Archive for July, 2007

A story from last year’s Space Elevator Games…

One of the entrants in last year’s Space Elevator Games was LiteWon, a team made up of High School students from Westmont High School located in Campbell, CA.  Their climber, certainly the least complicated one there, came up with the second best time to the top (a little over two minutes), losing out only to USST.  This year, they are returning for another crack at the prize.

A story ran in the November 1st, 2006 issue of the Campbell Reporter, one I hadn’t seen until Ben Shelef emailed it to me a few days ago.  It really is well done and the photographs are wonderful.  The author, Alicia Upano, did a marvelous job.  My favorite fact from the story was that their climber was powered by a motor from a model airplane.

If you want to see the story photos in all their glory, click on this link to view the pdf of the story.  Though this pdf file is large (2 MB), it is well, worth the time it will take to download on your machine (IMHO).

(Photo credit: Jacqueline Ramseyer - click on it for a larger version.  There are also several other excellent photos in the story)

Add comment July 31st, 2007

8 degrees spells trouble for Solar power teams…

Salt Lake City, the home of this year’s Space Elevator Games, is at latitude 40 degrees 47 minutes north while Las Cruces, home of last year’s Games is at latitude 32 degrees 31 minutes north.  The difference is only a little more than 8 degrees, but that, according to Brian Turner of the Kansas City Space Pirates, spells out about a 15% power loss for their climber.  Brian also says that Salt Lake City is cloudy about 45% of the time vs. 20% for Las Cruces.  Added up, this spells some additional hurdles for the Space Pirates climber, and any other team relying on Solar Power.

The Space Pirates are also experiencing other difficulties.  From an email he recently sent out (and reprinted with permission);

“Solar cell attrition is looking to be a potential problem. We are using Space Grade rejects. The testing has been mixed with both good and bad results. It appears that we will break more than I had anticipated because they are quite fragile. It also seems at this point that some of the Space Grade rejects are also Space Pirate rejects. Currently it looks like we may have to scrap 30% of what we buy or use them at reduced output.”

Brian also has this to say about his competitors:

“None of the other teams seem to be confident enough in their progress to release any details. That usually means that they are having similar problems to us. If any of the laser teams were really doing well I would expect to hear something. The teams that are copying my mirror idea are up against the same things we are. And as for the Microwave teams…. Well, I am just not a believer.”

I’m not sure if the other teams not releasing information is symptomatic of problems or not.  He certainly could be right, but I expect at least a few other teams to come to the competition with polished, ready Climbers and they are only keeping mum now out of fear of tipping their hand early.  Come October, we’ll find out…

The Space Pirates are also sporting a new logo.  Click on it to see a larger version.

1 comment July 30th, 2007

Happy Birthday NASA!

49 years ago today, President Dwight David Eisenhower signed The National Aeronautics and Space Act (Pub.L. 85-568) to create The National Aeronautics and Space Agency, more commonly known as NASA.  NASA was created to respond to the challenge of Sputnik.

Though this agency is often criticized, it’s monumental achievements cannot be overlooked.  In addition to winning the race to the moon via its Mercury and Apollo programs, NASA has sent probes all over the solar system and into true outer space.  Today, NASA’s Rovers wander the surface of Mars, looking for the building blocks of life.  NASA built and launched Skylab and is now working on the International Space Station.  It has launched numerous satellites that have performed spectacularly, perhaps best symbolized by the Hubble Telescope.  It has built the Shuttle, the world’s only, true, spaceship; capable of launching into space (with a 20 ton payload) and returning.   And for we Space Elevator afficiandos, let’s not forget that NASA provided the money for Dr. Edwards research which led to the Space Elevator concept we are all working for, not to mention the prize money for the Space Elevator Games. The list of accomplishments goes on and on.

Yes there have been mistakes and failures and people have criticized NASA (perhaps justly, perhaps not) for supposedly taking wrong paths with the ISS and the Shuttle.  But NASA is an organization which actually accomplishes great and magnificent things.  We take so much of what they do now for granted and we really shouldn’t.  Space is hard.

