Rocket Racing League
IndustryAir racing · Sports · Entertainment
Aerospace engineering
HeadquartersNew York, Boston, Santa Monica, Las Cruces
Key people
 · Peter Diamandis
Robert Hariri · Bill Koch · Bob Weiss
ProductsRocketplane design, race promotions
Number of employees
15[citation needed]
The prototype Rocket Racer, a modified Velocity SE climbing to 8400 feet on its first "up and away" flight, October 29, 2007 at the Mojave Spaceport.
The prototype Rocket Racer, a modified Velocity SE climbing to 8400 feet on its first "up and away" flight, October 29, 2007 at the Mojave Spaceport.

The Rocket Racing League was[1] a racing league that planned to use rocket-powered aircraft to race a closed-circuit air racetrack. Founded in 2005, the league made its first public flights in 2010 and was working to begin regular racing seasons. The "Rocket Racers" were slated to compete in the air and on a virtual racetrack easily viewed by a live audience as well as projected on large screen and handheld electronic displays.

Three prototype canard-style Rocket Racer aircraft were built between 2006 and 2010.

The league had planned to hold its inaugural race season in 2008 with four races, but encountered financial difficulties that delayed fielding of Rocket Racers by the six teams that had been previously announced. With the addition of venture capital funding in mid-2009, technology development continued and one exhibition occurred in 2010, with another round of plans for an inaugural season of races in 2011. The 2011 races were, in the end, never scheduled, and by 2014, the league was defunct.[2]


Projected to be an hour and one half in length, the races were intended to be between Rocket Racer planes that used liquid oxygen and either kerosene or ethanol fuel[3] with a burn time of four minutes. The rocketplanes were expected to cost less than US$1 million each. The planes were based on the fixed-gear Velocity SE modified by XCOR Aerospace and the retractible gear Velocity XL modified by Armadillo Aerospace for the purpose of rocket racing. The Velocity airframe was derived from a commercially available kit plane that traced its design heritage to the Rutan Long-EZ, which had been modified to accept rocket power and custom avionics. In order to provide the airframes, RRL purchased the aircraft's manufacturer, Velocity Aircraft, in April 2008.[4]

The Rocket Racer on landing roll-out at Mojave.
The Rocket Racer on landing roll-out at Mojave.

The RRL had been called "NASCAR with rockets", XCOR Aerospace flew the Rocket Racer for a public audience at the 2008 EAA AirVenture Airshow at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.[5][6] If league competition were to begin, Whitelaw indicated tournament semifinals would be held each September in Nevada, with finals each October in New Mexico at the X Prize Cup competing for a $2 million championship purse.

Races were to have taken place on a race course two miles (3 km) long, one mile (1.6 km) wide, and 1,500 feet (460 m) in the air. A typical race would take about one hour, and fans would be able to see multiple camera views, including cockpit, "on-track," "side-by-side" and wing-angle views.

Additionally, a computer game had been planned which was to have interfaced with racer positional data in real time over the internet, allowing players to virtually compete with the rocket pilots.

Aft view of the Rocket Racer on landing roll-out at Mojave.
Aft view of the Rocket Racer on landing roll-out at Mojave.

The Track

The proposed "track" for a typical Rocket Race was to have begun with a staggered start. Pilots were to take off in pairs a few minutes apart, they would be competing against the clock but would maneuver around each other much like NASCAR. The pilots would be guided by a virtual three-dimensional "track" projected in their head-up display. Each racer was to have a separate track to follow but the courses were planned to be close together to build excitement.[citation needed]


As of 2008, there were six teams registered to compete in the inaugural 2008 race season, Rocket Star Racing, Team Extreme Rocket Racing, Canada-based Beyond Gravity Rocket Racing, Bridenstine Rocket Racing, Santa Fe Racing and Thunderhawk Rocket Racing.[6]

As of 2012, RRL claimed that "official team recruitment will commence as the production-level Rocket Racers near completion", listing five "candidate teams of the RRL franchise": Bridenstine Rocket Racing, Santa Fe Racing, Rocket Star Racing, Team Extreme Rocket Racing, and Canada-based Beyond Gravity Rocket Racing.[7]


The formation of the league was announced by Granger Whitelaw, and Peter Diamandis, founder of the Ansari X-Prize, in October 2005[8] in partnership with the Reno Air Races.[citation needed] According to Diamandis, the purpose of the league was to "inspire people of all ages to once again look up into the sky and find inspiration and excitement."[citation needed]

Initial plans called for a four-team league finals in 2006, to be followed by 10 teams competing in 2007, with video games based on the competition also out in 2007.[8] In 2006, analysts identified doubts about the economics of the venture, and especially of the ability of RRL to attract a large fanbase similar to IndyCar and NASCAR.[9] In the event, no races occurred in either 2006 or 2007.

