New Space and Tech

Clarifications on Space Elevator Games Media

By Marc Boucher
April 8, 2013
Filed under

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.
Some of the items reported included:

“But organizers soon realized they did not know whether the ribbon used in the competition was 50 metres or 60 metres long.” CBC News

The length of the ribbon was known, knowing if the climber ascended at 1 m/s takes a little more calculation. The length of travel depends on where the climber starts, the length of the ribbon, the stretch in the ribbon, where it stops at the top, the size of the climber, etc. In a competition like this things must be done carefully and that is what was done and so we took a day to do it properly. There was no uncertainty but 57 seconds was so close to the requirement that we had to check everything twice. Had we simply used the known length of the ribbon we would have come up with an incorrect speed of over 1 m/s. Correcting for the starting point, ending point and size of climber we find that the speed was correctly less than 1 m/s. The speed was calculated correctly and carefully. Had the climber ascended in 30 seconds we could have made the decision immediately but 57 seconds was borderline. It was also stated in the press that the speed requirement was unclear. To win the prize a climber must travel at 1 m/s. A simple statement of X seconds would be be a different performance for each climber and clearly unfair. I should state that the organizers were also frustrated and disappointed that they were unable to give USST the prize – they hoped to award the prize, thought USST was the closest to winning it and had tried to be as flexible as possible in trying to award the prize. I would also like to state that all of my discussions with USST during this was positive and the team extremely gracious. Even when told they were on the edge and offered another run to insure they made it, they turned it down to allow another team to take another shot at the climb. This was the part of the event that was very rewarding. The teams worked together sharing parts and resources to see someone win even if it might be a competitor. I was proud of several teams for how the carried themselves.

“Sometimes the games got a bit ragged around the edges: The Climber Competition had to be extended to Sunday at the fairgrounds because some of the qualifying teams didn’t get a chance to make their three allotted runs on Friday and Saturday. The frustration of dealing with the delays, the debates over the rules, and gusty desert winds (which were blamed for most of Sunday’s breakdowns) caused tempers to flare.” MSNBC

There was never a specification or implication that the teams each got three runs. UBC, the team that has complained the most publically, received the most attempts and time on the ribbon while several others never made it on the ribbon due to their own technical difficulties. Every team was given as much time as possible. The extra day was added because X-Prize Cup made a decision on Saturday to not allow the elevator games to operate the microwave teams because it might interfere with the Armadillo flight. Otherwise no activities would have been held on Sunday. The steady winds, which occurred on all days did make the ribbon oscillate – this is expected but no climber was damaged due to this. It was also seen that the oscillations were largely damped out as soon as a climber began ascending the ribbon. The oscillation shook climbers but they largely seemed to do fine.

“One of the sorest points came when the teams were asked to collect trash at the fairgrounds staging area before the start of Sunday’s attempts. “Is this science or is this garbage collection?” one onlooker complained heatedly.” MSNBC

The fairgrounds were where the climber teams set-up, modified and worked on their climbers for the entire week before the event. This was not where spectators had been or anyone else. With the dozen teams and perhaps a hundred people the place had a lot of activity, hardware and, yes, trash. Imagine a mountain of pizza boxes. This was generated by the teams and partially by the organizers not by spectators or other individuals. I was not there but I would be surprized if everyone were not asked to clean up the area.

There have also been reports of controversy on the tether competition because one team felt they were unfairly disqualified because their tether was too short. The rule was clear – 2 meters. The standard for measuring the tethers was actually shorter than 2 meters to give the entrants the shadow of a doubt. So even though it has been stated that UBC was disqualified because they were short by “half a millimeter”, they were actually much shorter because of the extra leaway given by the organizers in the measurement. I made the house tether and made the mistake of making it too short initially. I checked it prior to the event, found my mistake, threw it out and started again. Another entrant that was disqualified was a professional. His tether was too short, he admitted his mistake, made a joke at his own expense and accepted the judgement. No displaced blame, no complaints.

I would like to get feedback from spectators and the teams as to their opinion of the event. We each have our unique perspective and I would like to understand the others.


2006 Climber (Power Beaming) Competition Rules (Bottom of page)
Space Elevator Tether Competition Rules (Bottom of page)

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.