Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy Is Becoming a TV Show

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, the trilogy was EXCELLENT.  Exciting, thought-provoking, outstanding science-fiction.  On the other hand, the destruction to the Planet Mars following the sabotage of the Martian Space Elevator was gloriously, elaborately, excruciatingly described.

Current thinking dictates that a “real” space elevator would not be built like the one that Robinson described in Red Mars but I fear that is going to get lost in the shuffle.  I can already imagine the reaction once this production goes live; “See, we must never build a space elevator because it’s too dangerous – look what could happen!

On the other hand, there is the old saw about “There is no such thing as bad publicity”.  Yeah, right.  Maybe we can seize it as a “teaching moment”? :(

Still, I’m looking forward to it – I hope they do justice to the book and it doesn’t turn out to be one of these “loosely based upon…” productions.

And, if you haven’t read the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy, you’re missing a treat.  It really is wonderful reading, well deserving the many awards it received.

65th International Astronautical Congress gets underway

The International Astronautical Foundation is hosting its 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada, from September 29th through October 3rd at the Metro Toronto Convention Center.

The Space Elevator, and progress towards building it, will be well represented during this Conference. Dr. Peter Swan, the President of ISEC, will be giving a couple of presentations and Stephen Cohen, Technical Editor of Volume 3 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal will also be presenting.

A new look!

I haven’t updated the “look-and-feel” of this website in, well, forever.  I’m a guy who always recommends to my friends that they keep their software up-to-date, but I guess I’m also like the carpenter and his own home…

Anyway, we’re now on WordPress 4.0, the current version, and have a new theme for the site.  I tried many of the ones out there (both free and for-fee), but wound up using the 2012 theme packaged with WordPress.  Clean, simple, neat, just the way I like it.  And the masthead, designed by Susan Seichrist, which looked really great with the old site theme, looks absolutely awesome (IMHO) with this new site theme (Thanks again Susan!).  The old site was a bit too condensed and this one is much more ‘airy’, maybe even too much.  I might be slightly modifying some of the .css over the next few weeks as I get more used to this new theme.  Or maybe not :)

I still have a few minor tweaks to do; conference pictures from this year are not yet appearing (those pesky spaces in file names) and several posts can now be made to ‘look better’ with the new theme.

Anyway, hope you like it – and now back to posting – I have a lot of new items for everyone!

A new space elevator documentary needs your help!

A new space elevator documentary is being created and it needs your help!  The good folks over at Going Up! Films have been following all of the efforts in the space elevator arena for the past several years, interviewing and filming, and they are now ready to finalize the documentary film they are creating.

They have started a Kickstarter campaign and we need everyone who is interested in the space elevator (or just cool projects in general) to participate and DONATE!

The film is to be called “Sky Line: The Space Elevator Documentary” and will cover (in their words):

“For the past several years, the SKY LINE team has been following the space elevator community as they pursue a seemingly impossible vision. From attending various scientific gatherings, to covering NASA’s high-stakes Space Elevator Games, we got to know the major players and watch their successes and struggles, both personal and professional.  As we wrap up filming and head into post-production, we’re asking for your help with finishing funds, so we can bring this fascinating story to life.”

If you support the idea of a Space Elevator, if you want to help get the word out to everyone, please DONATE and support this project.  I have and I hope you will too.

Visit their Kickstarter website to donate and to see the (very cool) trailer…

NASA Spinoffs

While this topic is not directly related to a space-elevator, I thought you would find it as interesting as I did.  And, with the recent news that NASA has chosen Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to/from the Space Station, it’s pretty timely.

Krista Coleman sent me a link to an infographic, a portion reproduced below, detailing some of the spinoffs that have been created due to NASA’s efforts over the past several decades.  Some I already knew, some were surprises to me.

Who knew that we could blame NASA for selfies!

To see the entire infographic, click here.

Thanks Krista!

The Space Elevator appears in the NSS Ad Astra magazine

In the Fall, 2014 issue of the National Space Society’s Ad Astra magazine, there is a four page article on the Space Elevator.

Unlocking the potential of space elevators is a four page article, written by Peter Swan (president of ISEC) and Cathy Swan, that referenced and summarized the recent IAA study on Space Elevators.  The whole article (which you can read here) is very good, but for me, the “money quote” was:

“The mission [for space business] for success is simple: Reduce the price for access to GEO to $500/kg while changing the model to: daily, routine, smooth-riding, less dangerous, environmentally sound, open size/mass criteria and mission enabling.”

Indeed…

GEO, the SE center of mass and tether taper…

One of the items which popped up in my FeedDemon Reader a while ago was a Blog post from a group called Sustainable Nano. They are: “The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology is an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to carry out research that will enable the development of sustainable, societally beneficial nanotechnologies. We are a group of well-connected but geographically diffuse scientists—at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Hamers & Pedersen groups), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Klaper group), the University of Minnesota (Haynes group), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Murphy group), Northwestern University (Geiger group), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Orr).” It’s a neat website with plenty of interesting posts – I do like poking around in it.

Anyway to the post in question: “Space Elevator: A Lasting Dream for a Sky-reaching Tree“. The post describes the basics of the space elevator and how a product like carbon nanotubes, one of their group’s focus, could make it all possible. Pretty standard stuff, but the graphics are worth commenting on…

The first graphic shows how a space elevator is “held up” by using the comparison to holding a stick with a rope attached to it and, the other end of the rope attached to some sort of counterweight. Spin the rope about your head (or, in the post’s example, spin your entire body) and, if you’re going fast enough, the rope will stick out straight from you towards the counterweight simulating the appearance of a space elevator. This is a common enough analogy, but does have its flaws. A space elevator is held up by balancing the forces of gravity and centrifugal force but this analogy is only demonstrating the centrifugal force portion. You (or the stick) have taken the place of gravity by holding the “earth-end” of the tether and keeping the counterweight from flying away. But I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate it and it does have the advantage of quickly being able to demonstrate the basic idea. In the graphic though, it shows Geostationary orbit (GEO) much closer to the counterweight than to the earth and the center of mass of the system at GEO (that’s where the arrows in the graphic seem to be pointing to). Using the standard Edwards/Westling model, the elevator tether is 100,000 km long while GEO is approximately 35,700 km above the surface, i.e. much closer to earth than to the counterweight at the end of the tether. Regarding the location of the center of mass of the system, it needs to be above GEO.  I, myself, used to erroneously think that the center of mass would be at GEO and have visited this topic before. Dr. Blaise Gassend wrote up a simple explanation of why the center of mass has to be ABOVE geosynchronous (geostationary – GEO) orbit.

The second graphic, the one referring to the almost-certainly necessary taper of the elevator tether is one that I’ve seen in similar format several times before. I’ve wanted to address it before, but just haven’t – I’ve been too lazy to try and draw my own version of the “correct” ratios for a tethered taper (I’m just familiar enough with Photoshop to be dangerous…). You’ll note that the blog post shows the tether increasing from a point at the earths surface to something much wider at GEO and then reducing back to a point at the counterweight. Ignoring the location of GEO (the same as in the first graphic), the idea of the tether widening from the earth to GEO and then narrowing from GEO to the counterweight is correct. But the ratio is wrong:

Creating my own model took me a lot longer than I had first thought – I redid it a half-dozen times before I had something I thought was worthwhile. Of course it’s not to scale either, but the ratio of the taper width at the earth’s surface (13.52) to its width at GEO (35.44) to its width at the counterweight (23.88) is correct. Also, given the shown length of the tether, the location of GEO is correct. The graphic is greatly “squooshed” of course, being much shorter than a real tether in this scale (by several orders of magnitude). But the difference between the length and the width of the tether demands this type of alteration.

One other thought; I think when most people look at drawings of tether taper, they assume that it’s the width of the tether which must alter. That’s not necessarily the case. It can also be the thickness and that, I think, would have advantages. If the width of the tether was constant (once you’re above the atmosphere – in the atmosphere it may well be a cable), then you don’t have to design a climber which can accommodate varying widths; much easier, I think to design a climber for a tether with a varying thickness. But then again, maybe it will be something like a Hoytether.

Anyway, enough. Where did I get my numbers? They came from the most excellent spreadsheet developed by long time friend of the space elevator Maurice Franklin and which you can find by clicking on its page link at the top of blog (The SE Analysis Spreadsheet). I’ve blogged about this before, and I’d like to encourage readers to play around with it – when you do, you really begin to get a feel for the physical constraints that engineers and scientists have to deal with in the real world. I used his Edwards/Westling Baseline model with no changes.

Dr. Brad Edwards at ideacity

Some months ago, Dr. Brad Edwards made an appearance at the ideacity forum in Toronto and gave a talk on Space Elevators.  You can view the video here – it’s not long, less than 20 minutes.  I always enjoy hearing Dr. Edwards speak about the Space Elevator, but I do have a couple of issues with his presentation.

To listen to the talk, one would think that the idea of a Space Elevator was first explored in science fiction.  He did not mention either Yuri Artsutanov or Jerome Pearson, the first engineers who came up with the modern-day idea of a Space Elevator and who, in the vernacular of the field, “ran the numbers” (especially Jerome Pearson).  Both of them did so long before Sir Arthur C. Clarke popularized the idea in his book The Fountains of Paradise (both authors, by the way, corresponded with Sir Arthur about space elevators).  There can be no disputing Dr. Edwards contribution towards the effort to build a Space Elevator; he (and Eric Westling) wrote THE book on space elevators, but he wasn’t the first person to describe what a real space elevator might look like.

According to his talk, we now have the carbon nanotubes necessary to build a space elevator.  Oh, if only that were true. I wish, I wish, I wish…  Yes, there have been carbon nanotubes built which are 55 cm long and yes, there have been carbon nanotubes which have tested out at 200 GPa, but not at the same time.  And, even if you can get CNTs to grow to this length and have perfect (no defects) structure, they’re still not going be aligned – and alignment is key to making threads of macro-strength.  I do agree that we’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’re all that close yet.  Spinning CNTs into threads is a whole different kettle of fish than spinning normal animal or plant fibers into threads.

And finally, let’s talk about my “favorite” subject, space-based solar power (SBSP).  I’m already on record as being very skeptical (to say the least) about SBSP being able to provide power except under unique, niche circumstances.  Dr. Edwards talked about the Obayashi project to build a space elevator and provide SBSP for Japan.  Let’s run the numbers for “just” Japan.  The most current electric generating capacity I could find for Japan was for 287,000,000 kW (for 2013).  Energy available at earth’s orbit is 1.3kW/m2.  What efficiency number should we use?  Let’s say 40%.  I think that’s generous.  Yes, I know there are cells out there which are slightly more efficient, but they are expensive and, when you see how much we’re going to need, I think that cost economy will play a role here.  So, to generate 287,000,000 kW will require about 440,000,000 m2 of solar cells (or 440 km2).  This is roughly equivalent to the land area of the Seychelles or of New Orleans.  How much mass?  If you figure 5 kW / kg (see the Space Elevator Feasibility Condition for details), you come up with 57,400,000 kg (or 57,400 metric tons).  Now that’s just for the cells themselves.  There will also need to be a massive structure holding them together, an enormous amount of cables, antennas to beam the power to earth and also some sort of propulsion / steering system (along with the propulsion mass) so that you can keep the collection array pointed at the sun and the transmission array pointed at Japan.  The best I can do here is a guesstimate – 50% more for the ancillary mass?  I think that’s probably ballpark.  So, a total mass of about 86,000 metric tons.  If you have an elevator that lifts 100 tons to GEO every week, then it’s going to take you 860 weeks (16&1/2 years) to just lift the mass up there.  Then you have to either lift personnel to put it together and maintain it or else robots to perform the same.  You’ll need to periodically replace the panels due to space debris and other space-related hazards and you’ll need to replace the propellant too.  And that’s assuming everything goes right.  Things always go wrong, so you’ll need to deal with that too.

Add that all up and you can see why I’m skeptical about this.  Now, if you wanted to replace “just” the nuclear generating capacity of Japan with SBSP…  Nuclear plants provide about 18% (roughly 1/5th) of Japan’s electric power – at least they did when they were all online.  So if you wanted replace just the nuclear power generating ability with SBSP, well, then, maybe…  Maybe that is a possibility, with an engineering project dwarfing anything else created by human beings.

Color me skeptical, very very skeptical…

One final note; Dr. Edwards talks about his company – I’m assuming he’s referring to this.

The cost of living on the Moon (and Mars!)

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by the people at NeomamStudios, telling me about a graphic they had put together showing the total cost of living on the Moon.  This was part of the 45th Moon Landing Anniversary Celebration and is, I think, of interest to people who support the idea of a Space Elevator.

If you are like me, and believe that the major (or at least “a” major) use of the Space Elevator is to help us colonize the solar system and, to paraphrase Robert Heinlein, get some of our eggs out of earth’s “basket”, then numbers like this are what we need to make our case.  It will be very, very, very, very expensive to create and support a lunar colony using traditional rocket technology, there’s just no getting around it.  A space elevator is the only feasible way to do something like this.

I could have reproduced the entire graphic here, but it’s quite large and I’d rather link to one which is already out there.  I went to the Neomam web site and the graphic is there, so I’ve linked to it and reproduced just a portion of it here.  And, lo and behold, when I went to their website, I found they had also created a graphic showing numbers for the living costs on Mars.  I’ve also reproduced a portion of that graphic here and clicking on either one of them will take you to the Neoman website where you can see the full graphics.

Fun facts from the graphics:

  • On Mars, it would cost $37,244 to watch Psy’s Gangnam Style in HD on YouTube.
  • On the Moon, downloading “Fly me to the Moon” would cost about 12.8 cents.

CNBC visits the idea of a Space Elevator

CNBC’s John Schoen wrote an article about the Space Elevator, releasing it just before the recent Space Elevator Conference and I am just getting ’round now to linking to it…

In addition to writing about Space Elevators, John also discusses flying cars and freight drones. ISEC‘s Peter Swan is quoted in the story.

There are also, unfortunately, the usual inane comments about space elevators in the article’s Comments section.  I tried to correct a couple of the worst, but it’s like trying to drain a lake with a spoon :(

Using the Space Elevator to get rid of Radioactive waste…

An idea that has been occasionally discussed is to use the space elevator to launch radioactive waste to the sun, a permanent waste disposal plan if there ever was one…

The magazine Popular Science had an article about this in 2010.   It’s been a subject of blog discussions/debates (like this one on PhysicsForum and this one on the ScienceForum).  It was even a topic during the “Shotgun Science” section of the 2013 Space Elevator Conference (I can’t remember who did that particular presentation).

German blogger Kai Malmus gives us his uniquely European thoughts on this topic here.  According to Mr. Malmus, a Commission (put into action by the German government and all opposition parties) has been empowered to find a solution within the next couple of years and then start construction by of a waste storage unit here on earth by 2032.  All of Europe, indeed all of the fission-using world, is searching for an answer to this problem.  And, anyone who has followed the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository saga in the USA over the past 25+ years, knows that it is a political football to end all political footballs.

Is using a Space Elevator to get rid of nuclear waste a practical idea?  I don’t think so, but not for the “usual reasons”.  People worry about the safety of the elevator but I believe we can produce an elevator lift system of very high reliability.  Payloads will all have some sort of guidance system so that if the unlikely happens, they can be safely splash-landed in the ocean.  And people worry about somehow contaminating the sun with this waste.  The sun is so enormous, that it could handle this relative paltry amount of additional matter without even noticing it.

However, “paltry amount” is, as I said, relative, and therein lies the problem, IMHO.

How much nuclear waste do we produce each year?  According to World Nuclear Association website, about 200,000 metric tons of low and intermediate levels of waste and about 10,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste are produced each year.  And then there is the “legacy waste problem“, hundreds of thousands of more metric tons of waste that must be dealt with somehow.

Assuming that we’re not going to see a functioning space elevator until probably at least 2035 (and I’m being optimistic here) and the fact that the initial elevator(s) aren’t going to carry more than double-digit tons of payload (and there will be multiple customers clamoring for the space elevator’s services) and the fact that the nuclear industry is continuing to produce nuclear waste, I’m afraid that this is a problem which is going to have to be solved here, on the planet, without the help of a Space Elevator.

I wish I could be more optimistic – the idea sounds grand, kind of like space-based solar power.  But when you run the numbers, then things don’t look so cheery…

Perhaps only a very tiny portion of this waste truly needs to be disposed of, then maybe.  But if that’s true, then it can probably be dealt with here and we won’t need a space elevator to get rid of it.

But I invite debate on the matter – prove me wrong!

SPEC 2014

Each year, the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) holds a Climber competition acronymed SPEC and each year they get more and more ambitious in their goals.  This year for instanace, they had a 1,200 m long tether held up by balloons.  Climbers are powered by batteries and scores are awarded based on speed, payload, etc.

The competition was held this past August 6th through the 9th, but they have not posted results or pictures yet.  Several people from the JSEA, including JSEA President Shuichi Ohno, attended the just-completed ISEC Space Elevator Conference and they brought a verbal summary as well as a video they created, summarizing the competition.  As soon as that is posted, I’ll link to it here.  There is a very scant summary of the competition here (note, this website is in all Japanese – if you need it translated, open it with Google Chrome).

Of note, one JSEA’s major purposes in attending the ISEC Space Elevator Conference was to begin the effort to turn this into an international competition.  While this competition is held in Japan each year, only once or twice has something similar happened in Europe and, since the ending of the NASA/Spaceward Space Elevator Games, nothing like this has happened in the US.

There were a lot of people interested in this concept and a lot of discussion followed.  The bottom line is that there appears to be enough enthusiasm here to support these Games, but a ‘champion’ must be found – someone willing to take on the considerable organizing challenge this represents.  If you are interested in heading this up or assisting in any way, please contact ISEC President Dr. Peter Swan.

2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference Wrapup

Another Space Elevator Conference is in the books, three very interesting and successful days.  There were a lot of highlights and, in no particular order (and just my own opinion, of course) they are;

The attendance of several people from Japan and the Japan Space Elevator Agency (JSEA).  They are very, very interested in partnering with ISEC (or someone) to try and turn their Climber competition into a world-wide event.  I think this is a great idea, but as always with these things, it takes a “champion”, someone willing to spend the time in the US to actually make this happen.  There were some ideas as to organizers floated during the conference and I think more will show up.  I hope this happens.  Regardless, it was good to see the Japanese contingent.  Outside of ISEC, they are the only other organized group, to my knowledge, that is working to advance the cause of the space elevator.  The fact that they are all nice people and fun to be around is just an added bonus.

The increase in expertise and skill sets within ISEC.  During my four-year term as president, ISEC became a “real” organization; we became a 501c3, elected a Board of Directors, came up with Strategic Plans, began creating ISEC Reports and CLIMB Journals and began to sponsor the ISEC Space Elevator Conference.  Dr. Peter Swan became president at last year’s Conference and is really beginning to leverage his network of business, military and aerospace contacts that he has built up in his long and extensive career.  People such as Skip Penny, Michael Fitzgerald and Vernon Hall are all veterans of fields that have a direct bearing on being able to actually build a space elevator.  Their expertise will help us advance our understanding of a space elevator at a more rapid rate and with more knowledge than had been possible previously.  Pete has also brought in other speakers and contacts and has, in general, greatly raised the professionalism and knowledge of the ISEC network.

How well the conference was run.  This was the fourth (fifth?) year that David Horn and his network of volunteers has run the conference and it was a very competent job.  This year all of the presentations were taped and should be available on our YouTube or Vimeo network, another first.  I hope that David continues in this function for the next several years – he does a great job.

I could list more, like the Speech Competition, the well-run workshops, the awesomeness of the Museum of Flight as a Conference Venue, etc., but I think those three were my highlights.

See you in 2015!

(Picture thumbnail is of NBC’s Digital Science editor, Alan Boyle, interviewing ISEC President Dr. Peter Swan.   Clicking on this thumbnail, as for all other thumbnails on this blog, will display a full-size picture).

Shotgun science

This is always a fun session.  People can suggest not-fully-thought-out ideas (another way of saying “half-baked”?) to the crowd and use them as an initial ‘sounding board’ to see if it has merit or not.  Over the years, we’ve heard some good ideas in this session and, frankly, some really wacky ones, too, but as I started out saying, they’re always a lot fun.  Great to see people challenging assumptions and thinking outside of that box…

There were six speakers:

David Schilling proposed covering satellites with an aerogel, several inches (a foot?) thick.  He reasoned that this cover could act as a barrier to space debris/dust that would hit the satellite and, if the debris was big enough to penetrate the aerogel, the aerogel would act to keep the satellite in, more or less, one piece, thus minimizing space debris, and all with only a minimal addition of weight to the satellite.

Keith Loftstrom suggested keeping emotions out of reactions to someone else’s idea.  And a reminder, be your own skeptic first.  Run the numbers on a proposal before you bother bringing it to anyone elese.

Charles Gorlinski suggested we pay more attention to building in some redundancy into a space elevator system and proposed, for example, using multiple tethers, all heading to the same Apex Anchor (counterweight) separated by some sort of spacing ring.  If one tether breaks, the system does not disintegrate.

Dr. Bryan Laubscher asked all attendees to network, network, network, looking for people / corporations / government agencies, etc. with money and, if/when found, to direct them Peter Swan (for space elevator interest) or to himself (Bryan) for carbon nanotube development interest.

Michael Laine briefly talked about LiftPort’s Lunar Elevator project and showed an animation of creating the Lunar Space Elevator.  He thinks it is possible to do this “within the current decade” at a cost of ~USD 800 million.

