Space Elevator: October 2006

In the last 24 hours, since the end of the space elevator games, the media has been reporting on the games and of course trying to make it interesting - controversy, arguments, questionable actions,... I am happy to say the games were a little less interesting along those lines and more so along the lines of advancing technology. Below are clarifications on some of the material showing up in the press.

The Space Elevator games just finished up today and it was quite an event. In this post I would like to summarize the games, both the results and the behind the scenes, what it implies and what we can expect in the future.

Pulling together an event of this scale takes a lot of work, time and effort. The Spaceward organization and all the volunteers that pulled this off should be thanked and congratulated – none were paid. The Space Elevator Games area at the X-Prize Cup consisted of a climber row, two large tents lined with the competing teams and their climbers, and a large competition area.

As stated in an earlier post there were a number of activities and some excitement in the climber competition. Well, on Friday, the first day of the event, the operations were worked out and by the time we got to yesterday things were running pretty smoothly though there was still an amazing amount left to accomplish. On Saturday, the climber teams jumped onto the ribbon one after another – nine times total during the day. We had a climber from the USST team race up the ribbon in 58 seconds, a spectacular job though just short of the 1 meter per second required speed (I will discuss this further in future posts since this was a complex decision). The USST team also had a slight issue with their braking system and they had to be lowered back down. This climber did more than any previous climber and was one step beyond the excellent performance of the Michigan team the day before who made it up in under six minutes. Both of these teams put together very mature and similar designs - the engineering on both were clearly the result of a design focused on minimizing weight and maximizing the power through the system. The USST team not only took their system from last year and greatly improved it but they also brought in a kilowatt laser that they had working briefly and almost ran on. This is the ultimate system in my mind and would have been impressive to see. This combination and USST’s demonstrated ability to learn and improve their system will make them a very serious competitor next year.

Saturday continued with the German team, the Litewon, and the Kansas City Space Pirates all ascending the ribbon in times from two to seven minutes. The German team was organized and obviously prepared with a climber that will perpetuate the stereotype of German engineering being some of the most refined. As a team they would hold cheers and run through checklists working in unison.

Well the Space Elevator Games are over and there was no winner in either the Climber (Power Beaming) Competition or the Tether Strength Competition. In the Climber competition the University of Saskatchewan team (USST) came the closest to winning as they actually climbed the ribbon in 58 seconds which was under the one minute requirement however they did not meet all of the requirements to win.

In the Tether competition the Astroaraneae team sponsored by Aerojet based out of Sacramento came the closet and did very well.

By all accounts the competition was very successful. We'll have a complete report within a few days.

It's an exciting day at the Space Elevator Games as the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team (USST) has just posted a 58 second climb meaning that unless someone beats there time and the judges rule that all elements of the team are within the rules then we will have our first NASA Centenial Challenge winner and they will head home with $200k. More to come ... Stay tuned.

Editor's Update: Ben Shelef reports that the judges are confering on one issue that came up with USST's climb. It seems they needed some assitance on the way down. The decision is pending.

After a week of qualifying activities and lots of work, the space elevator games opened at the X-Prize Cup today. Six teams qualified for the climber competition though it is possible that another may qualify tonight. The one attempting to qualify tonight is unique in that it uses a microwave power system. The tether competition will be held tomorrow and will have four competitors - three of the four that previously registered and one additional one.

The climber competition today was interesting from several aspects. Several teams made attempts at climbing the 200 foot ribbon though only one had substantial success. The Michigan team managed to run on spotlight power and ascend the ribbon in 6 minutes - 5 minutes longer than required to win the $200k purse. However, the story is a little more complex than that. The attempts today were all made in a situation where strong winds existed all day at the 130 foot plus altitude. What this meant is that there was a serious oscillation in the ribbon - often moving 5 feet or more with a period of less than a second. This oscillation was seriously shaking the climbers at the base and was sufficient to dissuade two teams from attempting a climb today.

The interesting aspect of the Michigan climb was that as the climber ascended the ribbon it damped out most of the oscillation and made it to the top. The speed was impacted by the challenge of actively aiming eight-7kW spot lights on the bottom of the climber to supply power. When the lights did sufficiently illuminate the solar arrays on the climber it ascended at a rate that would have been sufficient to win the purse had they done it consistantly. With some modifications the Michigan team is hopeful that it can have a successful run tomorrow morning.

The competition has ended today with no more attempts made to climb the ribbon due to the high winds. Everyone is regrouping and will try again tomorrow. We'll have another update either later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Winds at the X Prize Cup are creating havoc today postponing attempts by UBC's Snowstar and the University of Saskatchewan. One team manage to get their climber up the ribbon but unfortunately not in the allocated time.

Another issue that came up was the crane itself being used for the ribbon. It turns out it was too heavy for the airport tarmac so another crane had to be found which delayed the start of today's competition.

Ben Shelef report only the six teams mentioned earlier qualified for the competition. I'm sure the teams that didn't are enjoying themselves none the less and will take the lessons learned and will hopefully be back next year.

The Snowstar team from the Univeristy of British Columbia qualified yesterday bringing the total number of teams to qualify to six. Ted Semon reports on his blog that perhaps one or two more have a realistic chance at qualifying for today's competition.

The team from Spain, Recens, appears to have had their climber lost by UPS on its way to the games. Another team, the Fischer team with their Beamer entry had their climber crash during weigh in which damaged their lens. That leaves Space Miners, StarClimber, and Punkworks still trying to qualify.

A fifth team, the University of Saskatchewan entry, has just qualified for Friday and Saturday's Space Elevator competion. Several more teams will atempt to qualify today however winds are stronger than hoped which is delaying the qualification of some teams.

In the news, the LA Times published "Space Elevator Visions Going Up" story today while over at Steve Kettman has published this story "Nowhere to Go But Up".

Bryan laubscher has sent in a few pictures from yesterday's qualification by the Kansas City Space Pirates. Also qualified for the competition on Friday are TurboCrawler from Germany, the University of Michigan with Climber 1 and LiteWon from Westmont High School in Campbell (correction, not Pasadena), California.

The Kansas City Space Pirates climbers reaches the top and qualifies.

I spoke today with Ben Shelef from the Spaceward Foundation whose managing the Space Elevator Games and he reports that the setup is well underway. Ten or eleven teams will go through the qualification process today through Thursday leading up to the actual competition for NASA's Centennial Challenge, dubbed the Space Elevator Games, starting on Friday.

Ben reports that the Kansas City Space Pirates the first team to try and qualify, easily did so, earlier today. Up next is the the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team (USST).

The weather looks like it will be great this weekend for all the X Prize Cup events. We'll have reports from several sources and you can get updated reports from Ted Semon whose blogging for the Spaceward Foundation.

In a random draw today, Fred Cook, whose Virginia Tech Space Elevator Team was unable to compete this year has won the VIP ticket. Fred will be sending in his first report from the games on Friday. We'll have an update on preparations for this weeks competition tomorrow.

How would like a VIP ticket to the X Prize Cup featuring the Space Elevator Games? I had hoped to go but can't now so I have 1 VIP ticket which I can transfer to you. All I ask is that you send me pictures during the two day event with your thoughts on what's happening. In other words you would become an official Space Elevator Reference blogger for the event. All you need to do is contact me with your name, age and if you have it your web site address (as we'll promote it) and the ticket is yours. I'll pick one name in a random draw and let the winner know by the end of Monday.

The special VIP two-day package includes special flight line access, gourmet food and drinks throughout the day and special presentations, all inside the VIP chalet. VIPs will have exclusive access to a fenced off VIP only area right by the flight line and in close proximity to the Space Elevator Games. VIPs will receive special VIP on-site parking on a first come, first served basis.

Marc Boucher
{mb.editor AT}

With the Space Elevator Games only a week away the media frenzy has begun. This bodes well for the community as we should see some excellent coverage the next week and half which will help further the message that building a space elevator is a viable option for access to space.

Being from Vancouver, Canada I could not help but notice that the Snowstar team from the University of British Columbia got a prominent article in today's Vancouver Sun and was also featured over at the CBC along with Canadian rivals Punkworks from Toronto and the University of Saskatchewan.

I've also received several media requests from Europe. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend the games next week but both Brad and Bryan will be there. If you are there and want to submit some pictures, video and your thoughts just send them to me and I'll be happy to post them and that includes all you bloggers who can blog using your Blackberry's or smart phones.

This is getting exciting.

