Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Tunguska event

100 years ago today, something ‘cosmic’ happened in (or rather ‘over’) Tunguska, in eastern Russia.

There are stories and postings about this all over the Internet; has posted its take here and, of course, Wikipedia weighs in here.

The Planetary Society hosted a press conference today; “Target Earth: How Prepared Are We for Another Tunguska?”  Assuming that they put this online (and I’m sure they will), I’ll link to it.

While bouncing around the ‘net, looking for info on events commemorating this event, I came across this website, “Planetary Defense: In defense of the future”.  I am limited on the amount of surfing I can do at the moment, as I’m on vacation (in the Canadian Maritimes) and have only sporadic access to the Interent.  However, this site looks pretty interesting and I’ll be checking it out more in the future.

Anyway, all of the events today point to one thing; the Earth is sitting in a cosmic shooting gallery; it’s only a matter of time before something comes our way again.  We can sit here with our thumbs up our butt and hope for the best or we can proactively a) look for these suckers and b) develop the technology to deal with them.  Fortunately, we are now beginning to take concrete steps to protect ourselves; we can only hope that these efforts continue and intensify.

A Space Elevator would be very handy, indeed, if we had to get large amounts of ‘stuff’ out of our gravity well and into position to defend ourselves.  It is one of the most important reasons to develop one.

So far, so good…

In this year’s Space Elevator Games, a round, steel cable is replacing the belt/tether ‘racetrack’ which proved so problematic last year. 

In the latest post on the LaserMotive blog, we see a video of the LaserMotive drive system zipping through a bunch of cable like that in this year’s competition.  The ‘interesting bits’ are blocked out, so we can’t see the mechanism that is actually traversing the cable, but it’s an impressive bit of footage nonetheless…

The YouTube video is below; check out the LaserMotive Blog post for the full story.

The Space Elevator makes Discovery Channel’s list of ‘The world’s nine largest science projects’

This is cool.  The Discovery Channel has put together a select list of happening / on-the-drawing-board projects and dubbed them ‘The world’s nine largest science projects’.

The Space Elevator makes the list along with the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, a fusion reactor (ITER), the ANTARES underwater neutrino detecting array and several others.

Lots of neat science stuff in this web page…

Planetary defense

One of the ‘no-brainer’ applications for a Space Elevator is the ability to quickly launch large quantities of ‘stuff” into orbit and beyond, ‘stuff’ that may be needed to change the orbit or destroy an asteroid headed our way.

Of course, we need to be able to see these little ‘cosmic challenges’ before we can do anything about them.  And that makes this article interesting;

“Canada is building the world’s first space telescope designed to detect and track asteroids as well as satellites. Called NEOSSat (Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite), this spacecraft will provide a significant improvement in surveillance of asteroids that pose a collision hazard with Earth and innovative technologies for tracking satellites in orbit high above our planet.”

The article goes on to say that they are expecting to launch this satellite in 2010.

Wires? We don’t need no stinkin’ wires…

One of my favorite movies (by one of my favorite directors) is The Abyss.  The plot was first-rate, the acting was top-notch and the special effects were awesome.

If you’ve ever seen the movie, you’ll certainly recall one of its most memorable scenes;  ‘Bud’ Brigman (Ed Harris) is trying to disarm a nuclear bomb.  He’s being guided by a Navy SEAL who is telling him to cut “…the blue wire with the white stripe, not, I repeat NOT the black wire with the yellow stripe.”  And, of course, the only light he has to work by is a chemical one which renders the colors indistinguishable…

Perhaps this scene was Tom Nugent’s inspiration for the post he recently put up on the LaserMotive blog; “Which Wire Do You Cut“?

And, if that wasn’t Tom’s reference, perhaps it can be found here

Space Elevators as explained by the Midnight Tutor

A couple of months ago, we heard the “Mobile Home Astrophysicist’s” take on Space Elevators.  Recently posted on YouTube, we now have the concept of a Space Elevator explained by the Midnight Tutor.

His explanation was a bit hazy as to how climbers would actually ascend the cable and his cable is 48K miles long instead of the 60K miles.  But the gist of his explanation is generally correct and does serve as a ‘quick and dirty’ introduction to the concept.

He also talks about using the Space Elevator to put payloads into LEO, scramjets and other fun and games stuff…

A new book release…

I received a note a few days ago from David J. Williams, the author of a new book; “The Mirrored Heavens“.  In his email to me, David writes:

“I’m the author of the just-released THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, which was published on May 20th by Random House’s Bantam Spectra.  The book centers on events following the destruction of the Phoenix Elevator, a LEO (rather than GEO) space elevator.  While I’m a writer of fiction, and certainly hope that such scenarios never come to pass, I do hope that my book might contribute in some small way to the growing publicity around space elevators, which I firmly believe to be an idea whose time has come…

You might also check out my website, where I’ve got a fair amount of imagery/data relating to the Elevator, and the world of 2110.”

The website is splendid and well worth a visit – the trailer he’s posted is first-rate and ranks very high on my cool-o-meter…  And as a blogger, I especially enjoy David’s blog – it’s really well done.

Once I’ve read this book, I’ll post a review here on the blog.

(Click on the cover thumbnail to see a larger version)

Update – 28JUN08 – Tim Gebhart has published a review of this book here.

KC Space Pirates and robotics in the news…

At, author Jonathan Bender wrote an article discussing robotics, Space Elevator climber, the Spaceward Games and, among others, Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates

From the article:

“This year Turner and his team are headed back to the desert with one goal — to capture the $2 million prize. They have a new power source, a laser, but the climber must now scale a kilometer-long ribbon, a distance 10 times greater than the 2007 threshold.”

It’s a fun article – that Brian sure does get in the news, doesn’t he?

Lasers in the news…

Brian Turner of the Kansas City Space Pirates pointed out a very interesting article to me, an article discussing the latest success from Boeing with their battlefield laser weapon system they are developing.  From the article:

Boeing Fires New Thin-Disk Laser, Achieving Solid-State Laser Milestone

ST. LOUIS, June 03, 2008 — The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] fired its new thin-disk laser system repeatedly in recent tests, achieving the highest known simultaneous power, beam quality and run time for any solid-state laser to date.

In each laser firing at Boeing’s facility in West Hills, Calif., the high-energy laser achieved power levels of over 25 kilowatts for multi-second durations, with a measured beam quality suitable for a tactical weapon system. The Boeing laser integrates multiple thin-disk lasers into a single system. Through these successful tests, the Boeing team has proven the concept of scalability to a 100-kilowatt-class system based on the same architecture and technology.

The system they tested, as noted is ~25 kW of power.  For reference, the system which TRUMPF is supplying to 5 contestants in this year’s Space Elevator games is 8 kW, or about 1/3 the power.  It is no wonder that safety is such a concern in this year’s games (as it was last year, too).

As another point of reference, in the Edwards-Westling book, ‘The Space Elevator’, the authors state that a 2.4MW laser will be needed to power a 20 ton climber.  So a single 25kW unit now being demonstrated by Boeing is only 1% of the way there (though the 100kW future unit discussed in the article would supply about 4% of the power needed for a 20 ton Climber).

Chemical lasers, by comparison, can be found in the MW range and it was my assumption that these are the lasers being targeted for use in a future space elevator.  I emailed Dr. Brad Edwards to check my assumptions about this new solid-state laser and he replied:

“This is the laser I was talking to them about a few years ago. At that time they said it was basically a matter of money. But if they have the 100kW laser as they state ‘in the coming years’ then that means we need to purchase 24 of these and point them all at the climber (through a large mirror or set of mirrors. Their size and how they run would make this pretty straight forward and the plan I have had in mind for some time. This is actually pretty promising.”

Surprised, I asked him specifically about the preferability, if any, of this solid-state laser over the chemical ones.  He replied:

The solid-state ones are more efficient, much easier to use, much smaller and less costly in the end – I like them much better. Yes, having multiple small lasers is better from a redundancy aspect though it can be more challenging in operations – best is to have a small number but enough that if a few fail you can still run.”

So, this new laser development IS a very promising one and is yet one more ‘brick in the road’ (or should I use the analogy ‘fiber in the tether’? 🙂 ) on the way to a Space Elevator…

National Space Society (NSS) – Going Up

In the current (Summer, 2008) issue of Ad Astra, the quarterly publication produced by the National Space Society, there is an interview with Bert Murray, captain of the NSS Space Elevator Team.  The interview, entitled ‘Going Up’, covers such topics as Bert’s background, team progess, advantages of a Space Elevator, etc.

It’s a worthy read contained in a worthy publication.  I never have enough time to read all of the magazines I’ve subscribed to, but I always read As Astra from cover to cover – it’s very well put together and always has interesting and timely articles.  If you’re not already a member of NSS, I urge you to consider joining.

On a related note, at the recently completed ISDC 2008 conference, the NSS team had a booth.  I had posted about this before along with some photographs.  One thing I neglected to mention is that NSS has created a brochure about their Space Elevator team.  The three thumbnails in this post are of the brochure – click on the thumbnails to get a larger, readable version of them.

More Space Elevator potpourri…

I forgot to mention that Simon Vanden Bussche, emailing me from Belgium, was the first one to correctly guess what ‘work in progress’ (documented here, here, here and here) was.  Simon has previously contributed to this blog (via providing the Dutch translation for ‘Space Elevator’) and has also written an article about the first Space Elevator Conference held in Europe last year (chronicled here).  Thank you Simon!

The picture, above, is a thumbnail of a poster which was mounted on the Space Elevator Games Venue exhibit.  It contain’s Ben Shelef’s thoughts on the value of asteroids to humanity.  Click on the thumbnail to get a larger, readable version of the picture.

We’re up to 23!  Dan Leafblad from the Kansas City Space Pirates has sent me translations for ‘Space Elevator’ in six additional languages, Finnish, Korean, Romanian, Hindi, Czech and Greek.  Thanks Dan!

And last but not least, Tom Nugent (and his wife Elizabeth – I do think she had something to do with this), of LiftPort and LaserMotive fame, welcomed the latest addition to their family, Howard Antares Nugent.  If you want to see all the details about ‘fun and games’ with their new baby, check out Not In Kansas Anymore…  Congratulations guys!!

Latest from the Kansas City Space Pirates

I received this email today from Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates:

The climber climbed!
Just from the floor to the ceiling of the shop. But it has proven that our drive system works with the climb cable. This is all new stuff this year and we are happy with the design we have so far.

Beam steering 101
We have now steered a beam with full XYZ control. We have assembled the parts from ThorLabs and National Instruments and things are progressing nicely.

Solar panel
The solar panel is finished and should be mounted on the climber by the end of next week.

The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washington DC was something of a let down as we only uncovered 2 leads for funding and one of those has already turned us down. I suspect that I would have done better if I had made it in on the Wednesday business plan presentations. It was a good networking opportunity. For example, I met a person that showed me where to get a part we were having trouble finding.

Here we are back at the money issue. At this stage of the project we are spending money as fast as we raise it. I have been forced to delay purchases while trying to get the money for the items. This could bite us later. Fund raising is now directly competing with building time. I hate it when that happens.