Finally, Phil Richter gave us some thoughts from his perspective as a structural engineer.  He proposed a much wider tether, perhaps 10m or 100m wide, for several reasons; 1) redundancy/stronger/safety/stability 2) changing the structure’s aspect ratio – something that structural engineers know is important 3) Logistics – easier to work with 4) Economy of scale and 5) better from a budgeting estimate viewpoint.

I really like the aerogel-cushioned satellite idea – it makes so much sense that there has to be something wrong with it…

Mini-Workshop #3: Space Elevator Architectures and Roadmaps

The third and final workshop of the conference was put together to flesh out an initial Space Elevator Architectures and Roadmaps document put together by Michael Fitzgerald (“Fitzer”), the champion of this topic – the 2014 (current) ISEC Theme.

Fitzer was in overall charge of this workshop and is going to be heading up the ISEC report on this topic.  He has long and extensive expertise in studies of this type and is another example of the valuable skill set that ISEC President Dr. Peter Swan has been recruiting since he became president.

Three groups were created, each of them handling a different aspect of Space Elevator Architectures and Roadmaps.  After a brainstorming session, each group reported back to the conference at large.  At some future point, these reports will consolidated and made available to the public.

Space Elevator Speech Competition

New to the conference this year was a competition to create an “Elevator speech”.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea of such a speech is this; assume you’re in an elevator with someone who you want to convince of the need and usefulness of building a Space Elevator.  You have only a short time – it is an elevator ride.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, there are several articles available – a typical one is here.

Conference attendee Peter Robinson came up with the idea and was in charge of the competition.  It was announced at the beginning of the conference and a sign-up sheet was available for all those who wanted to participate.  The competition happened today, just before lunch.  There were a total of 7 speakers and 4 judges (of which I was honored to be one).

Each person talked, in turn, for no more than 90 seconds (Peter timed it and cut off the people who exceeded it) and the judges created scores on “Technical Merit” and “Style”.  Peter tabulated the scores and the winners were announced.  First place received a $100 Amazon gift certificate and Second Place received a $50 Amazon gift certificate.

Lana Gorlinski was awarded First Prize and Campbell Gorlinski was awarded Second Prize.  All of the competitors did a fine job.  This picture shows Lana and Campbell, with their prizes, and most of the rest of the Conference attendees.

This competition had a very practical aspect, making all of us who support the concept of a space elevator think in terms of convincing others, in a very short time, of the worthiness of the project.  I would expect this competition to become a fixture at future Space Elevator Conferences.

Mini-Workshop #2: Marine Node Design Concepts

Next up was the second mini-workshop of the conference, this one targeted towards requirements, design considerations, issues & concerns, etc., with a marine-based earth port.  “Conventional wisdom” says that the earth anchor of a space elevator will be based in the ocean (for details, see Dr. Brad Edwards & Eric Westlings book).  This has several advantages, but also brings up some problems vs. a land-based earth station.

Conference attendee Vernon Hall was in overall charge of this workshop and is going to be heading up the ISEC report on Marine Node Design Concepts (the 2015 ISEC theme).  Mr. Hall has extensive experience in designing ports, including the Port of Los Angeles and should be a very valuable resource for ISEC and their goal of increasing our understanding of the Space Elevator.

Four groups were created, each of them handling a different aspect of Marine Node Design.  After a brainstorming session, each group reported back to the conference at large.  At some future point, these reports will consolidated and made available to the public.

Living on Cloud 9: Or What We Could Do With a Lunar Space Elevator!

Next up was author Paul Wieland.  He talked about “sphere habitats that could be built on the moon and then “launched” to earth via a lunar elevator.  Paul said that Buckminster Fuller came up with this idea of sphere habitats (we’re talking about spheres 1,000 or 1,500 meters in diameter) and that, because they would be inhabited and that the inhabitants generate heat, this heat would cause the sphere to float.  He quickly ran through the numbers which claim that this could be true.  Frankly, I have to think about this and look at the numbers more thoroughly before I accept this as do-able, but the idea is very intriguing.

I have never heard of this idea before, but a quick Google search turned up a number of sites that discuss the concept, for example here and here.

Philanthropy vs. Investment – Starting a Space Elevator Institute

The first presentation of Day 3 was by ISEC President Dr. Peter Swan.  He talked about raising money for the space elevator effort and ran through the pro’s and con’s of starting up an Institute vs. a Charitable Foundation.  He talked about the type of people that could be approached, and the pitch that we in the community need to make; a space elevator is an investment in the future of mankind and should be approached that way.  A financial payoff is there, but it is considerably down the road and occurs only after a large investment in the infrastructure of a space elevator.

Dr. Swan made the point that philanthropic “types” can have this long-term vision and therefore could be approachable with such a pitch.  He concluded by talking about the ongoing efforts of he and ISEC to put together a “package” that can be used in this effort.

2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference – Day 3

And Day 3 begins.  The conference began with ISEC President, Dr. Peter Swan, giving a special award of recognition to Ben Shelef.  Anyone who has followed the space elevator “arena” or this blog knows who he is, but for those of you who may not, Ben and his Spaceward Foundation partnered with NASA to create the Space Elevator Games.  This multi-year effort, targeted towards advancing the state of the art in power-beaming and strong tether development, culminated in the award of $900,000 to LaserMotive for their successful efforts in the 2009 Power Beaming competition.  These events were the first of these competitions and were the precursors of Climber competitions in both Japan and Europe.  They also generated a lot of publicity and put the space elevator “on the map” for a lot of people.  Ben also created the Space Elevator Feasibility Condition, a paper that quantifies tether strength and Climber power requirements in a rigorous manner, giving others a baseline to work for.  He’s also given multiple talks on the Space Elevator, provided a sanity check to space elevator development efforts and, I’m sure, other space-elevator related activities that I’m forgetting at the moment.

This award is well deserved – congratulations Ben and all of us in the space elevator community are much better off because of your involvement.

Robotics Competition & Day 2 wrapup…

The day wrapped up with the Robotics Competition.  This is an event which ISEC has been associated with for several years and it’s always a lot of fun.  Teams enter their robotic climbers which ascend/descend a 25 foot ribbon, multiple times hopefully, and carry “payload” which they deliver to the “space station” at the top of the ribbon.  A score, taking into account climber category, speed, payload delivered, etc. is calculated and then winners are announced.

There were winners in several categories; In the “(Almost) Anything Goes” category, WASABI finished first and Atomic Robots finished second.  In the “Lego only” category, Cody Labs finished first, Geosynchronous Robots finished second and The Climbing Scorpions finished third.  Finally, Cody Labs also won the Engineering Award for Best Engineered Robot.  All of the winners received gift certificates to the Microsoft store, donated by Microsoft. (Pictured are (l) David Schilling, creator of the Robotics competition and a representative from Cody Labs, receiving congratulations and the Microsoft Gift Certificate).

The kids enjoy it, the parents enjoy it and it teaches real building and troubleshooting skills to children, hopefully stimulating their interest in engineering disciplines for their future education.

A successful Day 2 of the Conference.  Lots of interesting topics and lots of audience participation – on to day 3.