Marc Boucher
{mb.editor AT}

One of the most critical components of the space elevator is the climber. It is second only to the ribbon in importance and perfection of design. As we will see shortly at the X-Prize Cup, building the perfect climber is not an easy task but getting close is well within grasp.

The baseline climber consists of a few basic components: the power system, the drive system, the payload and the infrastructure. We will get into each of these but before we do we need to understand the goal – hauling cargo, whatever it may be, up the ribbon. The climber meets this goal by lifting the maximum payload at a specified ascent speed. A quick glance at the basic layout of a climber and we quickly understand that to maximize the payload at a given speed we need to minimize the mass of the other components – the power system, the drive system and the infrastructure. This means optimizing the systems to work together and for their precise purpose.

Space Elevator Climber

Less than two weeks from now the Centennial Challenge-sponsored power beaming and tether events will be held at the X-Prize Cups. These events, which have also been called the elevator games and climber challenge for the power beaming event, have been mentioned before on this site and will be covered in detail after they occur. The interest in these events is because they directly relate to the construction of a real space elevator.

The tether challenge focuses on the primary hurdle for the space elevator – macroscopic material with the strength sufficient to build the space elevator ribbon. Plenty of places now produce carbon nanotubes in bulk but no commercial entity is producing any threads, fibers or bulk material that can be used for structures. The distinction is critical and so is the progress on this front. The initial competition with a $50k prize was not sufficient to spur development but the recently announced increase in the prizes for the two challenges to $4M over the next few years should help increase interest.

Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator
Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator is a new book by our very own editor Brad Edwards and Philip Ragan. It's not a technical book and is geared as an introduction to the Space Elevator concept so that everyone can grasp what the community is trying to do.

It's available from Lulu for $15.26 as a PDF download or in print for $25.00. If you're mystified by what a Space Elevator is and how it might one day get you into space it's worth a read.

Here's the promo for the book from the site:

"An easy guide to the most exciting development in space travel since the rocket. Stripped of the technical jargon, this is a laymans guide to the breathtaking developments surrounding the space elevator: a plan to string a 100,000 km from Earth to space, revolutionising space access."

Running the Line
Running the Line is a new book edited by Brad Edwards and David Raitt. The book is a result of the second Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition organized by the European Space Agency's Technology Transfer and Promotion Office with the theme of Space Elevators. The competition generated 109 stories and images submitted from 29 different countries. It's available from Lulu for $14.95. A must have book for any Space Elevator fan.

Here's the promo for the book from the site:

"Science fiction is the realm of dreams, ambitions, hopes and fears. Science is what separates fiction from reality. But what happens when science and technology progress to the point where we can make science fiction reality? That junction is currently where we find the space elevator - poised at the brink of existence. Works of science fiction first fleshed out the concept of a space elevator and we have called upon the brightest young writers to explore the possibilities of a future with the space elevator.

In Running the Line the dawning of the space elevator, the far distant future and every place in between is examined. Young authors tackle construction of the first elevator, skydiving from space, regattas, colonizing the galaxy to returning home. These brilliant stories give us a glimpse of what will happen and perhaps a warning of what to prepare for."

The Space Elevator on Mars

In a forward-looking move NASA has decided there is enough merit in the Space Elevator concept to offer more substantial prizes to help motivate teams to innovate further. This is truly exciting news and comes just about two weeks before the Space Elevator Games.

Here's an excerpt from the press release issued by the Spaceward Foundation;

"The new agreement expands the time-frame of both the Beam Power and the Tether Challenges from one year to five years through the year 2010, and provides incrementally larger total purses for years two through five above the $200K purse in year one for each contest. For the second through the fifth years, the total prize purses to be offered for each competition each year are$300K, $400K, $500K, and $600K, respectively."

Max Born College from Ruhrarea, Germany has posted a video of their Turbo Crawler in action.

Ben Shelef at the Spaceward Foundation has issued an update to the Space Elevator Games. With only 18 days before the games it looks like things are coming together nicely.

Here's an excerpt from the update.

"Probably the most interesting part of the games this year will not happen during the competition itself, but during the week leading to it.

In this week, we will set up a little "Olympic village", at the county fairgrounds next to the airport. The purpose of this week is for the teams to assemble and integrate their Space Elevator climbers with our track infrastructure. "