New Space and Tech

Luxembourg Climber and Tether Workshop

By Marc Boucher
April 8, 2013
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This past week Eurospaceward held a workshop to discuss the construction of climbers and tethers for competition. This is the first of its kind and was held in Europe to encourage participation by our colleagues there. The conference was generously supported by the National Research Fund of Luxembourg.

There were approximately 50 attendees from all over Europe, the U.S., Canada and Japan. The talks covered specifics of what was successful at the recent games and where issues arose in the entries, plans for the 2008 games and discussions of the rapid development of carbon nanotubes which are widely expected to be the material to beat at the games in the future. …
The most exciting components of the workshop centered around two areas: the development of carbon nanotube threads with a tensile strength of 20 GPa and the plans for next year’s SE games.

Marcelo Motta from Cambridge presented their most recent work which is to be published in Science this week. Over the last three years they have steadily improved their CNT production techniques and are now able to make threads with strengths as high as 20 GPa. This is a strength improvement of roughly 100 over the last 4 or five years for the group at Cambridge. Marcelo noted the challenges to scaling up the process but this achievement is monumental. It is a large step toward what is needed for the space elevator and demonstrates the basic truth that strong CNT threads can be made.

In addition to the Cambridge work Vessilin Shanov from the University of Cincinnati presented their accomplishments in growing CNT arrays up to 18 mm long. This was noted by Marcelo as an accomplishment that paves the way for even better threads. These two presentations covered the best leading work in CNTs today.

In discussions of the SE Games for 2008 Ben Shelef announced that Spaceward is seriously considering a climber height for next year of 1 km – ten times what it was this year. It was also evident that there is growing interest in the games at NASA and in private industry because of the performance of the teams and particularly USST’s laser-powered ascent. Shelef stated an interest in Spaceward providing lasers for teams to use in 2008. This would greatly reduce the expenses on the teams and allow more to compete. Other changes for next year include the ribbon being replaced by a cable, the crane being replaced by a balloon and the prize money going up to $900k for both the tether and climber competitions. An addition to this is that in the last couple days Spaceward has released that it is considering raising the prize purse to $2M for each competition if higher performance is accomplished. With the state of the competitors these requirements are within reach.

In addition to the CNT and 2008 SE Games discussions the workshop provided valuable information from the organizers and the teams on what needs to be done to be a successful competitor. The basic design issues of the climbers and tethers and the tactics of the teams were discussed. There were obvious traits (technical skill) but much time was spent discussing the less obvious and more critical components of how the winning teams tended to focus on their own climber and what they needed to make it happen whereas the less successful teams tended to worry about the other teams, had less organization and more personal conflict issues.

The presentations from the workshop will be posted at eth Eurospaceward site in the coming weeks. From the success of this event it is expected that it could be a regular endeavor.

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