There is little doubt that NASA is going through perhaps their most difficult time now.  From constantly changing priorities, to personnel issues that have become soap-opera fodder, to trying to deal with the nascent commercialization of space, it sometimes seems now like they are in a lose-lose situation.  But I think we have to step back and take a look at the larger picture and just marvel at what they have actually accomplished and what they continue to do.

Next year is NASA’s fiftieth anniversary and I hope that day is marked by our country with great joy and celebration.

Happy Birthday NASA!  Long may you continue to ad astra per aspera.

2 comments July 29th, 2007

Close(r), but no cigar…

When I first read this article, my thoughts were “Wow!  Has the ribbon problem finally been solved?”  The specific line that made me think this was;

“Now, a research team from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has assembled particles of graphene oxide, a form of graphite and a cousin of diamonds, into very thin sheets that ARE EVEN STRONGER THAN THOSE OF THE [CARBON] NANOTUBES.”  (emphasis mine)

But wait, how can this be?  I thought carbon nanotubes were theoretically the strongest material possible.

Then the article said;

“Laboratory tests showed that the grapheme paper was as strong as that made from carbon nanotubes…”

Wait.  First its “even stronger”, then its “as strong as”.  ???  I guess they’re picking and choosing what kind of carbon nanotubes to compare it with (and then changing that on the fly).

The accompanying abstract gave some real numbers to look at; the strength of this new graphene oxide paper is given as 32 GPa.  Very strong indeed, nearly 8 times as strong as steel, but, alas, not strong enough for an earth-based Space Elevator (130 GPa needed for a factor of two safety margin - Edwards).

Still, a very impressive accomplishment indeed.  If/once the water solubility issue is solved, this stuff will be used in all sorts of applications.  They could even make mail envelopes out of it; lets see the post office try and mangle those…

(Photo credit: Northwestern University.  Click on it or visit the articles to view a larger version)

Update July 29th - I’ve heard from a couple of people that not all GPa’s are the same, and that this stuff isn’t that strong at all.  Please note Tom Nugent’s comment on this post…

3 comments July 28th, 2007

Updates from LaserMotive

There have been a couple of posts recently (here and here) on the LaserMotive blog, both concerning the mirror that they’re going to be using in the upcoming Space Elevator Games.

In the latest post, they include a cool photograph, showing a reflection of someone from the coated side of their mirror, and discussing why they’re not concerned that their mirror doesn’t reflect visible light very well.

I must say, of all the Space Elevator Team websites, only a few are updated frequently.  I understand that it takes extra work to keep a blog updated (well I know) and a lot of teams just don’t have the extra bandwidth to do this.  Also, I’m sure that some teams are worried about giving too much away to the competition.  With a half-million bucks at state, it’s hard to fault that logic.  But I hope that the other teams will start posting some updates on their blogs soon, otherwise I’m going to have to subject them to one of my infamous interviews :-)

(Click on the picture thumbnail, or check out the LaserMotive post, for a larger version)

3 comments July 27th, 2007

“Elevator Games Aim High”

The press release, announcing the date and venue of this year’s Space Elevator Games is all over the media and blogosphere now, and I’m not going to attempt to link to all of the related posts.

I will make an exception for Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log, however.  His column is a regular read of mine; I always enjoy what he has to say.  Here is his take on the upcoming festivities…

Add comment July 26th, 2007

Date and Venue announced for 2007 Space Elevator Games

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., July 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Spaceward Foundation announced today the venue and timing for its annual Space Elevator games.

The event will be held at the Davis County Event Center just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The qualifying rounds will start on October 15, and the event will be open to the public between October 19 and October 21.

The Space Elevator competitions, marking their third year running, will feature more than 20 teams from around the country and the world, vying for $1,000,000 in cash prizes provided by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program.

“The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development is thrilled to have the Spaceward Games in Utah this year,” said Gary Harter, Managing Director of Business Creation there. Barbara Riddle, director of the Davis area conventions shared his enthusiasm.

This year will feature a new technology competition — “Light Racers” — that allows kids and young adults to take part in a realistic lunar exploration scenario and win cash prizes for their performance. The competition is open to school, family, and grown-up teams. The Light Racers also serve as a science education platform for teaching basic science and math topics.

