Monday, April 14, 2008

Rocket Racing League Space Prize News

The news from the Rocket Racing League is all over the space and general media sites today. The primary site I'll point you to is Cosmic Log, which not only has a very good summary of the announcement, but which also (at the bottom of the post) gives links to some other sites you should check out for more details. I'd just add that the linked RLV News post is an important one, but you should look around for others like this one.

I won't cover all of the news here, but instead will just focus on the prize-related parts. From the Cosmic Log article, we learn that Lunar Lander Challenger Armadillo Aerospace is now part of the hardware team:

One kerosene-fueled Rocket Racer has been under development at California-based XCOR Aerospace for more than a year. But in a surprise move, the second Rocket Racer would use an alcohol-fueled engine built by Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace, under the leadership of millionaire video-game programmer John Carmack.

There's a lot more about Armadillo's role in the article, but the following is most directly applicable to Armadillo's prize efforts:

Carmack recently said he would make rocket engines available to customers at a cost of $500,000 apiece. He declined to say exactly how much the racing league was paying Armadillo for the current project - but he said the project had a higher priority than Armadillo's renewed push to win the NASA-funded Lunar Lander Challenge.

Transterrestrial Musings has the following thoughts on that part:

That could conceivably mean that they won't even bother, and will leave the money on the table for someone else, but even if they compete this year, their chances of winning will be reduced if they're not focused on it, so it could represent an opportunity for Masten, Unreasonable Rocket, and others.

From my point of view, it's fun to follow Armadillo's progress for this blog, but it would be great if they got so much regular commercial business that they never got around to continuing with the LLC effort. I hope that's the frame of mind of lots of these prize teams. Of course it could also mean that they get enough incoming funds to be able to accomplish more to both satisfy customers and win prizes.

The Cosmic Log article also notes that there will be what I'll call "space prizes" in the Rocket Racing events themselves:

Six racing teams have signed up for the Rocket Racing League and intend to purchase rocket planes at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. Eventually, the teams plan to vie for millions of dollars in prizes. However, Whitelaw said those competitive races likely wouldn't begin until late 2009.

One of the exhibition races will be held at the 2008 X PRIZE Cup:

- Current plans call for additional exhibitions at the Reno Air Races in September, at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico (traditionally held in October) and at in Aviation Nation in Las Vegas in November.

The X PRIZE Cup obviously has prize overtones, with the Lunar Lander Challenge, Conrad Spirit of Innovation competition, and Space Elevator Games one year. The Las Cruces Sun-News goes so far as to say

The Rocket Racing League today said it is ready for competition when it announced four exhibition races to be held later this year, one of which will take place in Las Cruces.

However, the subsequent description in the article doesn't seem to match the certainty of that opening statement, but just notes that one of the exhibition races will be at the X PRIZE Cup, and reminds us where that's been held the first 3 years. Anyway, from the X PRIZE Cup site:

X PRIZE Cup - 2008

The 2008 X PRIZE Cup is currently in the planning and development stage. We will be announcing dates and locations for the 2008 Cup in the first half of the year.

Either way, Las Cruces is noted as an important RRL location in the article:

The league plans to establish its world headquarters in Las Cruces and earlier this year broke ground on two hangars at Las Cruces International Airport. The league also plans to develop an aerospace park adjacent to the airport.