Bad news, land-speed record fans: the project to set a new 1,000mph (1,609km/h) speed record is yet again in serious doubt. On Monday morning, the Bloodhound Land Speed Record Project revealed that it’s looking for a new owner in order to try and break the existing record. Whoever steps in will need pretty deep pockets, too—almost $11 million (£8 million), in fact.
Trying to set a new land-speed record is probably one of the harder activities one can engage in. You need to design and build a vehicle capable of going faster than 763mph (1,228km/h), twice within an hour. You need to find somewhere flat enough to run the car, presumably away from neighbors who might get annoyed by the window-shattering sonic booms. And while all that sounds like a serious challenge, perhaps the biggest problem is finding the money to make it all happen.
Bloodhound LSR—formerly Bloodhound SSC—certainly has the pedigree to break the record. It was the brainchild of Richard Noble, who also masterminded the last two successful land-speed-record attempts. (Noble was even behind the wheel for the 1982 record.) Chief aerodynamicist Ron Ayers is another veteran, having designed Thrust SSC before Bloodhound. And the project identified and prepared an 8.5-square mile (22km²) stretch of South Africa’s Hakskeen Pan to conduct the attempt.
Had everything gone to plan—and by everything I mean funding—Bloodhound might have broken the 1,000mph barrier all the way back in 2016, two years after we first looked at the project. But in 2018, the scheme looked to be over, entering administration (a UK equivalent to bankruptcy) after having only reached 210mph (338km/h) in low-speed testing on a runway in the UK.
2019 was a good year for Bloodhound. It found a new owner who saved it from life as a museum curio, and it even arrived in South Africa for the start of high-speed testing. Although it was only equipped with its Rolls Royce EJ200 jet engine, Bloodhound still reached 628mph (1,010kmh) that year.
But going faster will require integrating Bloodhound’s other propulsion source, a monopropellant rocket made by Nammo (a Norwegian aerospace and defense company). And the cost to do that and then conduct the test program to set a new record will require about $11 million, according to current owner Ian Warhurst. In a statement, he said:
When I committed to take the car high-speed testing in 2019, I allocated enough funding to achieve this goal on the basis that alternative funding would then allow us to continue to the record attempts. Along with many other things, the global pandemic wrecked this opportunity in 2020 which has left the project unfunded and delayed by a further 12 months. At this stage, in absence of further, immediate, funding, the only options remaining are to close down the program or put the project up for sale to allow me to pass on the baton and allow the team to continue the project.
With so many billionaires spending so many billions on their own rockets, you’d think one of them might be able to find $11 million behind a couch to help make a little more history.