Meekk Shelef, president of the Spaceward Foundation: “We are thrilled to have added an educational component where kids can take part in the competition. Reaching out to the scientists and engineers of the future is the most important thing we can do.”

The Space Elevator games concentrate on two far-reaching technology concepts that will enable NASA to enhance its space program — power beaming for wireless power transfer, and Nano-materials such as Carbon Nanotubes for strong structures.

Ken Davidian, program manager for Centennial Challenges: “I am excited and impressed with the evolution and level of technical maturity demonstrated by the teams in both the Tether and Beam Power Challenges. Over the past 24 months, individual teams started from scratch, have grown continually, have coalesced into communities, and are on the verge of accomplishing substantial achievements worthy of a Centennial Challenges prize.”

Dr. Bradley C Edwards, the leading Space Elevator researcher and science advisor to the games: “The Space Elevator games, with their emphasis on strong tethers and power beaming, represent the road to building the Space Elevator. We hope their cumulative effect on the engineering community will enable further effort in this direction.”

“From what we have seen of the teams so far, we are looking forward to an exciting race to the finish this year,” said Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation. “Third year’s a charm — we expect to be able to award the prize purse this year.”

The Space Elevator is a revolutionary Earth-to-Space transportation system proposed in 1960 by Yuri Artsutanov and enhanced in 2000 by Dr. Bradley Edwards, then at Los Alamos National Labs. The system is comprised of a stationary cable rotating in unison with the Earth, with one end anchored to the surface of the planet and the other end in space. Electric cars then travel up and down the cable, carrying cargo and people.

For more information on the competitions, visit: http://www.spaceward.org/, email ted [AT] spaceward.org, or call (630) 240-4797.

Press resources are located at http://www.spaceward.org/press/PR-2007-001.html.

The Spaceward Foundation is a public-funds non-profit organization dedicated to furthering space science and technology in the public mindshare and in educational curriculums. We believe that expanding mankind’s habitat is essential to its survival, and that the most effective way to induce long- term change is through education. Spaceward Foundation

CONTACT: Ted Semon of Spaceward Foundation, +1-630-240-4797, ted [AT] spaceward.org

Web site: http://www.spaceward.org/

3 comments July 25th, 2007

New life for LiftPort?

In his post “A Boost from Balloons?” on his Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle details the possibilities that LiftPort may have in using it’s Tethered Tower application to stay afloat (pun intended).  Alan talks about his conversations with LiftPort’s Michael Laine and their latest demo (the preparation of which was described somewhat painfully here).

LiftPort/Tethered Towers may have one or more potential customers for this product and that may be enough for them to stay solvent and continue on their quest to build a Space Elevator.  Let’s hope so…

4 comments July 24th, 2007

More on the Japan Space Elevator Association

Today I heard back from Mr. Shiuchi Ohno, one of the founders of the newly formed Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA).  I had emailed them a few questions - here are his responses;

Q) How long has JSEA been in existence?
A) JSEA is an association just born in this month. We will have first meeting this weekend in Tokyo.  Last year, my friend and I went to Seattle to meet Mr.Michael and Mr. Tomas of Liftport company. We proposed them to start Japanese branch. But they couldn’t decide until now. Then we decided to start actual activity in Japan for the real SE.

Q) What kind of organization is it?  Academic only? General Interest?  Governmental?
A) At first, our activity will stay within general interest. But we are very conscious of academic study and commercial based research and development. We want to make effort to speed them up.

Q) What is the organizations charter?  Are they an information-only group or are they going to actively try and help build a Space Elevator.
A) We have not actual strategy for charter yet. (That’s the theme for this weekend meeting.) One idea for this is to be continuing private organization and found some companies that obey associate’s principles. Those companies will concentrate to build a SE.

So, there you have it.  Mr. Ohno has told me he will email me periodically with updates from the JSEA and I will certainly pass them along as I receive them.

I’ve added a link to their website on the Blogroll section of my sidebar.  Though it is almost all in Japanese, plugging the Japanese text into Babelfish gives a good enough translation to figure out what they are talking about (thanks, Brian, for the tip on Babelfish).

