Rocket Racing League takes off with new engine, DKNY

The league, an aspiring Formula 1 for rocket racing, chooses a new liquid oxygen-alcohol engine from Armadillo Aerospace, a suborbital space company founded by <i>Doom</i> creator John Carmack.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read

Rocket fans are a little closer to having their own spectator sport--thanks to a new engine design and the sponsorship of fashion brand DKNY.

The Rocket Racing League, an aspiring Formula 1 for rocket racing, said Wednesday that it completed its three test flights with a new liquid oxygen-alcohol engine from Armadillo Aerospace, a suborbital space company founded by Doom creator John Carmack. This summer, the RRL also secured a high profile sponsorship from a clothing brand that people wouldn't necessarily associate with rockets: DKNY for men. The premiere racer for the league now will have the luxury clothing maker's name permanently brandished on its vehicle--a potential marketing coup if the RRL eventually airs on TV, as expected.

More importantly, the successful engine trials mean that New York-based RRL is that much closer to production of its fleet of rockets and upcoming public races, which have been pushed back several times. Now, the RRL needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is no small feat and could cause more delays.

"This will now be the primary engine for the next rocket racers," said Granger Whitelaw, CEO and co-founder of the RRL. The league is building five rockets so that it will have six by next spring.

Whitelaw said he hopes to have FAA approval in time to fly an exhibition run at the Reno Air Races in September, or hold a public race later this year.

The rocket from Armadillo will replace one from Xcor, which makes a pump-fed engine powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. Armadillo, which builds rockets for suborbital space flight that have been tested by the military and NASA, retrofitted its pressure-fed engine earlier this year so that the RRL could test them for winged vehicles that would eventually be used to race in public events.

Armadillo's is a pressure-fed engine that runs on liquid oxygen, helium, and ethanol. Whitelaw said that the RRL chose the Armadillo engine because it satisfies the safety, power, and reliability standards that it needs for a racing league.

"We had always planned on testing different engines, similar to Formula 1," said Whitelaw.

Armadillo's engine runs on 2,500 pounds of pressure and flies for about 10 minutes at about 300 miles per hour. It can go from zero to 110 miles per hour in 6 1/2 seconds. Whitelaw said that it has more thrust than an F18 jet--the Navy's fastest combat vehicle--on "full afterburner," or the button that gives the jet that extra juice.

The RRL's aircraft is made by Velocity Aircraft, which was acquired by the league earlier this year.

Whitelaw said he expects the RRL's first TV event by the end of 2009, or beginning of 2010. But, until then, fans can get a fix on YouTube, here: