Inside the Capitol

Monday, January 23, 2006

2-1 Rocket Racing League

WED, 2-1-06

SANTA FE -- Hang onto your seats. Star wars is coming to New Mexico. During the state Legislature's opening week, the third star in New Mexico's triple crown of space events was unveiled.
Not only will southern New Mexico be hosting rocket races into space for the X Prize Cup, it also will host rocket-powered airplanes zooming around a course at the Las Cruces airport.
The newly-forming Rocket Racing League will conduct races around the nation, similar to NASCAR, with the finals being held in New Mexico. The league headquarters also will be in Las Cruces, in a planned 50,000 square-foot building, and will employ up to 200 people.
One rocket plane design already has been developed. It was demonstrated at the first annual X Prize extravaganza in Las Cruces last October by former shuttle pilot Rick Searfoss, who has agreed to fly in the new league.
Also competing in the league will be Erik Lindbergh, a grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and an X Prize board member.
The rocket planes, which will be called X-Racers, will race at 350 miles an hour around a course a half mile wide and two miles long at the Las Cruces airport. While racing, they also will be dodging huge virtual obstacles and diving through virtual tunnels.
The film, showed by league CEO Granger Whitelaw to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, looked much like a rocket racing scene out of Star Wars. Whitelaw is a venture capitalist who has been involved with two championship Indy Racing League teams.
Whitelaw has been involved with X Prize founder Peter Diamandis since the beginning of that competition. And Diamandis is a co-founder of the Rocket Racing League.
Whitelaw also had many good things to say about Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, which is trying to convince the New Mexico Legislature to build a $225 million spaceport north of Las Cruces.
Whitelaw says his decision to locate the league headquarters and championship finals in New Mexico is contingent upon New Mexico building the Southwest Regional Spaceport, which he can then use for design and testing of his rocket planes.
Considering that Branson is using the space plane design of Burt Rutan, the $10 million Ansari X Prize winner, the interwoven relationship of the Rocket Racing League, Virgin Galactic and the X Prize Cup becomes very evident. It makes New Mexico the rocket capital of the world.
Planners predict the X-Racers will bring hundreds of thousands of people to New Mexico for the finals. Apparently they expect the league to quickly become the NASCAR of the sky.
And they expect it to bring numbers to New Mexico similar to what NASCAR brings to Charlotte, North Carolina. That's dreaming pretty big. Las Cruces will have to build about a thousand motels pronto.
How likely is the RRL to get off the ground? It's being financed by venture capital money, which means investors aren't rushing to buy stock. If it can piggyback on the success and excitement the X Prize competition and Virgin Galactic already have produced, it might have a chance.
When the X Prize organizers announced in the summer of 2004 that they were bringing their competition to New Mexico and that the first of the X Prize awards, for the first rocket to fly 62 miles into space twice in a week, would be won before the summer was over, few people believed it possible. But it happened.
When Richard Branson announced he would fly people into space for $200,000 a crack, not even the experts believed he would find enough takers to make the project viable. He now has 45,000 adventurous souls signed up.
The RRL plans to begin soliciting sponsorships for its racers soon. It also plans to generate revenue through merchandizing, broadcast rights, video games, ticket sales and tours.
We may soon know how much interest there will be.



Post a Comment

<< Home