would have simultaneously awarded it the new world's records for height, speed, and time to climb for a rocket plane.

It not only flies, but it can, given small amounts of money (equivalent to just a fraction of the overruns on programs like X-34 and X-33), fly every day, or twice a day, for mere hundreds of dollars per flight. And the experience developed from it can lead to bigger, faster rocket planes, that can also fly every day, or twice or thrice a day, and teach us how to fly rocket planes, and by selling experiment time, or even (heaven forfend!) rides to wealthy people who want a thrill, make a little money while doing it. We may have rocket racing competitions, sponsored by ESPN, or the Xtreme Sports Channel, or Pratt & Whitney.

Now, let's hope this prediction works out as well:

And the records will get faster, and higher, and the revenues will grow, until we are offering rides to orbit, and people (with fortunes less than Bill Gates and Larry Ellison) are buying. And then some crazy fool will develop a space suit, and haul up enough parts to build a space hotel, and we'll offer week-long stays, instead of barn-storming joy rides. And someone else will actually rent space in the hotel and perhaps do some research, or figure out how to build something bigger, like a Mars mission vehicle, that can be afforded by the Planetary Society, or the Mars Society, or even the (renamed?) National Geographic Society.

Jon Goff has similar thoughts, and congratulations to XCOR.

[Update at 10 AM EDT]

Michael Belfiore has more:

Initially XCOR will build 10 rocket racers. My editor tells me that these babies will cost $1 million each, so that will be a nice boost to XCOR's finances.

It will indeed, assuming that they can build them for less than that (and I think that's a pretty good assumption).

Belfiore also has a story in Wired about John Carmack and Armadillo.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 04, 2005 06:21 AM
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IE alert! Your link to the space age post ends with a single-quote, instead of a double, which breaks the link to the XCOR article (and makes for strange grammar) in IE.

Posted by John Breen III at October 4, 2005 07:02 AM

I saw all the comparisons to NASCAR and Formula 1 racing, but isn't this more akin to airplane racing of the days of yore? Comparing it to NASCAR might spark the interests of investors, based on the rising popularity of that sport, but honestly, half the people watch NASCAR for the race, the other half watch for the crashes.

Racing rocket planes has about as much in common with racing stock cars as bicycle racing has to do with hang-gliding.

That doesn't mean it can't be successful, or that I'm not interested in it, it's just a specious comparison to make, IMHO.

Posted by John Breen III at October 4, 2005 07:59 AM

I agree with John here. I'm interested in racing due to the engineering aspects, but I enjoy NASCAR because the racing is a bit more of a contact sport, unlike IRL or F1. Except for the Indy 500, which I'm less interested in, I may catch only 1 other open wheel race a year. Although the machines are exceptionally engineered, the viewing of the event is boring. I expect RRL to be the same for the vast majority of audiences.

I certainly see many problems with the broadcasting of such an event. It seems rather difficult to setup camera angles that will allow a viewer to keep up with the situation unfolding.

Posted by Leland at October 4, 2005 08:42 AM

> It seems rather difficult to setup camera angles that will allow a viewer to keep up with the situation unfolding.

In-rocket cameras and a chase rocket should do the trick. Add different color to the exhausts and anyone with binoculars can watch. If they get lucky and have some "colorful" flyers, rebroadcast the cockpit radio.

We'll see/hear more of these races than folks saw of the first transcontinental auto races. They'll appeal for the same reason - it's not the race results, but the race itself.

Posted by Andy Freeman at October 4, 2005 09:34 AM

For this class, you won't even need a chase rocket. A chase plane will work fine.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 4, 2005 09:37 AM

John is right, of course. But the point of the comparison to NASCAR is not accuracy, it's advertising. Saying that something is similar to an existing, popular, lucrative entertainment venture is more likely to bring in viewers than a comparison to something most people don't know much about.

Posted by KeithK at October 4, 2005 09:41 AM

Chase rocket?

I have an idea: Why not fire Sidewinder missiles at them? This will make sure that they fly really fast, it will punish the losers, and it will guarantee excitement.

Better than NASCAR!

Posted by Joe Athelli at October 4, 2005 12:21 PM

> I saw all the comparisons to NASCAR and Formula 1 racing, but isn't
> this more akin to airplane racing of the days of yore?

You assume they mean European Formula 1 auto racing and not American Formula 1 air racing. :-)

In both cases, "Formula 1" refers to a strict specification or "formula" that cars/planes must be built to. NASCAR has similar specifications for building race cars.

I think the comparison is valid, although not perfect, because in this case the rocket racers would all come from the same manufacturer, rather than merely built to the same formula. A better comparison would be the Reno Jet class air races, where only Aero Vodochody L-39s are allowed to compete.

Posted by Edward Wright at October 4, 2005 01:11 PM

I think this will be great. The more I read the more I think they've thought it all through pretty well.

One thing confuses me. The racers appear to have a bit over twice the propellent of the Ez-Rocket (1000lb vs 450lb), and have something around twice the thrust (variously quoted as 1500 or 1800 lb (the existing XCOR LOX/kero engine) vs 800 lb), and yet has twice the engine run time of the Ez-Rocket (4 min vs 2 min) rather than about the same run time?? Even given different mixture ratios and ISPs from different fuels this seems dubious.

With a mix of powered and unpowered flight it seems that they will go about 10 - 15 minutes per flight. If refuelling also takes 10 - 15 minutes then I suspect they'll be trying to fly as economically as possible and speeds will be low -- at least while gliding. But then rockets put more useful energy from the fuel into the aircraft the faster the aircraft is going so you want to already be going as fast as possible when you start them each time. Conflictiing factors, and it'll likely take a while for tactics to converge. (I can write a program to find the optimum, if anyone wants .. hint, hint :-) )

There will surely be incredible pressure on teams to speed up the refuelling process. Races will be won and lost there, even more so than in car racing.

How long will it be before an X-Racer can beat a helicopter in a 30 or 60 minute race? Few helicopters go over 140 knots, but then they usually have two hours of fuel. How much longer before an X-Racer can beat a piston-powered plane such as Jurgis Kairys in his Su31?

Posted by Bruce Hoult at October 4, 2005 06:25 PM

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