Rocket planes to ship for first demo race

日期:2019-03-02 05:20:09 作者:子车蚜缎 阅读:

By Rachel Courtland (Image: Rocket Racing League) The first head-to-head race of two rocket-powered planes is planned for next week, but only one plane may take to the air. The Rocket Racing League – a company founded by X-Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis and winning Indy 500 car race team owner Granger Whitelaw – aims to pit two planes against each other at the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as early as 29 July. The two rocket racers’ engines are being designed by Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas, and by XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, California. XCOR’s plane is ready, but the Armadillo plane is still awaiting a flight permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Whitelaw, the league’s executive officer, says he doesn’t yet know if the permit will come through in time. The FAA has “been very helpful in trying to accommodate us, but they don’t move at rocket speed,” Whitelaw told New Scientist. “They’re still on piston power.” He insists the delays with the Armadillo plane are not due to technical problems. “It’s completely ready to fly,” he says. Both planes are being shipped to the Oshkosh airfield. New Scientist will be there to cover the event if it goes forward. The exhibition event would be the first taste of the company’s plan for a competitive rocket racing league, an airborne version of Nascar or Formula One. To navigate the course, planes will alternate between rocket-powered flight and coasting with the engines off to conserve fuel. Firing the engines for too long could damage the plane’s airframe, which is not meant to withstand speed much greater than the 560 kilometres per hour. XCOR’s engine, which runs on liquid oxygen and kerosene can only be turned on and off. But the Armadillo engine, powered by liquid oxygen and ethanol, has a variable throttle borrowed from the company’s vertical launch rockets designs. No-one is sure which design will win a head-to-head race. XCOR’s engine can push the league’s plane with as much as 1500 pounds of thrust, allowing it to lift off the runway in 13 seconds. Armadillo’s engine has a bigger boost at the beginning, with 2200 pounds of thrust that should lift a plane off the ground in 7.5 seconds, says Whitelaw. But over the course of a heat, the balance might shift. Armadillo president John Carmack says their plane will lose thrust as it burns up fuel. The XCOR-powered plane can maintain its thrust as it uses fuel and gets lighter, giving the plane more acceleration. Whitelaw hopes giving teams the option of two different engines will promote innovation. “A big part of this is not the sport and entertainment side of it, but all the different types of technology we’re testing,” he says. Both of the competing firms are also developing rockets for low-Earth orbit flights. Aerospace engineer Charles Lurio, who publishes a report on private space ventures, doesn’t expect to see any competition this month. “It’s definitely going to be a one-plane demo,” he says. “XCOR’s been working on this for a year and a half, and they’ve been flying the vehicle since last October. The first time Armadillo had anything on the runway was just within the last couple of weeks.” If the Armadillo plane doesn’t fly, the company says the first exhibition race may have to wait until 10-14 September at the Reno National Championship Air Races in Nevada, US. The Rocket Racing League plans to build additional planes to accommodate its six teams. Rocket racing for real, which will involve four heats each lasting 12 minutes, may take place in late 2009 or early 2010,