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'Star Wars' NASCAR? Get ready for rocket racing

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The rocket planes will have a liquid oxygen/kerosene fuel mix with a burn time of four minutes.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- It sounds like NASA meets NASCAR: rocket-propelled aircraft racing through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, while millions of fans watch in stadiums and on TV.

Peter Diamandis, founder of the aerospace Ansari X Prize, plans to turn what sounds like science fiction into reality in about a year.

At a ceremony Monday in New York, Diamandis unveiled the Rocket Racing League as its co-founder and chairman.

"For me, it is a remembrance of sort of 'Star Wars' pod racing," said Diamandis, referring to the rocket race portrayed in 1999's "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace."

Instead of a long time ago in another galaxy far, far away, these races aim to begin in October 2006 when Diamandis hopes to hold an exhibition event with four so-called X-Racer planes.

If all goes according to plan, league competition would begin by 2007.

Diamandis announced his venture almost a year to the day after SpaceShipOne climbed to an altitude of 71 1/2 miles to win the $10 million X Prize in California's Mojave Desert. The prize was intended to spur low-cost, efficient spaceflight for private tourism.

The new project aims to "inspire people of all ages to once again look up into the sky and find inspiration and excitement," Diamandis said in a statement.

A typical hourlong race imagines a spectacular X-Racer liftoff allowing fans to follow each rocket plane by tracking their 20-foot exhaust plumes and watching large-screen TVs.

Streaming multi-angle video would be available from each aircraft, showing cockpit, "on-track" and "side-by-side" and wing-angle views. Fans also would be able to track races by using hand-held GPS devices connected to WiFi systems.

The rocket planes will have a liquid oxygen/kerosene fuel mix, calculated to have a burn time of four minutes, requiring pilots to shut down their engines repeatedly and glide, then restart to pass opponents at up to 300 mph.

The race course would be two miles long, a mile wide and about 5,000 feet high.

"Take the NASCAR road car race track and tilt it vertical, and you will race these rocket planes in a vertical three-dimensional course," said Granger Whitelaw, league co-founder and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion team partner.

"Given the millions of fans who enjoy race car driving, and the wider audience enthralled with humanity's next step into space, we are confident rocket racing will become a mainstream event in the decades to come."

So far, one prototype plane -- the EZ-Rocket -- has been built.

The league is seeking teams and sponsors. Diamandis did not give an estimate for league start-up costs, but the X-Racer rocket planes are expected to be priced under $1 million each.

He said once the league gets started, tournament semifinals will be held each September at the Reno Air Races in Nevada, and the finals will be each October at the X-Prize Cup in New Mexico.

The Federal Aviation Administration must license the planes before any league racing begins.

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