5 comments July 23rd, 2007

Japan Space Elevator Association

No, I didn’t know that there was one either.  I cannot read Japanese, and there’s no English translation.

I found it via a link on the E-T-C Space Elevator Team website.  It seems that the team will be making a presentation to the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) on July 28th.  I’ll contact their team captain to try and find out how organized the JSEA is and what we might be hearing from them in the future…

I would LOVE IT if the Japanese got into this in a big way.  Here’s a country with the technical know-how, the resources and the balls to pull this off.  And, my wife is of Japanese ancestry - maybe I can use that connection to wangle a ride :-)

4 comments July 21st, 2007

Anniversary of Moon Landing

On this date, 38 years ago, mankind put it’s first footprints on another world (even though the conspiracy theorists think it was all staged).

Yes, it’s only distantly related to a Space Elevator (at least for now), but it’s still worth a note.  Someday, many of us will take the first steps of our journey to the Moon on a Space Elevator…

1 comment July 20th, 2007

RussiaToday looks at Space Elevators

The first half of this 25 minute long YouTube video (originally from RussiaToday) is devoted to nanotechnology and Russia’s move into this field of research.  Just after the video’s 10 minute mark, the narrator talks about how carbon nanotubes might be used to build an earth-based Space Elevator.  He theorizes that the climbers might be powered via Solar Energy (rather than ground-based lasers) or that the cable itself might be able to conduct power for the climbers.

Add comment July 20th, 2007

“Mars is really begging for a Space Elevator”

So says Rob Manning of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in this fascinating interview in Universe Today conducted by Nancy Atkinson.

In this interview, Mr. Manning discusses how difficult it is to actually land anything on Mars that is bigger than the Rovers already sent there.  This is due to both the atmosphere being too thin to be used for aerobraking as we know it today.

“’Mars is really begging for a space elevator,’ said Manning. ‘I think it has great potential. That would solve a lot of problems, and Mars would be an excellent platform to try it.’ But Manning admitted that the technology needed to suspend a space elevator has not yet been invented. The issues with space elevator technology may be vast, even compared with the challenges of landing.”

A really interesting interview - highly recommended.

3 comments July 18th, 2007

“Reconverging Technologies: Space, Nano, and Fountains of Paradise”

The Society for the History Of Technology (SHOT) will be holding it’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in October of this year.  SHOT is an organization dedicated to:

“…the historical study of technology and its relations with politics, economics, labor, business, the environment, public policy, science, and the arts.”

This year, Professor W. Patrick McCray will be presenting a paper entitled “Reconverging Technologies: Space, Nano, and Fountains of Paradise”.  The paper’s abtract states:

“Central to the plot of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1978 book ‘The Fountains of Paradise’ is the concept of a space elevator. His book appeared at a time of renewed international interest in space exploration and space colonization. Within a few years, however, pro-space advocates like K. Eric Drexler turned their attention to promoting nanotechnologies and molecular manufacturing. While Clarke’s vision was, of course, never realized, his idea of a space elevator gained renewed life following the widespread scientific attention paid to novel carbon nanostructures in the 1980s and 1990s. While still in a liminal state that blends fantasy and actual engineering studies, proposals for a space elevator resemble the visionary engineering analyses that marked the early Space Age. This paper explores the reconvergence of space exploration and nanotechnology as witnessed by the interest in space elevator technologies and the engineers advocating them.”

Too bad another event is going to be going on at the same time or I might want to attend :-)  I’m sure the papers will be published afterwards…

Add comment July 16th, 2007

Updates from LiftPort

Over a dozen posts have been put up on the LiftPort blog in the past few days.  Rather than summarize each one of them, I recommend that you just link over to the most recent post (here) and then just work your way backwards through the preceding posts.

Many of the posts have to do with LiftPort photos posted on flickr and comments on their ongoing legal issues.  But the post titled LiftPort’s Tethered Towers, Trials and Triumph: Part 1 conclusion deserves special mention.  Now, I’m a Systems guy from way back.  I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly with designing Systems and putting them together, and I’ve contributed to each at various times.  But I don’t recall participating in a demo as trouble-plagued as the one summarized in this LiftPort post.  If I was in this writer’s shoes, I’d have been seriously dependent on Prozac by the time this demo was completed.  It’s a miracle they got it working at all.

