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Space Elevator: October 2007


Tom Nugent wanted to clarify what problems they had when they did their first climbing attempt. Earlier I had reported that "the team experienced power issues that prevented them getting power to their laser." Here's Tom explanation of the problems.

"We did have a brief incident with a shorting wire (the source of that smoke in the one photo), but we were able to repeatedly power our lasers and get power from our PV array.

Our issues had to do with vehicle electronics. Specifically, some last-minute changes made our motor controller stop working. On our second attempt that night, we're pretty sure that the vehicle tried to climb, but the guy holding the belay line wound up holding the vehicle down. He was outside the safety curtains and hence couldn't see in. He was new and didn't know enough about the system or the belay line, and we just didn't communicate properly at midnight in the rain. It is, of course, extremely frustrating that holding the bottom belay line prevented us from qualifying, but we'll learn from our mistakes and improve our system and procedures for next year."

Great Light Racers Championship
One of the new events at the Spaceward Games this year was the Light Racers Championship.

Aimed at students, the teams compete in solving a real NASA lunar exploration problem: building a rover that can operate in a permanently shadowed area of the moon. Several teams competed and at last report at least one team won some of the prize money. These image and video are courtesy Ted Semon at the Space Elevator Blog.

Courtesy Ted Semon at the Space Elevator Blog, here's the fifth in a series of videos of the University of Saskatchewan climbs that almost took the prize.

The University of Saskatchewan climbs the ribbon in evening competition.

Ted Semon reports on the Space Elevator Blog that no team successfully climbed the ribbon in the alloted time today, although once again this year, the University of Saskatchewan came within seconds of winning the NASA sponsored Power Beaming challenge. Technology Tycoons and the Kansas City Space Pirates also tried but came up short today.

With no team winning the tether challenge either, next years events look to be even more exciting.

This evening the University of Saskatchewan climbed the 400 foot ribbon in spurts tonight nearing the top but not quite making it and taking quite a bit of time in doing so. They feel they've identified the problem and will try to fix it before they try to win it all tomorrow. Team E-T-C tried to climb the ribbon again tonight as well but had more troubles and failed to make it up.

Tomorrow, which is an unscheduled added day to the competition due to weather problems, the four finalist will try one more time to climb the 400 foot ribbon in less than a minute and have controlled descent. Should anyone succeed they would win the $500,000 prize.

Unfortunately I will not be able to cover tomorrow's event as I must return back home. However I will post updates tomorrow evening including some additional images and video from this evenings competition.

Three of the four finalists have had an opportunity to try and win the NASA sponsored Power Beaming challenge here at the Spaceward Games. However none have met the criteria to win. The Kansas City Space Pirates came the closest. UBC is done competing while the Kansas City Space Pirates had their climber severely damaged on the way down the climber aren't sure if they can continue competing but they are trying to make repairs. The Technology Tycoons are just waiting for another opportunity to try and win it all. However before they can try again the laser powered University of Saskatchewan team still has to make their first attempt. With the winds picking up the competition is on gold until around 7:00 pm when the University of Saskatchewan will get their first attempt in.

New videos have been added to our video channel including the Technology Tycoons first attempt today and a video of yesterdays tether challenge.

The Kansas City Space Pirates came close to having a climb that would be considered a winning climb however they ran over the alloted time by approximately 18 seconds. The unofficial time recorded by NASA representative Ken Davidian was 1:18. And while their climber did perform well on the way up it experienced problems on the way down as panels started coming off as the picture below shows.



Kansas City Space Pirates in the finals


[The Kansas City Space Pirates climber ascending the ribbon in the finals competition. Click on image for larger version.]

Kansas City Space Pirates in the finals
[The Kansas City Space Pirates climber loses some of its panels during its descent in the the finals competition. Click on image for larger version.]


[The video is a little shaky as I was using my left hand
to shoot the video and my right hand to take pictures.]

The technology Tycoons used their first attempt in the finals as a test run and almost reach the top of the 400 foot ribbon coming within five feet of the top. They did not however meet the criteria to win the prize and will try again at around 4:00 pm. Pictures will be posted soon.

Technology Tycoons in the finals
[Technology Tycoons climber ascends almost to the top of the 400 foot the ribbon in the finals competition. Click on image for larger version.]

Although UBC failed to meet the criteria to win the power beaming climber NASA sponsored challenge they did get their climber almost to the top of the 400 foot ribbon. Unfortunately they have leave today so they won't get another opportunity to try for the prize.


