I’ve been friends with several of the guys at XCOR for many years now, and have been quite grateful for the work they’ve done toward making commercial space a reality. Especially with all the trailblazing they’ve done in reducing the regulatory uncertainty by working with the AST over the past several years. While I’m obviously rather fond of my company, and hope to see us become a profitable suborbital launch company, I’ve always hoped that the industry would be big enough to allow other groups like XCOR to also see the success that they truly deserve. With the announcement this morning of the Rocket Racing League, it looks like XCOR may have just had the lucky break it needs to achieve their dreams.
The idea of rocket racing has been around for a while. A friend of mine, Ed Wright, of X-Rocket unsuccesfully tried to pull off a similar rocket racing idea a few years ago. At the time I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how such a race would work, but the details that are coming out about the Rocket Racing League seem to make a lot of sense. The idea of having a racing league where each team flies the same basic airframe with the same engines takes most of the technical risk out of the project. It also makes it more of a people race instead of a technology race. By keeping the vehicles so similar, it puts most of the chance at success or failure into the hands of the pilot and his/her pit crew. I’ve never been much of a professional racing person myself, but for something like this, I’d probably put down some money at least once.
And with gorgeous LOX/kerosene engines, the fresh memory of SpaceShipOne in most peoples’ minds, and the solid team that Peter’s put together, they stand a real chance of succeeding with this. It may take longer to ramp up than expected, but if anyone can pull this off, Peter Diamandis is likely it.
As I said earlier though, if this is succesful, it is going to be a huge windfall for XCOR. They’re currently selected as the sole supplier for the propulsion systems for the RRL “X-Racers”, using the larger LOX/Kero engines they’ve been working on for the past year or two. While I doubt this will end up with hundreds of X-Racers, I wouldn’t be surprised if XCOR didn’t end up making more money off of this contract than they did off of their NASA contract for Composite LOX Tank development. Between that and all the publicity they’ll be getting, they may have finally found enough money to develop the Xerus vehicle they’ve been tantalizing us with for the past two years.
Congratulations guys. Hopefully once we have as much experience under our belt as they do, we can twist Peter’s arm into making a VTVL rocket racing league with MSS as the airframe provider.
Hey, one can dream, can’t he?
[Update: Apparently, XCOR will be making a lot more money than I had originally supposed. According to an entry at Michael Belfiore’s blog:
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. I’ll find out more when I see the XCOR folks at the XP Cup.
Now, this is a total SWAG on my part, but having seen their operation, and knowing how much money is likely going to go into our vehicle (which is actually quite a bit more complicated), I’d be surprised if it cost them more than $250-500k per vehicle to do the manufacturing and assembly. That means that they’re almost definitely making more money off this deal than they did off the NASA Cryo LOX Tank work, and in fact the amount they should be clearing is about the number they’ve been touting over the years as being neccessary to develop Sphinx or Xerus. It looks like the competition is just about to get hotter in our corner of the alt.space world.]
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