Wirefly X Prize Cup: Rocketry Takes Center Stage
Opening day X Prize Cup crowds will be treated to multiple flights of rocketbelt pilot Dan Schlund. Image
Credit: Powerhouse Productions Inc.

Next week, countdowns will ring through the air. Rocket engines will spark to life and roar. Prototype spaceships will fly and vie for cash prizes.

All manner of rocket, be it strap on, ride in, or a project-in-progress, will be found at the Wirefly X Prize Cup being staged October 20-21 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Las Cruces International Airport, roughly seven miles from the center of the city, is home base for this year's Cup.

"The goal of the X Prize Cup is to create an event that actually attracts real spaceships and demonstrates them in front of the crowds," observed Peter Diamandis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the X Prize Foundation of Santa Monica, California. "This year's Cup has $2.5 million in prize money up for grabs."

The Cup this year is also themed as "Moon 2.0", Diamandis said, given NASA's commitment to the Moon, Mars and beyond vision agenda and a space agency-sponsored $2 million Lunar Lander Competition.

"There will be a large amount of educational and display content looking back at Apollo and forward...towards both the public and private return to the Moon," Diamandis told SPACE.com.

Looking out into the coming years, the X Prize Cup will expand even further, with more rockets, multiple flights and finals of the Rocket Racing League X-Racers, amateur rocket flights crafted by people from all over the world, as well as actual races to space.

Keep on trucken'

"Rocketizing" various modes of transportation--be it a bicycle or a 2003 Chevy SS--is the propulsion province of Tim Pickens, president of Orion Propulsion in Madison, Alabama.

For the Rocket Truck at the upcoming Cup, Pickens and his team are using an asphalt and nitrous-oxide-powered hybrid rocket engine. It spits out 2,750 pounds of thrust, enough to give the driver and co-pilot a nice kick in the coveralls.

The rocket engine is run by a hand-held gaming controller--a user-friendly and ergonomic device. Another Rocket Truck add-on are dash-mounted LCD screens providing the pilot and co-pilot a view of the firing engine, adding to the ballistic buzz one gets from riding in the Rocket Truck.

"We have had several motor firings for the full 10-second duration," Pickens told SPACE.com. Miltec of Huntsville, Alabama is a major sponsor/contributor to the Rocket Truck project, he added.

"The truck is still in progress," Pickens added, "and we are adding safety...as well as fun hardware to it daily."

The Rocket Truck has been a labor of love with the hybrid motor and system built using all volunteer labor on weekends and at night, Pickens said. The truck hybrid motor firings demonstrate serious rocket propulsion hardware - showcasing simplicity and easy to turnaround technology for many firings.

"This is a great way for us to show young folks how exciting rockets and engineering can be," Pickens said.

Belted for sky travel

X Prize Cup onlookers are to be treated to repeat takeoffs of rocketbelt pilot Dan Schlund, Director of Operations of Powerhouse Productions Inc. He will be flying overhead on opening day of the two-day program of events.

Schlund said rocketbelt flights will be broadcast live via X Prize webcast. The up, up, up and away flights also make use of special on-board cameras showing the pilot's point of view shooting through the sky.

The Wirefly X Prize Cup is a trio of performances that Schlund has been looking forward to for a few years now. "We are excited about the opportunity to fly...and meet so many rocket enthusiasts," but added: "Don't forget your ear plugs."

Schlund is flying three different flight patterns at the Cup.

"This is going to be the most action packed day of my career. I will be carrying special on-board cameras for the Jumbotron and webcast. And best of all...I get to meet all those rocket geeks like me."

Rocketbelt flying is not for the faint of heart.

"I would lie if I said I didn't get nervous. The truth is, even after a hundred flights, I still get the butterflies something fierce," Schlund admitted to SPACE.com. "I've done stunt work for years and this is the most intense, exhilarating and difficult thing I have ever done. Prayer is definitely part of my check list!"

For details on how a rocketbelt works and other related news, Schlund has a special website loaded with fun facts at: www.rocketman.org

For tickets to attend the October 20-21 Wirefly X Prize Cup, go to: http://www.xprizecup.com