UBC in the finals
[The University of British Columbia climber ascending the ribbon in the finals competition. Click on image for larger version.]
UBC in the finals
[The University of British Columbia climber ascending the ribbon in the finals competition. Click on image for larger version.]
UBC in the finals
[The University of British Columbia climber ascending the ribbon in the finals competition. Click on image for larger version.]

The weather is absolutely perfect right now and the power beaming climber competition will get underway at 11:00 AM. This begins the 2 day finals phase of the competition. The competition is being extended through Monday as we've had some bad weather this week. The following is the order of competition:

11 am - University of British Columbia
12 pm - Technology Tycoons
1 pm - Kansas City Space Pirates
2 pm - Kansas City Space Pirates
3 pm - LaserMotive (not competing for prize)
4 pm - Technology Tycoons
5 pm - Team E-T-C (not competing for prize)
6 pm - University of Saskatchewan
7 pm - University of Saskatchewan

Today's climber is scheduled to start at noon and the weather conditions are looking good. Today is supposed to be the last day of the competition and we'll see if the four finalists can meet the challenge and win the $500,000 up for grabs.

We'll have our webcams online by 10:30 this morning so you can follow along.

The news of the afternoon at the Spaceward Games was that no one won this years version of the NASA sponsored tether challenge. The two teams competing this year for the $500,000 prize were MIT and Astroaraneae (Space Spiders). The format had them going head to head first to see whose tether would break first. It was no match, the MIT tether came apart practically at the get go. This was because it was not a continuous tether, but rather was tied at one end in a knot. Having beat MIT, Astroaraneae decided not to compete against the house tether as they felt they could not beat them this year. However with continued improvements in their manufacturing process they feel they would have a chance to win next year.

Also today was the Great Light-Racer Championship. Aimed at students, the teams compete in solving a real NASA lunar exploration problem: building a rover that can operate in a permanently shadowed area of the moon. Several teams competed and at last report at least one team won some of the prize money. More details and pictures will be available later.

The weather is again an issue at this years Spaceward Games. Organizers had to cancel today's climber attempts due to rain and wind. However the Great Light-Racer Championship is going ahead as it's an indoor event. Aimed at students, the teams compete in solving a real NASA lunar exploration problem: building a rover that can operate in a permanently shadowed area of the moon.

The other event going ahead today is the tether challenge, another NASA sponsored Centennial Challenger and this year there are two entries. One from MIT and the is Astroaraneae. They are both competing for a $500,000 prize. The event is scheduled to start at 5:00 pm.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is looking better with a smaller chance of rain and diminishing winds as the day progresses. Every attempt will be made to get the finals of the power beaming climber challenge started and perhaps completed without having to go an extra day as most teams have to leave by Monday.

To note our webcams are offline right now as the climber event has been postponed for the day however we might have one on for the indoor tether challenge later this afternoon.

The Space Elevator Reference has launched a video channel at the Spaceward Games. In addition to videos from the ongoing competition the Space Elevator Reference will post other videos as they become available and is accepting submissions. Please contact Marc Boucher at {mb.editor AT spaceelevator.com}.

The Space Elevator Reference video channel is a preview of one of the services that will be available on On Orbit, a new service being offered by SpaceRef Interactive Inc. owners of the Space Elevator Reference.

We have warm, beautiful day today however the wind is just to strong to run the climbers up the ribbon. Winds have been gusting at 15-20 mph.

Rigging and crane coming down for the day.
[With the strong winds the climber rigging is
taken down for the day and the crane is about to stowed as well.]

Qualifying lasted until the early hours of the morning with Centaurus the last team trying to qualify but failing at 1:00 am. At this point four teams have qualified to compete for this years chance at NASA's Centennial Challenge prize for power beaming which has a $500,000 prize. They are:

1. Kansas City Space Pirates (solar powered)
2. Technology Tycoons (solar powered)
3. University of British Columbia - Snowstar (solar powered)
4. University of Saskatchewan (laser powered)

Teams not qualifying but who will be given an opportunity to climb the 400 foot ribbon after competing teams have had the first opportunity are:

1. McGill University (microwave powered)
2. Team E-T-C (Earth Track Controllers) (spotlight powered)
3. Centaurus (microwave powered)
4. LaserMotive (laser powered)

Most disappointing was the fact that team LaserMotive was not able to qualify. An advanced design with lots of promise, the team experienced power issues that prevented them getting power to their laser. They will get another opportunity to test their system while here, but won't be able to compete for the prize. Based on what I've seen this team will be back next year if no one wins the competition.