Read it and weep…

2 comments July 16th, 2007

“A binocular wearing albino 6 year old that never blinks”

In preparation for this year’s Space Elevator Games, the teams competing hold a weekly online “chat” session, hosted by Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation, the organizer of this year’s (and every year’s) Space Elevator Games.

One of the paramount concerns is SAFETY, for the teams, for the Spaceward crew and especially for the spectators.  Unlike previous years, this year we have an excellent chance of having one or more teams powering their climbers with either Lasers or Microwaves.  Both of these technologies are safe, if proper precautions are taken, and these precautions are discussed in many of our chats, including today’s.

To emphasize his point about how careful the teams must be, Ben was trying to draw a worst-case scenario for them.  He wanted them to make viewing their team entrys safe, even if, in the audience, there was a “a binocular wearing albino 6 year old that never blinks.”

I’m sure it’s possible to imagine an even more worst-case scenario, but I’m sure you get the idea.  And hey, if you are (or you bring) someone who is “a binocular wearing albino 6 year old that never blinks” to the games, make sure you look me up - I’d love to post your picture on my blog :-)

Add comment July 15th, 2007

News from RAMCO I

One of the entrants in this year’s Space Elevator Games is Warr’s RAMCO I, out of Munich, Germany.  They do post news on their website, but I don’t read German.  If you plug the latest news entry from them into one of those online language translators, you get the following:

“The WARRmedia WARR-EX1 was updated with pictures by the Garnix to festival and the test ignition. A lot of fun with it!”

There is also a video, which looks somewhat like what I saw in my neighbor’s backyard on the Fourth of July…

Add comment July 14th, 2007

Giant Carbon Dioxide Vacuums

Several weeks ago, I wroteabout technologies available / hoped for on getting rid of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere.  There are a lot of reasons why a Space Elevator “evacuator” would not be practical to use to accomplish this; separating the CO2 from the atmosphere without generating more CO2, pumping it up a “Space Elevator Tube”, gravity pulling it back down into the atmosphere, etc.  In addition, I wonder if we really want to get rid of this stuff - there might come a day when we really need it and we’ll wish we hadn’t thrown it away.

It appears though, that at least one of these problems may be solved.  In this article, the authors announce a technology which will separate CO2 from the atmosphere, and do so with materials that can continually be recycled.  They use standard forms of energy to accomplish this (with the accompanying pollution), but this can be solved by powering this unit with Solar cells, making this a really clean way to get CO2 out of the atmosphere.  The problem, of course, is what do you do with it then.  It’s only stable in a gas form (having already been removed from it’s stable liquid (oil) form or stable solid (coal) form).  You’d have to compress the bejesus out of it - into something like degenerate matter.  Then you could use a Space Elevator to haul it out of the atmosphere and, as a bonus, send it to someplace that could use it (like the moon or Mars).  This would help those bodies develop an atmosphere.  Of course without a magnetic field to protect the life on the body, it probably couldn’t develop in a non-protected manner, but I’ll leave the solution of that problem as an exercise for the reader.

And yes, this post only has a tenuous link to a Space Elevator, but like many others, I’m waiting for the official announcement of the upcoming Space Elevator Games too…

Anyway, the article makes for interesting reading and there is also a link to a video on the post which shows the unit in action.

1 comment July 13th, 2007

Space Elevator Presentation from Live Video

This is a generally well-constructed presentation about the possibilities of a Space Elevator, combining many of the SE images floating around the Internet along with pictures from last year’s Space Elevator Games.  They mangled the Carl Sagan quote, and stated (incorrectly, unfortunately) that NASA was interested in the idea of a Space Elevator, but other than that, it was well done.

Based on a comment made in the presentation, about how the Space Elevator Games, with $150K in Prize Money had occurred “earlier this month”, I have to conclude this was posted in October of last year.  However, it just popped up in my Search Engines so I’m linking to it now.