In April 2008, the league stated that it was "ready for competition [announcing] four exhibition races will be held later [in the] year, one in Las Cruces."[10]

On April 14, 2008, the Racing Rocket Racing Composite Corporation, a subsidiary of the Rocket Racing League, acquired Velocity Aircraft. The RRL announced their goal was to "produce an airframe that will be consistent for all competing Rocket Racers."[11]

On May 26, 2010, a Velocity employee posted to the builder's email-list a note from Scott and Duane Swing that stated that they had bought back full ownership of Velocity Inc from Rocket Racing League. The RRL now owns no share of Velocity Inc.[12]

League financial difficulties

None of the four planned 2008 races were actually run. The Rocket Racing League had difficulty in attracting and retaining sufficient financial backing, from both investors and sponsors, in order to get an initial racing season firmly scheduled in 2008, 2009, or 2010. Some progress with the rocket and aircraft technology continued however, but by 2014, the league had gone defunct.[2]

The league twice failed to complete construction of six hangars contracted to be built on land adjacent to Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico. As of January 2009, the league was at risk of having their leases with the City of Las Cruces terminated.[13]

In July 2009, the league announced the closing of a venture capital financing round of US$5.5 million. The funds were to be used for ongoing operations and for the development of a next-generation Rocket Racer.[14]

Rocket Racer at Tulsa International Airport, April 2010
Rocket Racer at Tulsa International Airport, April 2010

As of February 2010, Peter Diamandis suggested that 2010 could be the year that we see "more than one racer in the air and possibly in exhibition races." Non-exhibition "live" races were to occur as early as 2011.[15] Also in February, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium (TASM) announced that it would partner with the Rocket Racing League to host an exhibition flight of a Rocket Racer at the QuikTrip Air and Rocket Show at Tulsa International Airport in April 2010.[16]

The Rocket Racing League announced a "2010 World Exhibition Tour" on April 24, 2010, when they unveiled their Mark-III X-racer rocket plane at the QuikTrip Air & Rocket Racing Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The RRL exhibition flights at Tulsa were the first simultaneous flights of two rocket-powered airplanes in the history of peacetime aviation. RRL duplicated this historic feat later that day. The league's intent in such exhibitions was to "build up the league's fan base, in addition to perfecting operations and technologies, before the league's official launch in 2012."[17] The April event in Tulsa was the only RRL exhibition of 2010.

The league's financial difficulties continued in 2011 and no races were organized.[18]

By 2014, persons formerly involved with the league had made public statements that the league had failed and was now defunct.[2]

Rocket Racers

The Rocket Racing League had been developing prototype Rocket Racers since 2006, working with one airframe manufacturer and two rocket engine producers on three prototype aircraft to date. All three of the airframes have been of the canard configuration to more easily accommodate the rocket propulsion technology.

A fifth model was proposed, but not built, in 2011: the Mark-V X-Racer.[18]

Predecessor aircraft

XCOR Aerospace developed the XCOR EZ-Rocket, later flown under Rocket Racing League sponsorship as an X-Racer prototype rocketplane. First flight was July 21, 2001 at Mojave Airport in Mojave, California.[19] This XCOR technology demonstrator was a converted Rutan Long-EZ and, in its final version, utilized two 400 lbf (1.8 kN) thrust XCOR Aerospace isopropyl-alcohol-powered rocket engines[9] of engine type XR-4A3.[20] XCOR flew the EZ-Rocket for several years in development and demonstration flights, including, in collaboration with the RRL, at the 2005 X-Prize Cup in New Mexico.[9]

By 2006, the design-point for the RRL racer had become a single rocket engine utilizing kerosene as the rocket fuel, carrying 1,000 lb (450 kg) of liquid oxygen in its flight oxidizer tank.[9]

The first RRL prototype built, known as the Mark-I X-Racer, was built on a Velocity SE airframe and was also powered by XCOR Aerospace rocket technology, a regeneratively-cooled and pump-fed XR-4K14 rocket engine.[20] This rocket-powered aircraft flew several demonstration flights at the 2008 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show.[21] The total thrust for the single-engine Mark-I X-Racer was 1,500 lbf (6,700 N),[9] approximately twice that of the EZ-Rocket.

Mark-II and Mark-III X-Racers

As of 2010, the Rocket Racing League was utilizing a highly modified Velocity XL fixed-gear airframe and an Armadillo Aerospace 2,500 pound thrust liquid oxygen (LOX) and ethanol rocket engine in both its Mark-II X-Racer and Mark-III X-Racer demonstration vehicles.[22] The Mark-II and Mark-III racers could take off just 4 seconds after the rocket engine was ignited; both vehicles were limited to a top speed of 300 mph (480 km/h).[23] The rocket engine was a LOX-Ethanol, film-cooled, pressure-fed, blow-down[24] design with a 10 to 15-foot (4.6 m)-long exhaust plume. Plume-seeding technology allowed the plume color to vary from red to green to yellow to better facilitate race spectators in keeping track of specific racers while in the air.[23]

The Mark-II (N205MB) racer utilized a standard fixed-gear XL airframe, modified for the addition of the Armadillo rocket propulsion. The Mark-III (N133XP) airframe was modified during manufacturing at Velocity Aircraft explicitly for use as a Rocket Racer, with canopy top, center seat and control stick, and other enhancements.[22]

Mark V X-Racer

The Mark-V proposed design resembles "a sleek, rocket-powered sailplane" and may be built at Velocity Aircraft, although no firm contracts are in place to do so as of November 2011.[18]