USST qualifies
[The University of Saskatchewan laser powered climber prepares for its attempt at climbing the ribbon. Click on image for larger version.]

It's been a long night here but we're almost wrapping things up. McGill University and Centaurus tried qualifying but unfortunately both ran into technical issues and neither qualified. Centaurus is about to give it one last shot.

The bright news of the night is that the team from the University of Saskatchewan which needed FAA approval before attempting their climb due to the class f laser the were using qualified, but just barely. On their second attempt their climber shot through up the ribbon before sliding back down.

USST qualifies
[The University of Saskatchewan laser powered climber ascends the ribbon. In this image you can see the laser on the climber. Click on image for larger version.]

Despite their best efforts, the LaserMotive team could not get their system going in the allocated time and had to give up. Unfortunately for them that's it for this year.

LaserMotive fails to qualify
[Click on image for larger version.]

UPDATE:

Tom Nugent wanted to clarify what problems they had when they did their first climbing attempt. Earlier I had reported that "the team experienced power issues that prevented them getting power to their laser."

"We did have a brief incident with a shorting wire (the source of that smoke in the one photo), but we were able to repeatedly power our lasers and get power from our PV array.

Our issues had to do with vehicle electronics. Specifically, some last-minute changes made our motor controller stop working. On our second attempt that night, we're pretty sure that the vehicle tried to climb, but the guy holding the belay line wound up holding the vehicle down. He was outside the safety curtains and hence couldn't see in. He was new and didn't know enough about the system or the belay line, and we just didn't communicate properly at midnight in the rain. It is, of course, extremely frustrating that holding the bottom belay line prevented us from qualifying, but we'll learn from our mistakes and improve our system and procedures for next year."

It's 8:15 pm Mountain Time here at the Spaceward Games and final qualification is underway. Teams provisionally qualified to get to this point but the four remaining teams, LaserMotive, the University of Saskatchewan, McGill University and Centaurus need to qualify by midnight to be eligible for the finals. That leaves a precious 3 1/2 hours to get their climbers ready. It should be noted that these teams have the most sophisticated climbers in the competition. While three teams have qualified so far, Technology Tycoons, Kansas City Space Pirates and UBC, they all used simpler solar powered climbers. The teams remaining are using laser or microwave power beaming systems. A years worth of work for these teams is about to be tested, hopefully they can pull it off.

The order for tonights qualifying is:

1. LaserMotive
2. Centaurus
3. McGill University
4. University of Saskatchewan

PS Because of darkness our webcams are offline until tomorrow.

Here's a panorama and Quicktime VR of the Spaceward Games 2007 venue with the UBC getting ready to climb the ribbon with their climber.

Spaceward Games 2007 Venue Panorama

[Click Image for lager version - Click here for Quicktime VR Pan]

This afternoon teams had the opportunity to improve on their qualifying results of yesterday. Because of the bad weather yesterday, provisional qualifying was held indoors to see if teams could attach their climbers and show they could climb the ribbon, stop and descend the ribbon safely. All the teams except Centaurus succeeded.

Today they were to continue qualification by going up to the top of the 100 foot ribbon and come back down. With the sun hiding behind the clouds much of the day this proved a challenging task for the solar powered teams.

Four teams attempted to climb the ribbon this afternoon. First up was team E-T-C and they did not succeed. A power issues seems to have been the problem. Later in the afternoon they tried again and unfortunately did not succeed again. The same issue seems to have plagued on their latest run.


E-T-C attempts qualifying.
[The small crane, yes the small 100 foot crane is setup for a team to qualify. Later in the day the 400 foot crane is setup.]

Updated at 4:50 Mountain Time with new Technology Tycoon video.

The weather today has improved to the point where one of the big cranes is currently being setup so teams can attempt to climb the 100 foot ribbon with their climbers. We have two webcams focused on today's activities. One provides a zoomed in look at the action on the ground and the other is the big picture view showing the crane from a distance so you cansee the climbers as they ascend the ribbon.

The order of competition today is:

1. Team E-T-C
2. University of British Columbia
3. Technology Tycoons
4. Kansas City Space Pirates

If other teams are ready they'll get chance at climbing the ribbon as well.

The LaserMotive team from Seattle qualified easily for the NASA sponsored Centennial Power Beaming Climber challenger.


E-T-C or the Earth Track Controllers team, a Japanese-American collaboration qualify for the NASA sponsored Centennial Power Beaming Climber challenge.