Mini-Workshop #1: Research Activities and Global Cooperation

There are three Mini-Workshops scheduled for this conference and the first one is now underway.  Dr. John Knapman will be directing this Workshop aimed at getting several small groups to focus on the various Research Activities needed to advance our understanding of the space elevator.  John categorized several different topics (broadly categorized into topics that some work has been done on and those topics that have been largely untouched) and some of these will be focused on by these various groups.  The goals of this workshop, as in all workshops, are to get people brainstorming about these topics and come up with ideas and action items to attack them.

Road to Space Elevator Era

This afternoon’s presentations started with Akira Tsuchida talking about a new IAA study; “Road to Space Elevator Era”.  This will be a follow-on to the recently released IAA report Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward.  One of they key outputs of this report will be the Space Elevator Prediction Feasibility Index (SEPFI).  I am going to be very interested in this – it should be a rigorous engineering review and prediction as to if and when, in the IAA’s opinion, a space elevator can be built.

As part of his presention, Akira also mentioned that the Science Council of Japan defined the Space Elevator project as part of the Master Plan for large research projects – 2014.  It is the first step of starting very small research but has recognized Space Elevator as National project.  Hopefully this will lead to significant government funding.

JSEA attends the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference

The next presentation was by Shuichi Ohno, chairman of JSEA, the Japan Space Elevator Association.  JSEA has been around for many years, and like ISEC, is dedicated to advancing our understanding of the Space Elevator.  Four people from Japan (three from JSEA) are attending the ISEC conference.  Mr. Ohno’s presentation started by talking about the activities of JSEA.  This includes several Climber competitions, including one, SPEC, which now requires climbers to ascend 1,200 meters.  They have ambitious plans for 2015 – increasing this amount to 5,000 meters (Note: they had the 2014 competition earlier this month and, unfortunately, I’ve not posted about it yet – I will rectify that after the conference.  You can find information about it here.)

Shuichi ended his presentation with a challenge to the US – to begin, again, conducting climber competitions, and this time, to do it in cooperation with JSEA.

Devin Jacobson, an American living in Japan and a member of JSEA, gave the next presentation; JSEA Outreach efforts and potential Business collaboration, or, The Space Elevator – Business or Pleasure?  Devin discussed about how, if we want to make a space elevator “real”, we will need to have to have more funding and he discussed some possibilities of how that could happen. For example, he talked about how the balloon climber competitions have advanced the art of being to able to send communications from a ballon based node – handy when needed in temporary situations (like a natural disaster or similar).

2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference – Day 2

Day 2 of the conference is underway.  Our first presentation is a highly technical one: “For space elevator rope – Production of exfoliated graphene and high surface charged-cellulose nanocrystals as stabilizer synthesized by lyophilized acidic hydrolysis“.  Dr. Sherif Hindi of King Abdulaziz University, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, gave this presentation via Skype.  It was a difficult presentation to understand; a combination of the subject being highly technical, the presentation given via Skype and that English is not Dr. Hindi’s first language (though his English was excellent).  But if I got the gist of it, Dr. Hindi’s work consists of stabilizing/purifying Graphene (and thus making it stronger?) via cellulose nanocrystals produced from renewable materials.  I will need to review his paper to learn more.

The second presentation was by Dr. Bryan Laubscher, chief technologist of Odysseus Technologies, Inc. (full disclosure; I am an investor in OTI).  He gave us an update on OTI’s continuing efforts to build longer, stronger nanotubes.  He discussed the patents that OTI has made, both in terms of taking existing ‘forests’ of nanotubes, drawing off threads and strengthening those threads and also in growing stronger nanotubes themselves.  His presentation elicited many questions and a whole lot of discussion.  OTI’s problem now (as with a lot of startups, especially in this field) is funding.  OTI is doing a lot with a little – a little more would certainly help.  Dr. Laubscher made the observation yesterday that if you want to really advance the possibility of a space elevator, materials science is the place to be.  I’ve pointed out the obvious many times on this blog that without the materials strong enough to make a viable space elevator tether, this is all just a pipe-dream.  Long, strong tubes are the answer.

2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference – Day 1 Wrapup

And, to get this out of the way right away, it’s a good thing that the Bears-Seahawks games was a preseason one – ’nuff said…

The first day of the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference was outstanding.  The morning was “setting the stage”, introductory information and a fine Keynote speech from Science writer Leonard David of how the Space Elevator fits into the current space paradigm.

The afternoon sessions were all technical ones and I think it’s safe to say all attendees learned a lot.  It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but I must comment on the final session of the day, on Weather; how it can be measured, how it can be forecast and what it means for a space elevator.  The presenter, Winifred Crawford ended her presentation with the suggestion that we start recruiting a meteorologist (or two) and freely admitted that she was hooked on the concept of the Space Elevator.

All of these sessions are being recorded and will be on our video website in the near future – watch this space for an announcement…

On to Day 2!

Weather support to the Space Elevator program

Winifred Crawford gave a talk about some specific aspects of weather, specifically wind and lightning and what is really known about them.

Winifred talked about the amazing power of lightning and that there are two types; natural and triggered.  She also pointed out that the areas now posited as ‘best’ locations for the Space Elevator (for example, on the equator – west of the Galapagos Islands) have much less lightning that other areas do, but that the number of lightning strikes even there is not zero – it must be planned for.  She also talked about how lightning hurt (but did not destroy) the Apollo 12 mission and that lightning did destroy an Atlas Centaur launch.

She also talked about rain and the problems it causes and noted that much less data has been captured about weather over ocean locations than it has for land locations and so satellite weather gathering will be key.  Satellites can also capture sea surface temperature and current data, knowledge of both of which will almost certainly be needed to run a Space Elevator.

Finally, she showed how all this data can be used to forecast the weather at a Space Elevator Base station, something which will be absolutely critical for a successful operation.

The Space Elevator in the Earth’s Atmosphere

Dr. John Knapman give a presentation on how we deal with the Tether and the Climber within earth’s atmosphere.  Even though the distance of this portion of the trip is tiny compared to the total trip (~50km vs 100,000km), there are many “special” hazards which must be dealt with.  This consists of weather; wind, rain and lightning.

John discussed “Spring Forward” (winding up the tether at the ground, stretching the tether, attaching the Climber and then letting the tether “spring” back into its original shape), “Boxed Climber” (having the Climber packaged in a protective box for its journey through the atmosphere) and High Stage One (a structure built to have the elevator base station be above the atmosphere and thus bypass these problems altogether).

Space Elevator Simulation Validation and Metrology

Peter Robinson gave a very interesting talk on how we might go about validating the design and simulating the operation of a Space Elevator.  He pointed out some famous engineer failures from history and all of them, of course, failed to accurately simulate their operation.  A common theme to many of these failures was that they were the first of their design – there was no other similar acting structure to use in validation and simulation.

This will obviously be a problem with a Space Elevator too – the first one will be, well, the first one.  Peter proposed how simulation, validation and testing can be built up step by step.  He also emphasized that MTBF for Climbers is very important – they will be very difficult, if not impossible, to service while on the tether.  Peter also posited that the building of a Lunar elevator will be a pre-requisite to building an earth-based space elevator.

“You won’t be allowed to build an earth-based space elevator unless you can convince an awful lot of people that the elevator will be safe.”