  1. ^ Peter Diamandis interviewed on the TV show Triangulation on the network
  2. ^ a b c Leone, Dan (2014-12-21). "Q&A With Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.)". SpaceNews. Retrieved 2016-03-05. Although the Rocket Racing League held demonstration flights at a 2010 air show in Tulsa that Bridenstine helped organize, the venture failed to take off. 'It was before its time,' [Bridenstine] lamented
  3. ^ Rocket Racer fact sheet from League website Archived August 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ RRL press release announcing acquisition of Velocity. Archived May 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Alan Boyle (Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 6:07 PM). "Rocket racer goes public". Cosmic Log. MSNBC. Archived from the original on 2008-07-30. ((cite news)): Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ a b Ken Denmead (August 1, 2008). "Rocket Racing League Wants to be NASCAR in the Air". Wired. Retrieved 2009-10-22.
  7. ^ Rocket Racing League Teams, Rocket Racing League website, 2012, accessed 2012-12-15. "Official team recruitment will commence as the production-level Rocket Racers near completion. Early candidate teams of the RRL franchise include Bridenstine Rocket Racing, Santa Fe Racing, Rocket Star Racing,, Team Extreme Rocket Racing, and Canada-based Beyond Gravity Rocket Racing."
  8. ^ a b ‘Rocket racing league’ gets its start, Alan Boyle, NBC News, 2005-10-03, accessed 2010-09-02.
  9. ^ a b c d e X-Racers, Start Your Rockets! : The creators of the X prize offer a sensational vision of rocket-powered airplanes speeding through the sky. But can their new racing league steal a bit of Nascar's thunder?, Michael Belfiore, Popular Science (feature cover story), 2006-02-15, accessed 2010-09-02.
  10. ^ Medina, Jose L. (2008-04-15). "Rocket league schedules Las Cruces race". Las Cruces Sun-News. Retrieved 2009-10-22.
  11. ^ Rocket Racing Composite Corp. Acquires Velocity Aircraft, Parabolic Arc, 2008-04-14, accessed 2011-01-03.
  12. ^ Swing Family Repurchase of Velocity Inc. from Rocket Racing League, Velocity Aircraft Listserve, text copy from archives, 2010-05-26. "For those of you wondering just what influence Rocket Racing has with Velocity, let me assure you that they have none. As I write this, the sole ownership of Velocity Inc. is now totally and completely in the hands of Scott Swing and myself. Through a stock exchange, Scott and I returned our Rocket Racing stock for 100% return of the stock they held in Velocity Inc. Rocket Racing now has 0% ownership in this company. ... Scott and Duane Swing"
  13. ^ Ramirez, Steve (2009-01-06). "City won't bail out of deal with Rocket Racing". Las Cruces Sun-News. Retrieved 2009-10-22.
  14. ^ Goldsmith, Rob (2009-07-04). "Rocket Racing League Closes Multi-Million Dollar Financing". News. Space Retrieved 2009-10-22.
  15. ^ Aero-TV: Rocket Racing League -- Diamandis Plans 2010 Exhibition Racing, Aero-News Network, 2010-02-15, retrieved 2010-02-15.
  17. ^ Rocket Racing League Unveils New Flying Hot Rod, by Denise Chow,, 2010-04-26, accessed 2010-04-27.
  18. ^ a b c Neale, Rick (2011-11-18). "Rocket Racing League backs off Melbourne plan : group won't relocate, thanks to cash crunch". Florida Today. Retrieved 2011-11-19.
  19. ^ First Flights - XCOR Aerospace Archived 2006-11-10 at the Wayback Machine, Mojave Transportation Museum, accessdate=2006-11-13
  20. ^ a b Products Overview Archived 2010-11-25 at the Wayback Machine, XCOR Aerospace, undated, accessed 2010-12-27. "Twin 400 lb-thrust XR-4A3 engines aboard the EZ-Rocket" (with in-flight photograph) ... "Another engine that we have developed in parallel is the XR-4K14, ... a 1,500 lb thrust regeneratively cooled LOX and pump-fed kerosene system ... used as the Rocket Racer aircraft's main engine."
  21. ^ XCOR X-Racer, by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today, 2009-08-06, accessed 2010-04-26.
  22. ^ a b Rocket Racing League Announces Milestone Development in X-Racer Archived 2011-07-15 at the Wayback Machine, press release, 2010-03-10, accessed 2010-05-03.
  23. ^ a b Flying inside the groove: the latest rocket-powered test aircraft take just four seconds to get into the air from ignition. The brink of take-off for the RRL, Aerospace Testing International, June 2010, pp. 50-54, accessed 2010-09-06.
  24. ^ Joiner, Stephen (2011-05-01). "The Mojave Launch Lab". Air & Space Smithsonian. Retrieved 2011-03-18 (online precedes the print edition date). "blow-down" mode: without external helium pressure, relying solely on helium pumped into the smaller internal propellant tanks [which limits] duration. ((cite journal)): Check date values in: |year=, |accessdate=, and |year= / |date= mismatch (help)