Technology Tycoons, a high school team from Campbell, California qualify for the NASA sponsored Centennial Power Beaming climber challenge.

McGill University easily qualified for the finals.

Despite the bad weather which included hail, snow and lots of rain the organizers came up with a way for teams to attempt to qualify today. Here's a video of the University of Saskatchewan team testing their climber just before they attempted and qualified for the finals.

Update: Both of our webcams are now online.

Weather has become an issue at the Spaceward Games. No teams were able to qualify today because of wind, rain and the possibility of thunder showers. The weather is not supposed to be good tomorrow so qualification might not resume until Thursday. And the long term forecast is not looking promising. With that in mind, organizers and team leaders discussed at an afternoon meeting the option of extending the competition into Monday and perhaps Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Spaceward Games 2007
The UBC-Snowstar team was going to make an attempt at qualifying but unfortunately the wind was too strong for their climber which was slightly damaged when they tried attaching it to the ribbon.

Day 1 of the Spaceward Games, 2007 edition, is in the books. Today was a day for teams to arrive, setup and begin qualifying for the Power Beaming challenge. The only team that was ready was the Kansas City Space Pirates who easily qualified, although not without some technical issues which they hope to resolve before the final challenge begins on Friday.

I arrived just after 1:00 pm today to find Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation working hard with the volunteers to get the crane setup so that the teams could begin qualifying. By 2:30 pm they were ready to go.

Tomorrow they'll try to get the rest of the teams here to qualify. We're still waiting for several of the teams to show up. I'm hoping that we can have the webcams up by noon tomorrow. Here are a couple of pictures from today. Ted Semon of the Space Elevator Blog has some video up from today.

Spaceward Games 2007
Ben Shelef works on getting some of the equipment ready so teams can begin qualifying.

Spaceward Games 2007
The 100 meter crane is readied for today's qualifying.

Spaceward Games 2007
The Kansas City Space Pirates getting their mirrors ready to focus them on their climber.

Spaceward Games 2007
The Kansas City Space Pirates attach their climber to the ribbon in preparation to qualify.

Spaceward Games 2007
The Kansas City Space Pirates climber is reflected in the mirror that powers its climb.

Spaceward Games 2007
The Kansas City Space Pirates climber climbs the ribbon in good time and qualifies for the finals.

The games are almost upon us (www.spaceward.org). Marc Boucher is already on the road to Salt Lake City and I (Brad Edwards) will be heading down in a couple days to help with the set-up and endless final details prior to the opening next Friday (October 19th). The endeavor has been developing and growing and this year will be interesting. It is not a backyard tinkering event for geeks, it is getting serious and turning into a fun event for all.

Opening at the Davis county fairgrounds the event has been expanded. There will be the climbers racing up a ribbon hung from a 400 foot tall crane and the tethers being broken at an inside event alongside light racers (beamed power-driven remote controlled race cars). In between climber runs, racing cars and tether pulls a jumbotron will be showing various space elevator-related videos including the Discovery and NOVA specials and the newest from Japan and several other activities and experts will be available to give the uninitiated an understanding of the space elevator. All of this is now packaged in a colorful fair-type environment complete with food vendors. The center of the activity will be the climbers that race and those that fail. With plenty of room and cameras on the climbers and following their ascent it will be easily accessible to all. As in past years spectators will be able to get close to the competitors at climber row and see what’s been built and talk to the teams. The serious part is that the climbers now have backers, years of development and power. The first two years the power sources were strictly spot lights and reflected solar and though there will be some of these this year, the ones to watch may be those with the multikilowatt lasers (a million times more powerful than a laser pointer) and the microwave systems. These could race at speeds easily enough to win the prize but they are complex systems and certainly a smoking “agony of defeat” is a real possibility in some cases.

I will be heading to the Spaceward Games arriving on Monday morning to help Ben Shelef and the Spaceward team as well as setting up two webcams to broadcast the event. Because of scheduling conflicts I missed the previous two years events. I'm looking forward to meeting the teams and seeing how much progress has been made from last year.

Marc Boucher


Recently Tom Strictland of the Clean Technologies Corporation called me and left a message basically saying that their solid Carbon NanoSphere Chains might be useful for the Space Elevator. Not being an expert on nanomaterial I'll leave it up to the experts to comment on this. Some information on their Carbon NanoSphere Chains is available online.

