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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Rocket biker aims for space record
Rocket man: Richard Brown with the 365mph bike
Richard Brown, the man who has gone faster than any rider on two wheels, is joining the race to be the first to put an unmanned amateur rocket into space.

"I truly feel the UK is finally on the map as a force to be reckoned with in amateur space flight

Richard Brown
Blast-off for the rocket - currently being built in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire - is set for September in Australia.

The aim will be to take the rocket beyond the current World Amateur Altitude Record of 85 kilometres (53 miles), held by the US-based Reaction Research Society since 1996.

The only thing that is going to come out of this rocket is hot air

Competitor Ky Michaelson

But Mr Brown, 35, will also be aiming for the $250,000 (170,000) Cats Prize (Cheap Access To Space), for the world's first non-governmental group to launch a 2 kilogram weight above 200 km (124 miles), the organisers' definition of space.

Engineering businessman Mr Brown is confident that his Project FARI Space (First Amateur Rocket Into Space), will beat the Americans at their own game.

Americans sceptical

He is known in the UK and worldwide as a leading specialist in rocketry following his attempt on the land speed record for motorcycles. He managed a peak speed of 587 km/h (365mph) at Bonneville, Utah, last year, but failed to complete a second run within the specified time to claim the world record.

From pace to space: The rocket bike is fettled for the record attempt
He said: "I truly feel the UK is finally on the map as a force to be reckoned with in achieving unmanned amateur space flight for the first time.

"Through my experience with the land speed record, I have acquired the knowledge to go that one technological step further."

However, the Americans are more sceptical.

Project FARI Space
Power: Solid polyethylene - the same material used to make plastic bags - which reacts with hydrogen peroxide
Size: 25ft long, 9in diameter
Power: 3,000bhp (first stage) 2500bhp (second stage)
Speed: 5,500mph
Ky Michaelson of Minnesota, whose Civilian Space Exploration team already has a number of launches to its credit, including one that reached over 23 km, plans another launch in September, within days of Mr Brown's.

"I wish Mr Brown the best of luck," Michaelson is reported as saying, "but the dimensions of his rocket alone suggest it will not get into space. The only thing that is going to come out of this rocket is hot air."

Another competitor, Interorbital Systems, has tested a rocket that launches from the surface of the sea and will go for the record this summer.

Spokesman Randa Milliron said: "We have spent years on this. I suspect he will find it impossible in the time available."

Past amateur British rocketeering attempts have had mixed fortunes.

'It's about achievement'

The Sheffield Rocketry Association (SRA) set a new UK altitude record - 4,388 metres (14,398 feet) - for amateur rocketeers in March.

Touchdown: Steve Bennett's Starchaser crashes and burns
But the pictures of rocketeer Steve Bennett's Starchaser 3's short but dramatic flight on Dartmoor in 1998, when it crashed and set fire to the surrounding moorland, is etched into the minds of amateur rocketeers as a warning of what can go wrong.

Mr Brown is now working full time on his rocket in High Wycombe with the help of Cranfield Aeronautics College in Bedfordshire and members of his rocket bike team.

Mr Brown says the prize money is not why he is attempting the record. "It is not so much a money thing, it is about the achievement," he said.

Nevertheless, the money would no doubt be a major bonus as Mr Brown admits the cost of the project will add up to a major slice of the $250,000 on the table.

And while other UK rocketeers such as Steve Bennett are aiming to be the first amateur to put a manned craft into space, Mr Brown is happy to keep his feet on the ground.

He said: "There is a huge difference between putting a 2 kilo and two people into space.

"I will leave manned space flight to Nasa and the dreamers."

Mr Brown's land speed record attempt is featured in a BBC One documentary called The Mission: Fastest Man on Two Wheels, to be screened on Monday at 10:40 BST.

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See also:

23 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Sheffield rocket breaks record
20 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Rocket man aims high
07 Oct 98 | Sci/Tech
Revving up for records
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