(Update: 16 July, 2007 - The video no longer appears on the website.  However, it is now available via YouTube)

Add comment July 11th, 2007

Telstar 1 launched 45 years ago today

Telstar 1, the world’s first active communication satellite, and also a product of the world’s first privately-sponsored space launch, was launched on this date in 1962.  It’s hard to believe that we’ve only had this capability for 45 years.  My kids have no idea what a world without this technology is like - just another sign of how old I’m getting, I guess.

I remember the excitement that surrounded the launch and how my dad and I and the neighbors would go outside at night when a pass was scheduled to be visible to see if we could spot it - often times we could.

The ties between Telstar 1 and a future Space Elevator are many:

  • Communications satellites were the brainchild of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, also the author of The Fountains of Paradise, the Sci-fi book which popularized the concept of Space Elevators.
  • Reducing the cost of satellite launches will be a major reason that a Space Elevator will be built.
  • The launch of Telstar 1 ushered in the age of privately-sponsored Space launches, and my money is on private enterprise to build the first Space Elevator.

The Wikipedia article on Telstar 1 makes for fascinating reading.

(Photo from Wikipedia - click on it for a larger version)

Add comment July 10th, 2007

Snowstar update

On the Team Snowstar website, they give a progress report on how/what they are doing, along with some neat photos.  The photo of their climber on a 40 foot tether shows that, on the outside at least, they have a similar design to last year’s entry (though of course there may be changes between now and competition day).

In their latest posting (June 27th), they note:

“In addition to progress on this year’s design, on June 5 we ran the climber in a situation that allowed us to test in real-world conditions, allowing us to refine and verify our design. There are no public test days planned in the near future; however, UBC Snowstar is proud to announce that we will be holding an event on July 21 at Science World. More details will be forthcoming, with instructions on how to get there as the day comes closer.”

Check out their website for more information.

3 comments July 9th, 2007

Space Elevators and the angry dwarf (planet)

Well, most of the info about Space Elevators in this humorous podcast is correct, but I’m not so sure about the comparison to bullroarers.  If you can make it through the music, the interview at the end with angry dwarf (planet) is pretty funny…

(Photo of Bullroarers from Budamurra Aboriginal Corporation - really - click on it for a larger version)

Add comment July 8th, 2007

On Lasers and Lasermotive

Tom Nugent from Lasermotive, an entrant into the 2007 Space Elevator Games, has put a couple of interesting, laser-related posts on their team blog.

In the first, we find that “cheaper is better”, at least when it comes to seeing in the near Infrared.

And in the second, we learn about safety considerations when working with lasers, even with relatively low-powered ones.

Add comment July 7th, 2007

A journey on Xpress Lifts…

Gee, cyanide capsules and everything…

1 comment July 4th, 2007

$34,000 = cost to lift one 1kg from earth to the vicinity of Mars

In this post on the Space Elevator Reference, Dr. Bryan Laubscher discusses what it will cost to lift 1kg from the surface of earth to the vicinity of Mars using rocket technology.   Dr. Laubscher asks (and answers) the question:

“My question is: How much exploration, especially manned exploration, of the moon and Mars will we be doing at $34,000 per kilogram? My guess is that we’ll do pretty much what we’ve done over the last 35 years since the last Apollo mission.”

Dr. Laubscher makes a compelling, cost-justified case for a Space Elevator.  Too bad “the concept is not of interest to NASA.”

My money is still on a US business-consortium or a joint venture between Dubai and India to build the first, earth-based Space Elevator…

In a related article, “How to Get to Space - cheap“, Andrey Kobilnyk gives the cost of lifting 1kg from the surface of the earth to LEO ad $19,000.  Dr. Laubscher had given this cost as $10,000.  If Mr. Kobilnyk is correct, then it costs even more to lift one 1kg from earth to the vicinity of Mars.  He, too, argues that a Space Elevator, built from carbon nanotubes, would be a much more cost-effective way to solve this problem…

(Money Graphic courtesy of Money Clip Art Gallery.  Rotating nanotube graphic from FirstScience.com)

Add comment July 4th, 2007

Call for organizers for the 2008 Space Elevator Conference

The Space Elevator Reference today announced a call for organizers for the 2008 Space Elevator Conference, expected to be hosted in Seattle, Washington.  From the announcement;

“The purpose of the conference is to bring together scientists, engineers, businessmen, economists, educators, financiers, writers, students and others interested in the Space Elevator for wide-ranging papers and discussion sessions…We are looking for individuals local to Seattle, in the United States and abroad with a deep interest in the Space Elevator and a desire to organize and attend the conference.”