Skip Rung of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) wrote an interesting article today in Nanotechnology Now about how to make nanomanufacturing lean and green with a mention about materials for a space elevator. Here's an excerpt:

"Nanotechnology (which mostly means nanomaterials) has its own related issues. I heard a presentation today (a good one) by a company that produces or is developing grades of carbon nanotubes ranging from $50/g (for a somewhat mixed grade of material with residual catalyst impurities) to $200,000/gram for the ultimate in selectivity and purity. It is somewhat doubtful that the space elevator cable can afford the former price, but not doubtful at all that the higher figure is out of the question. Those familiar with the fabrication details of nanomaterials know that achieving high purity and uniformity is difficult and expensive."

The IEEE Spectrum magazine has a good Q&A looking back at the first 50 years in space with Sir Arthur C. Clarke including the following on the Space Elevator.

SPECTRUM: You have lived to see one of your key ideas—geosynchronous satellites—come to fruition. Another idea of yours—the Space Elevator—is coming closer to reality. Do you have any further thoughts on the Space Elevator?

CLARKE: I am very encouraged by the widespread acceptance of the Space Elevator, which can make space transport cheap and affordable to ordinary people. This concept, which I popularised in The Fountains of Paradise (1978), is now taken very seriously, with space agencies and entrepreneurs investing money and effort in developing prototypes. A dozen of these parties competed for the NASA-sponsored, US $150 000 X Prize Cup which took place in October 2006 at the Las Cruces International Airport, New Mexico.

What makes the Space Elevator such an attractive idea is its cost-effectiveness. A ticket to orbit now costs tens of millions of dollars (as the millionaire space tourists have paid). But the actual energy required, if you purchased it from your friendly local utility, would only add about hundred dollars to your electricity bill. And a round-trip would cost only about one tenth of that, as most of the energy could be recovered on the way back!

Once it is built, the Space Elevator could be used to lift payloads, passengers, pre-fabricated components of spacecraft, as well as rocket fuel up to Earth orbit. In this way, more than 90 per cent of the energy needed for the exploration of the Solar System could be provided by Earth-based energy sources. When the Space Elevator becomes a reality in the coming decades, the most expensive components of orbital travel will be in-flight movies and catering.

In case you missed it, Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation was on the Space Show in late August to talk about the Space Elevator and Spaceward. Here's the background on the show:


"Ben Shelef, co-founder of Spaceward Foundation (www.spaceward.org), was the guest for this show. Spaceward is sponsoring the 2007 climber and space elevator games in Salt Lake City this year, Oct. 19-21, 2007. Check it out at the Spaceward Foundation website. Not only did Ben tell us about the climber contest and also the tether contest, he noted that for winners there is a million dollars to give away courtesy our favorite NASA! Its $500K for the winner of each contest but Ben explains this and the rules so read up on it, plus the other events to be held at this competition. After discussing the coming Salt Lake City competition, the facilities, hotel, etc, Ben got lots of good space elevator questions. We talked about a lunar elevator and an elevator for Mars. We even discussed the Martian moons and an elevator. You will not want to miss this discussion as its most informative. As for the competition, there are more than 20 teams from the US, Canada and Japan. Listen to how Ben describes their technology. Its certainly going to be exciting this year. If you have questions for Ben Shelef about the upcoming Salt Lake City competition, the space elevator, the Spaceward Foundation, please email him at Ben@spaceward.org or as always, you can forward your comments and questions to him through me at drspace@thespaceshow.com. And check the Spaceward website for more information and announcements about the coming games and the results."


In two weeks time the first of 24 teams will will begin qualifications in the Space Elevator Power Beaming and Tether Strength Competition for a chance at a $1,000,000 offered by NASA through its Centennial Challenges.

The Spaceward Games 2007 of which the The Space Elevator Games is a part of this year is being held at the Davis County Event Center just north of Salt Lake City, Utah between October 15-21 with the Space Elevator Games qualifying starting on the 15th. The public portion of the games will begin on October 19th and run through the 21st.

In addition to the Space Elevator competition the Spaceward Games will also feature the 2007 Great Light-Racer Championship (GLRC). Here's how Spaceward describes the GLRC:

"The Great Light-Racer Championship is a technology and science competition designed for parent/child, teacher/students, or RC car hobbyist teams. The teams compete in solving a real NASA lunar exploration problem: building a rover that can operate in a permanently shadowed area of the moon. Competition rovers consist of an electric RC car, modified to operate using a beam of light as its power source."

The Spaceward Games 2007 is a perfect event for the family providing insight into future technologies as well as educating young and old alike in an entertaining environment. The crew from the Space Elevator Reference will be attending and reporting on the daily events as they happen.