Loop Technology

Keith Loftstrom, author of the Lofstrom Loop, gave a presentation on “Loop Technology – Increasing Throughput, Decreasing Radiation”, his take on how to improve (or even in some cases, to discover) assumptions being used in designing a space elevator.  He touched on many subjects, but one was the location of the Ground Station.  Conventional wisdom has that it should be located on the equator for efficiency reasons.  Keith posited a Ground station 8 degrees south of the equator, claiming that a) this would allow the tether to be ’tilted’ allowing things to be oriented off of the tether, b) it keeps the tether out of the way of things in orbit around the equator and c) that if the tether breaks, the mass above the break will be flung out into space along the imaginary equator line, thus missing other tethers that may be constructed.

He also talked about how to use the Space Elevator to eliminate the Van Allen Belts.

He discussed much more – this is just a brief.  His talk, like all of the others, are being recorded and will be available some weeks after the conference.

If you want to view this presentation now, visit http://www.launchloop.com/SEPulley.

Concept of Operations

One of the ISEC reports, finished a year or so ago, is entitled “Space Elevator Concept of Operations“, a fairly in-depth look as to how the operational aspects of a Space Elevator system might actually work.  This includes the land port, the ocean port, the tether itself, attaching / detaching the climber to the tether, etc., etc., etc.

Skip Penny headed up this project and gave a talk on the report and current thinking on this topic.

ISEC History Committee

One of the presentations this morning was from Nick Martin and Mark Dodrill, reporting on progress with the ISEC History Committee (I wrote about the formation of this committee here).  Lots of progress has been made, but this effort is still in the early stages.  Nick and Mark are collecting both oral and written documentation about the development of the concept of the Space Elevator and all the work that has been done since.  There IS a lot of information and I applaud this effort – things get forgotten if they don’t get written down.

The picture thumbnail is of Nick – he has definitely won the “best dressed and most dapper” attendee at the conference (so far) :)

Click on the thumbnail for a full-size version.

Leonard David

Noted Science author Leonard David is now giving the Keynote speech at the ISEC 2014 Space Elevator Conference, talking about how the Space Elevator fits into the “current space environment”.

He had an interesting, and almost certainly true statement, early on in his talk.  He said the space elevator, whenever it is built, will be “very different” from what we think it might be now.  We need to keep an open mind.  One of his final remarks struck me; “Be prepared to be stunned by the future“.

Clicking on the thumbnail will display a full-size picture.

All of these presentations are being recorded so, “God willing and the creek don’t rise”, they’ll be posted on the ISEC Vimeo account in the near future.  I’ll notify you here when that happens.

And we’re off!

It’s Friday, August 22nd, 2014 and that means it’s the first day of the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference!

I’m here attending again, as a Director of ISEC and as an enthusiast and supporter and will be documenting the conference as we go along.

I’m from Chicagoland and the conference is in Seattle.  Now, if you’re a professional football fan (and especially if you’re from Chicago or Seattle) you know that the Bears are playing the Seahawks in an exhibition football game this evening.  Now yes, this is preseason, but it’s preseason game number 3 and, if you follow football, you know that this is close to what you’re going to see during the real season as is possible in preseason.  The starters will play at least a half and maybe more.  I’m a Bears fan and, like all Bears fan, we’re really looking forward to this game – it will be a good test to see how the team might do this year.

I’m bringing all this up because when I left the hotel this morning, riding down in the elevator with me was a young couple and the lady was wearing a Chicago Blackhawks TShirt.  I commented to them that “I like your TShirt”.  They smiled and asked me if I was from Chicago.  When I said I was, they said they were too.  I asked them if they were going to watch the Bears-Seahawks game tonight and they said they were actually going – they had tickets!  I’m jealous.

So, a Chicago connection already and the conference hadn’t even started – a good omen indeed…

And, back to the conference – we’ve had the introductory remarks from Conference David Horn and now Dr. Bryan Laubscher is giving his “Space Elevator 101″ talk to get everyone on the same page…

More soon…

Leonard David – Space Elevator Conference

Science writer Leonard David is going to be attending the upcoming ISEC Space Elevator Conference (Aug 22-24) at Seattle’s Museum of Flight and is going to be giving the Keynote speech.  All of us who are going to attend are looking forward to it.

In his INSIDE OUTER SPACE column on his website, he lets all of his readers and followers know he will be attending.  Thanks Leonard – looking forward to meeting you and listening to you!

Last chance to register!

Registration for the upcoming ISEC Space Elevator Conference will be closed in just a couple of days – register now or you’ll regret it later!

The conference is jam-packed with exciting presentations and workshops and don’t forget the Keynote presentation from noted author Leonard David.

I’ll be attending the Conference, as I normally do, and will be blogging updates throughout the three-day event.

Be there or be square!

Moon Rising – Book Review

A few weeks ago, first-time author Jerry Kaczmorowski emailed me and asked if I would like to review his book Moon Rising.  He told me that there was an American-built space elevator involved (as well as some other details I’ll let the reader explore) and, of course, that was enough to get me to say “Yes”.

I finished the book shortly after I started it – here is the review I put on Amazon:

This is an excellent book, especially for a first-time author.  The plot is rich and detailed and keeps the reader guessing.  The characters are believable and the action is non-stop.  Once I started reading it, I didn’t want to put it down and I believe that others who are fortunate enough to take a chance on this new author will feel the same.

As the author of the Space Elevator Blog, I’m always intrigued by a new book with a Space Elevator as the theme or the backdrop.  I’m also always worried because the authors of many of these types of books have obviously not done their homework on how a Space Elevator could be built or could work – they seem to have skipped all of their science and math classes in school.

Thankfully this book is not like that.  The author doesn’t delve deeply into Space Elevator architecture (it’s not the focus of the book), but what technical details he does write about are plausible.  What this book also does is show WHY we would want to build a Space Elevator and then presents a scenario as to HOW a Space Elevator might actually come about.  I don’t want to spoil the plot for new readers, but suffice it to say that, in this book, the world does NOT come together, sing “Kumbaya” and then build a Space Elevator for the advancement of all mankind.

I do have a couple of nits; the characters seem a bit one-dimensional at times and the villains are the “usual suspects”.  Nevertheless, adding everything together, I give this book 5 well-deserved stars and I look forward to this author’s next effort.

The author is going to be at the upcoming ISEC Space Elevator Conference (you ARE coming, yes?) and I look forward to meeting him.

And, buy the book – you’ll enjoy reading it!

LEGO Space Elevators and Tall Structures

At this URL, there are two YouTube videos.  The first shows a “space elevator” being constructed by a LEGO Mindstorm kit.  Slow, clunky, but kind of cool.

The second video discusses tall structures built by humans and ends in speculation about building a space elevator.  Nice to see that the author/narrator (Vsauce) seems to have his scientific facts correct.  Two cool moments in the 10+ minute-long video…  The first is at about 3:12 and shows one of those very tall radio masts snapping in half and collapsing – always neat to see things breaking!  And the second cool moment, at least for me, occurs around the 5:30 mark.   Vsauce discusses how you can actually see two sunsets (or sunrises, if you’re so inclined) in the same day by physically manipulating your body at the moment of sunset (or sunrise).  To emphasize the point of your height above ground being a factor as to when you see a sunset, Vsauce mentions that a ruling by the Dubai Islamic Affairs Department actually had to be made for Muslim residents of the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) in Dubai as to when the sun set.  This is important for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan – you cannot break your fast until “official” sundown and, for residents of the Burj Khalifa, sundown is declared at one ‘official’ time for residents from floors 1-79 and at another ‘official’ (and later) time for residents of floors 80 and up.

