Wirefly X Prize Cup: Rocketry Takes Center Stage

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 (Image credit: Powerhouse Productions Inc.)

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

Allmanner of rocket, be it strap on, ride in, or a project-in-progress, will be found at theWirefly 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 homebase for this year's Cup.

"Thegoal of the X Prize Cup is to create an event that actually attracts realspaceships and demonstrates them in front of the crowds," observed PeterDiamandis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the X Prize Foundation ofSanta Monica, California. "This year's Cup has $2.5 million in prize money upfor grabs."

TheCup this year is also themed as "Moon 2.0", Diamandis said, given NASA'scommitment to the Moon, Mars and beyond vision agenda and a spaceagency-sponsored $2 million Lunar Lander Competition.

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

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

Keep on trucken'

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

Forthe Rocket Truck at the upcoming Cup, Pickens and his team are using an asphaltand 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.

Therocket engine is run by a hand-held gaming controller--a user-friendly andergonomic device. Another Rocket Truck add-on are dash-mounted LCD screensproviding the pilot and co-pilot a view of the firing engine, adding to theballistic buzz one gets from riding in the Rocket Truck.

"Wehave 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 RocketTruck project, he added.

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

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

"Thisis a great way for us to show young folks how exciting rockets and engineeringcan be," Pickens said.

Belted for sky travel

XPrize Cup onlookers are to be treated to repeat takeoffs of rocketbelt pilotDan Schlund, Director of Operations of Powerhouse Productions Inc. He will beflying overhead on opening day of the two-day program of events.

Schlundsaid 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 thepilot's point of view shooting through the sky.

TheWirefly X Prize Cup is a trio of performances that Schlund has been lookingforward to for a few years now. "We are excited about the opportunity tofly...and meet so many rocket enthusiasts," but added: "Don't forget your earplugs."

Schlundis flying three different flight patterns at the Cup.

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

Rocketbeltflying is not for the faint of heart.

"Iwould lie if I said I didn't get nervous. The truth is, even after a hundredflights, 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 anddifficult thing I have ever done. Prayer is definitely part of my check list!"

Fordetails on how a rocketbelt works and other related news, Schlund has a specialwebsite loaded with fun facts at: www.rocketman.org

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

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.