Check out the post for more information.  If you are interested in furthering the “cause” of building a Space Elevator, here’s a good way to get involved.

1 comment July 4th, 2007

Spider silk, goats, and the Space Elevator Games

As ScienCentralNews reports, spider silk is strong stuff, “5 times tougher than Kevlar.”  But as they also report in this very interesting article, it’s hard to obtain, in quantity, from spiders.  The story describes a technique of harvesting spider silk from Goat milk.  The idea was to insert gene fragments into goats and then harvest the silk spider from the goat’s milk.

One of the entrants in the 2006 Space Elevator Games Tether Pull competition was a Canadian company called Nexia Biotechnologies.  They licensed this technology and attempted to create a super-strong tether to enter into the Games.  They never showed up to compete, however, and I always wondered why.  This article gives us the probable reason; the spider silk created from this technique was inferior to the real stuff.

A newer technique, using the entire gene sequence of spider silk (instead of just a fraction of it, as was done before) may be in the offing, and this time, instead of splicing this information into goats, it may be spliced into crops.  Cheryl Hayashi, one of the team members who has helped decode the entire spider silk gene sequence states; “That way they could be grown very cheaply, you know, by the acre. And then the silk protein would be extracted from the plant material and this would be the way that we could get very large amounts of spider silks. We could get spider silks by the ton.”

There is also a video about spider silk and spider silk “farming” you can view.  One learns that Black Widow spiders happen to be the best for this use.  Nadia Ayoub, the researcher interviewed, said that farming Black Widows to extract Spider silk was like “farming wolves for meat” - a very interesting comparison.

It’s a shame that spider silk is not strong enough for an earth-based space elevator, but it should work just fine for a lunar-based one.  Here’s hoping this technique becomes practical.

2 comments July 2nd, 2007

NIAC (NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts) to close August 31, 2007

As reported today on SpaceRef.com, NIAC, The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, will be closing its doors on August 31st of this year.  Many people, including yours truly (here and here), had reported that NIAC was intending to close, but a last ditch effort was mounted to save it.  Sadly, this effort has failed.

NIAC gives the reason for doing this as follows: “NASA, faced with the constraints of achieving the Vision for Space Exploration, has made the difficult decision to terminate NIAC, which has been funded by NASA since inception.”

Let’s all just be thankful that they closed after they funded Dr. Edwards studies, and not before.

You can read more about this at the NIAC website.

3 comments July 2nd, 2007

“I must have a few hundred years of bad luck ahead of me”

This headline is a quote from Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates, and is found in today’s (July 1st, 2007) New York Times Magazine.  He’s referring to all the mirrors he’s broken as part of his effort to build his team’s entry into the Space Elevator Games Climber/Power Beaming contest.  A picture of Brian, happily engaged in his workshop, is on the cover of the same magazine.

The author of the article, Jack Hitt, covers many of the NASA Centennial prizes, and talks about how NASA is using these prizes to reach out to amateur inventors, like Brian, to help reinvigorate its exploration programs.  It’s a fine article and a great read (though I’m going to have to email him about what a “liftport ambassador” really is)…  The article also discusses how Peter Homer won a Centennial prize by building a better Space glove

If you want to read the entire article (which I highly recommend you do), you can either purchase today’s NY Times or you can view the article online here.  The online article also contains a link to a video made about Peter Homer and his winning glove entry.  Of note here is that, like the NASA Tether competition the “Build a better glove” contest also has a destructive test; pumping the glove full of pressurized water until it springs a leak.  Frankly, I think the Tether test is more fun :-)

And Brian, what kind of dog is that?  Those are the longest legs I’ve ever seen on a dog - it reminds me of the Star Wars AT-AT.

(Photo credits: Jeff Riedel for the New York Times - click on the thumbnails to view a larger version)

3 comments July 1st, 2007


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