Yes, they take such things very seriously in the Middle East (and, I assume, wherever Muslims live in great numbers).  I lived in Saudi Arabia for eight years and, during the times I was in-Kingdom for Ramadan (Eid Al-Fitr) and/or Islamic New Years (Eid al-Adha), I was greatly intrigued by the attention that was paid to this.  The newspapers would project the actual clock times these events would begin.  For Ramadan, as noted above, it was when the sun set on a certain day.  For New Years, it was the first sighting of the new crescent moon during the proper lunar cycle.  When this happened for New Years (in Jeddah, at least) a ceremonial cannon would be fired and the person who first sighted the new moon would win a prize.  There is a story (probably apocryphal) about someone who happened to walk in front of the ceremonial cannon just as it was set off and was blown to bits.  No, I don’t believe it either…

As an aside, the Muslim calendar is 12 months long, as is the Gregorian one, but it is strictly governed by lunar cycles.  This means each month is about 29.5 days long with an Islamic year being about 354 days long.  So, the months (and the holidays) gradually cycle ‘backward’ through the Gregorian calendar.  When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia, in 1979, the Islamic New Year (Eid Al-Adha) was in late November.  In the 35 years since (jeez, has it really been that long?), the New Year has gradually moved backward through the Gregorian calendar (for example, in 1995, the Islamic New Year was at the end of May).  Fun facts with dates!

Anyway, both videos are, IMHO, fun to watch.

And, in keeping with the theme of this post, this is a very short, very awesome video…

Results from the Technion Space Elevator Competition

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.  A couple of weeks ago, the Technion Institute in Israel held a Space Elevator competition (I’ve previously posted about this competition here and here).  The winner used the inner workings of an electric screwdriver to power his Climber.

Details can be found here.  Money quote from the winner: “The idea of basing the engine on an electric screwdriver we borrowed from the world of manufacturing plastic pipes using plastic extrusion, in which raw plastic material is melted and formed into a continuous profile,” said Atzili. “In short, it’s an idea that came to me originating from my experiences working in the plastics industry.

Congratulations to Technion and to the winners!

ISEC June, 2014 eNewsletter released

The latest ISEC eNewsletter is hot off the presses and can be found here.  It’s a shorter eNewsletter than usual as ISEC efforts are now focused on the upcoming Space Elevator Conference (less than two months away – you ARE coming, aren’t you?).

And, about the upcoming conference, there have been a record number of papers/presentations submitted so I think it’s safe to say that interest is running very high.

This is also a good time to remind everyone that the Early Bird Registration prices for the conference end on Monday, June 30th, so don’t delay.

See you there!

Video coverage of the Space Elevator Competition in Israel

In my previous post, I had written about a new Space Elevator competition in Israel and that the originator of the modern-day concept of the space elevator, Russian Engineer Yuri Artsutanov, would be there as a judge.  While I can’t find any results posted as of yet, I did hear from Eugene Schlusser, Yuri’s friend (and unofficial translator), who accompanied Yuri to the 2010 ISEC Space Elevator conference.  Eugene lets me know that Yuri did indeed make it to the competition and did act as a judge.  And, better yet, there was coverage of this in Russia and a YouTube video has been made of it (hint: it helps if you speak Russian and/or Hebrew :).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAbl_L47rV0[/youtube]
.
Yuri appears at two different times in the video; around the 53 second mark and again at the 1:05 mark.

I’m still hopeful of getting some pictures from the competition which I will, of course, post here.

This competition reminds me so much of the early days of the NASA/Spaceward Space Elevator Games; Climbers climbing a racetrack held aloft by a crane, students frantically working on their equipment, etc.  It brings back some great memories.

Thank you Eugene!

Yuri Artsutanov to judge upcoming Space Elevator competition in Israel

This is cool.  The father of the modern-day concept of the space elevator (and a guest at the 2010 ISEC Space Elevator Conference) Yuri Artsutanov, will be one of the judges at a Space Elevator contest being held next Wednesday, June 18th, in Israel.

This year’s challenge at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s 12th annual Technobrain competition is to build a “space elevator” — a device capable of climbing in a nearly vertical manner (at an 80 degree angle to the ground), to a height of 25 meters.

More details can be found here and here and there is also a posting on the Technion Facebook page.  The official posting from the Technion website can be found here.

I’ve reached out to both Yuri and the Technion institute for more details.

(Photo thumbnail is from Yuri at the 2010 ISEC Space Elevator conference – click on it for a full size picture)

Dr. Bryan Laubscher will be on The Space Show on Sunday

Dr. Bryan Laubscher, long-time space elevator enthusiast and principal owner of Odysseus Technologies, Inc., a carbon-nanotube startup company, will appear on Dr. David Livingston’s The Space Show this coming Sunday, June 8th, from 12 noon to 1:30pm, Pacific Daylight time.  He will be there to discuss the latest developments in the Space Elevator field along with carbon nanotubes and nanotechnology in general.  Dr. Laubscher’s bio:

Dr. Laubscher is a PhD in Physics with a concentration in Astrophysics. After a career as a project leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory that included research and development of astronomy projects, space missions, satellite instrumentation, optics, novel electrodynamic detection techniques, high power lasers, and classified projects Bryan became interested in the Space Elevator.  Bryan’s current Space Elevator activities include being the General Chairman for the annual Space Elevator Conference held at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, WA.  Pursuing the R&D of the Space Elevator has led him to start Odysseus Technologies, LLC a small company based in Washington state with the goal of developing high strength carbon nanotube materials. In August 2010, Odysseus Technologies competed in the NASA Centennial Strong Tether Challenge. Although the tether was not strong enough to win prize money, it was strong enough to beat the other two teams. Odysseus Technologies, LLC is planning to compete in the 2011 challenge.  Bryan now lives in Olympia, WA with his wife Carla.

Click here to see how to listen in to the show and ask Dr. Laubscher a question.

April 2014 ISEC eNewsletter released

The April, 2014 ISEC eNewsletter is hot off the presses and has been sent to all of ISEC’s subscribers.  Lots of good stuff in this issue, mostly about the upcoming ISEC Space Elevator Conference.  This includes a reminder Call for Papers for the Conference, notice that Registration is now OPEN and, a special announcement about the Keynote Speaker.

ISEC is very pleased to announce that long-time science writer Leonard David will be giving the Keynote speech at the conference.  I’ve read (and linked to his writings) for many years now and look forward to a) hearing what he has to say and b) finally being able to meet him.  His list of accomplishments, writings and awards is too long to list here – check out the April eNewsletter for a partial list.

So, check out the current issue now.  And, you can always sign up to receive the eNewsletter so that you’ll among the first with the latest news.

I hope to meet many of you at the conference!

