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Speed racer: Jet- and- rocket- powered 1,000-mph car ready to go

More than a decade after driving their jet-powered Thrust SSC (for super sonic car) an ear-popping 763 miles (1,228 kilometers) per hour, a team of British engineers and pilots has set its sites on a new record: to build a car by 2011 that can travel faster than 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) per hour, BBC News reports. The team has already christened its new super sonic vehicle--which will be powered by a rocket bolted to a Eurofighter Typhoon jet engine--the Bloodhound SSC.

The team expects the 42-foot (12.8-meter) long, 6.4-ton Bloodhound SSC to accelerate from zero to 1,050 miles (1,690 kilometers) per hour in just 40 seconds—faster than a bullet shot from a .357 Magnum, which is capable of flying at up to about 962 miles (1,548 kilometers) per hour.) The vehicle's 35.4 inch- (900 millimeter-) diameter wheels will spin so fast that they had to be made from a high-grade titanium to prevent them from splitting apart, the BBC reports.

The idea for the project reportedly came from Lord Drayson, the U.K.'s new science minister and an amateur race-car driver. When he held a post in the Ministry of Defense, Drayson approached Bloodhound project leader Richard Noble and driver Andy Green to ask them if they could do something that would grab the attention of schoolchildren and turn them on to careers in science and technology. The Ministry is lending the team engines that were used in the Typhoon's flight development program.

"The consequences if we don't inspire the next generation are that we will wither as a country," Lord Drayson told BBC News. Drayson last year took a leave of absence from his unpaid post as defense equipment minister to participate in the American Le Mans car race series.

The Bloodhound's rocket will provide most of the power to get the vehicle close to Mach 1 (the speed of sound--about 761 miles, or 1,225 kilometers, per hour), and the Typhoon engine will boost the vehicle to its target speed.

The Thrust SSC team set the bar high when Royal Air Force pilot Green made his historic dash across Nevada's Black Rock Desert in 1997. As Scientific American editor Gary Stix reported at the time, Green drove Thrust SSC—a 10-ton jet mobile powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey jet engines—to a then land-speed record of 763.035 miles (1,228 kilometers) per hour.

The American competitors, headed by Craig Breedlove, the five-time land-speed record holder, didn't fare as well. The team and the sleek Spirit of America were still recovering from the world's fastest land-speed accident. In the fall of 1996, Breedlove survived when  a rear wheel on his vehicle left the ground at Black Rock at about 675 miles (1,86 kilometers) per hour. Put in perspective, the Bugatti Veyron (the so-called fastest production car) has a top speed of about 253 miles (407 kilometers) per hour.

(Image courtesy of The University of the West of England/Bristol Institute of Technology)

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