Some aspects of the project are falling behind, but others are right on time thanks to the progress made this week. I will be focusing on the stragglers this week. The competition organisers have not finalised the actual competition yet either. So a delay is possible.  Normally I would want to keep the pressure on our competitors, but at this point an extra month would be welcome. We are supposed to hear about this soon.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

ISDC2008 Wrap-up

I enjoyed attending this year’s ISDC conference, but I must say that I was faintly disappointed by it.  The attendance was not huge.  I don’t know what the official numbers are, but I would be very surprised if there were more than 500 people in attendance – somehow I expected more because ISDC is supposed to be the ‘big’ Space conference.  The second thing I was disappointed in was the heavy emphasis on SPS (Solar Power Satellites).  As I’ve written before, I think that anyone who believes that SPS will EVER generate a significant portion of earth’s power needs just hasn’t run the numbers.  Almost all of the SPS presentations I attended never addressed that issue.  Now I didn’t attend all of the SPS presentations so perhaps there were some I missed which tried to inject a dose of reality into this discussion, but somehow I don’t think so.  Ben Shelef, in one of the final presentations, did say just that and no one contradicted him.  I don’t think anyone can.

The military was there as an enthusiastic fan of SPS.  For them, perhaps, and for other applications which require high-availability and (relatively) low amounts of power (and where cost is not a factor), SPS (via lasers, not microwaves) can make some sense.  But for you and me, powering our computers and electric cars and refrigerators?  NFW…

I know that the National Space Society (NSS) has made SPS one of their signature issues.  At the conference, I was able to meet Bert Murray (head of the NSS Space Elevator team) and I am going to try and start a dialog with NSS about this issue (using Bert as a conduit).  Perhaps they can prove me wrong.  I would certainly love it if they did, but I’m not holding my breath…

Just a couple of pictures to wrap things up then – the first one, above, is, from left to right, Brian Turner of the Kansas City Space Pirates, Lt. Col. Peter Damphousse of the United States Air Force and Jim Dempsey.  Lt. Col Damphousse was part of several panels/presentations about SPS.

The second picture is of the Meteor Crater Exhibit, put together by Ben Shelef (pictured) of the Spaceward Association, broken down and packed into it’s shipping container.  It seemed like an appropriate “end” photo…

Next up is the 2008 Space Elevator Conference (July 18th-20th).  Only 45 more days…

(As always, click on the thumbnails for a larger version of the picture)

Welcome Instapundit readers…

I wondered why my traffic had spiked in the last couple of days – a mention from Glenn Reynolds / Instapundit will do that… 🙂

Welcome to the Space Elevator Blog!  Here I try and keep everyone up-to-date with all things Space Elevator related – I’m glad you stopped by.

In case you’re wondering, the Space Elevator is NOT a loony idea.  The physics are sound and the benefits of a Space Elevator, cheap and reliable access to space for huge quantities of just about anything you care to ship up there, are staggering.  Yes, the engineering challenges are formidable and the key ingredient, carbon nanotubes of sufficient strength and in sufficient number are not yet available.  But that’s what Engineers do with engineering challenges, they solve them.

The state of the art in engineering carbon nanotubes is advancing by leaps and bounds.  People I know and trust believe that carbon nanotube fibers with the quality needed to create a Space Elevator will be available in the next few years.

In addition to the engineering challenges, there will be legal issues, political issues and, of course, business issues to be addressed.  But where there are huge benefits and huge profits to be made (both possible with the Space Elevator), these issues can be overcome.  Stay tuned…

If the idea of the Space Elevator intrigues you, I urge you to put this blog into your RSS feed.  Two other sites which you should also check out are the Spaceward site (the home of the Space Elevator Games) and the Space Elevator Reference.

You might also want to consider attending the annual Space Elevator conference, sponsored this year by Microsoft, Black Line Ascension and Industrial Nano, being held at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, from July 18th through July 20th.

Finally, let me make you aware of the Space Elevator Games.  This is a 5 year challenge, sponsored with 4 million dollars of money from NASA.  There are two competitions, one in power-beaming and one in creating strong tethers.  Both of these technologies will be absolutely essential to build a space elevator and the Spaceward Foundation has partnered with NASA to promote these technologies/competitions.  This year is the fourth year of the challenge.  If you are interested in learning more about this, visit the Spaceward Foundation website.  If you’d like to see what happened at the games last year or the prior year, just do a search on this blog for 2007 Space Elevator Games or 2006 Space Elevator Games.

And thanks for reading…