There was another $2 Million targeted towards Carbon Nanotube Research…

Occasionally, FeedDemon provides me with old articles that are very interesting.  Case in point…

Many readers will remember the Space Elevator Games, the 5 year partnership between NASA and The Spaceward Foundation, to further research and development in the fields of power-beaming and strong tethers.  The Power-Beaming games were a spectacular success, resulting in several years of exciting and photogenic competition and culminating in the winning of $900,000 by the good folks at LaserMotive.  The Strong Tether challenge was NOT a success however.  Even the promise of $2 Million in prize money provided by NASA failed to produce any competitors with entries approaching the strength of conventional materials, let alone surpassing them.  Those of us like myself who were involved in those games (and then tried, unsuccessfully to get them restarted under the auspices of ISEC) spent a lot of time theorizing and supposing why this was so.  I think at the end of the day, it was just a much tougher nut than anyone had initially thought.

An article which just popped up in my FeedDemon reader showed that another approach was taken by the sporting goods company Jas. D. Easton, Inc.  In 2009, the same year that LaserMotive won their prize, Jas. D. Easton awarded $2 Million (there’s that number again) to the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science to fund research on advanced carbon materials for sports equipment and aerospace applications.  One of my arguments to support The Space Elevator Games Strong Tether Competition to skeptics was that even if you don’t think a Space Elevator is feasible or a good idea, there certainly would be a myriad of applications for a super-strong material such as carbon nanotubes promise to be – it would be a true game-changer in every sense of the word.

I know that UCLA continues to be a leader in CNT research and a professor from UCLA has presented at the University of Cincinnati’s CNT workshop.  Alas, it doesn’t appear that they have come up with anything revolutionary yet but hope springs eternal…

GoogleX and the Space Elevator

An article that has been making the rounds recently seems to confirm that GoogleX, once upon a time, was interested in building a Space Elevator.  This story has been reported in several outlets but they all seem to come from this story at Fast Company.

Money quote from the article:  “The [GoogleX] team knew the cable would have to be exceptionally strong– ‘at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have,’ by ­Piponi’s calculations. He found one material that could do this: carbon nanotubes. But no one has manufactured a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter.”

Yes, indeedy, that is the stumbling block.  If someone is truly interested in getting closer to the day when a Space Elevator could be built, I would recommend that they invest in Materials Science research; carbon nanotubes, boron-nitride nanotubes, carbyne, it doesn’t matter which one, just as long as the goal is stronger materials.

Many months ago, I contacted Astro Teller, the head of GoogleX, to see if they would be interested in sponsoring a rebirth of the Strong Tether Competition.  I thought their (at the time) rumored interest in the Space Elevator coupled with their deep pockets would be a natural fit.  Sadly they were not interested.  When this article surfaced, I contacted Mr. Teller again and he confirmed that GoogleX is not currently working on this project, sigh.

So, it’s nice to know that they were interested, once upon a time, but we will need to continue to look elsewhere for the breakthough needed to make this project a reality…

Registration is now open for the 2014 Space Elevator Conference!

Registration is now OPEN for the ISEC 2014 Space Elevator Conference, to be held from August 22nd through the 24th at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.  This is the same venue that ISEC has used for the past several conferences and it is absolutely perfect fit for this conference.

A full schedule is being planned, with many presentations, several workshops, a Family Day Science Fest and much more.

And, a special announcement as to the Keynote speaker for this conference will be shared soon – watch this space!  Early Bird prices are now available so don’t delay.

Be there or be square!

The Space Elevator Blog celebrates 8 years!

Yes, today this blog celebrates its 8th anniversary – it’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing this for such a long time…

Much has happened in the Space Elevator field since I first began my missives.  In no particular order they are:

The Space Elevator Games – this joint venture between NASA and the Spaceward Foundation created lots of interest in the power-beaming and strong-tether technologies over its many year run.  Games were held in California (Mountain View and Mojave), New Mexico and Utah and produced a winner (Lasermotive) that took home $900,000.  It’s unfortunate that NASA didn’t renew the contract, but they have other ‘fish to fry’ these days. However, it’s good to know that there are still organizations and groups trying to push the boundary of power-beaming.  For example, the Kansas City Space Pirates recently set an unofficial record for beam-powered flight.

The birth of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).  This organization began in 2008 and, after a rough first year, has found its way.  I was privileged to be its President for four years and it is now in the capable hands of Dr. Peter Swan.  This organization has taken up sponsorship of the American Space Elevator Conference, produces year-long studies on various aspects of Space Elevator Technology and also CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.  Recently, ISEC created the Space Elevator Research and History Committees to further knowledge in this field.  And hey, lets not forget the posters ISEC creates too…

The birth of the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA).  This very active group holds a conference every year and hosts multiple competitions too.  They have an active website and lots of members and are group of very good, committed people.

The Space Elevator Conferences.  The American ones were originally hosted by the SESI organization and have now, as noted in a previous item, been taken over by ISEC.  During the past few conferences, we’ve had luminaries such as Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson attend and give Keynote speeches and this year’s conference will be very exciting too, I’m sure.  JSEA also hosts conferences in Japan each year and EuroSpaceward (apparently not active anymore, unfortunately) has hosted a few conferences in Europe where Space Elevator Technology and Research has played a central role.

The International Academy of Astronautics released a report about Space Elevators (An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward), the first comprehensive study of Space Elevators since Brad Edwards and Eric Westling’s seminal publication in 2002.  This report has been just recently published and has received a lot of Press coverage.

We’ve seen the growth and demise and then subsequent rebirth of LiftPort.  They are now concentrating their efforts on building a Lunar space elevator.  They were able to host a very successful Kickstarter campaign and raised a lot of money for their efforts.

While the Space Elevator is a familiar concept in Japan (Gundam rocks!), publicity about this enterprise is growing in the western world too.   There have been articles published about the Space Elevator in such world-wide publications as the National Geographic Magazine (both online and in print) and a Google Search on “Space Elevator” will now turn up hundreds and hundreds of hits of articles about this concept.  Also, several fictional and non-fictional books about the Space Elevator (or with the Space Elevator as a backdrop) have been published.  The idea of a Space Elevator is no longer a strange concept and I’m hopeful that this blog has had some small part to play in that.

There have been many other developments in the Space Elevator field over this past eight years, too numerous to list here.  I’ve highlighted major ones (IMHO) in my previous anniversary blogs:  Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6.  No posting, sadly, for Year 7.

While all of this is good and exciting, we continue to wait for science & engineering to come up with the material strong enough to construct an earth-based Space Elevator tether.  Research in the Carbon Nanotube tensile-strength field has not made the progress that many of us had hoped for by now, but on the grand scale of things, we’re still in the ‘early innings’ of this project.  And research is now proceeding with a second material theoretically strong enough to build an earth-based Space Elevator tether from, Boron Nitride nanotubes.  Options are good things!

My faithful readers over the past several years have noted, I’m sure, this blog’s change in focus from “all-things Space Elevator” to “all-things ISEC”.  This wasn’t deliberate, but was rather a side-effect of my being president of that organization for four years.  Now that I’m no longer president (but I’m still very much involved as a Director and being in charge of publicity), the focus of this blog is returning to “all-things Space Elevator”.

So, thank you for reading and onward and upward!

March 2014 ISEC eNewsletter released

The latest issue of the ISEC eNewsletter has just been released.  Lots of good information in this issue including how to register for the upcoming 2014 Space Elevator Conference (you ARE going, aren’t you?), updates on the ISEC Research Committee, ISEC being a supporter of the upcoming NSS/ISDC conference and more.

Check it out here.

And remember, you can join our eNewsletter list so you’ll always be one of the first to get updates from ISEC.