Monthly Archives: July 2009

Climber / Power-Beaming competition update

Over at the official website of the Space Elevator Games, the CrazyEddieBlogger (aka Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef), reviews the status of where we are at.

Simply put; “…the helicopter flight was not successful in maintaining constant tension or position, which resulted in a safety device dropping the line.”

This is being addressed and as soon as an agreed-upon plan has been put together to solve the helicopter flight issues and a new schedule created, we’ll let everyone know.

In the meantime, stay tuned to this blog for the latest updates and all the space-elevator related news…

Asia’s first Space Elevator Competition to be held next weekend

On August 8th and 9th, at the Nihon University Department of Science and Engineering at Kanagawa University, the first JSETEC (Japan Space Elevator Technical & Engineering Competition) competition will be held.  This event is hosted by the Japan Space Elevator Association.

From the event Press Release:

Participants will compete to see whose battery-powered Climber is the fastest to ascend the 50mm wide 150m long tether which is elevated by a helium-filled balloon.

8 teams are scheduled to compete and it looks like it will be a lot of fun.

For more details, check out the Press Release or visit their website.

Climber / Power-Beaming competition delayed

Last week, I posted a story about how a component of the ‘cable assembly’ system pulled apart and aborted a portion of the testing for the Climber / Power-Beaming competition of the Space Elevator Games.  This issue has caused a delay in the scheduling of this Competition.  We at Spaceward (I say “we” because, in addition to maintaining this blog, I’m also a volunteer with Spaceward) are working with the people at NASA-Dryden to address this issue.

It’s difficult to say how long this delay will be, but it’s safe to say that the competition is postponed until at least September, perhaps October.  Stay tuned to this blog or the official website of the Space Elevator Games for more information.

The other competition in the Space Elevator Games, the Strong Tether Challenge, is going to be held as planned, on Friday, August 14th, at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference.

What’s frangible about a frangible link?

One of the tests run today was a test of the helicopter / cable / winch system.  Everything between the winch and the helicopter is referred to as the ‘cable assembly’.  This includes not only the steel cable which the climbers will ascend and descend, it also includes things such as hooks, shackles, load cells, etc.  If any of these components fail and causes a breakage or separation of the assembly, it is referred to as a ‘cable separation event’.

During the testing today of the helicopter / cable / winch system, a “cable separation” event occurred.  One of the components in the cable assembly is a frangible link and it was included to protect the helicopter in case a specified load on the cable assembly was exceeded.  That link separated today during testing.  Either the link failed to hold to the required load or else the load exceeded the link’s rating.  There might be a third possibility, but I can’t think of what it might be offhand.

The picture thumbnail shows the link.  This link is in the assembly with other components above and below it.  The plug, shown in front of and to the left of the link, pulled out of the link – it should only do this when its rating is exceeded.  As I wrote earlier, either the load did exceed the rating or else the link failed and separated prematurely.

Obviously, there will be testing and analysis to done to determine why this all happened, just as happened after the pulley failure in the previous test round.  Stay tuned to this blog or the official website of the Space Elevator Games to keep up-to-date.

Incidentally the redesigned pulley performed flawlessly and this looks like a solved problem.

One other thing which should be noted is that a ‘cable separation event’ was one of many contingencies which had been previously thought of and a procedure designed for.  The NASA person in charge of this operation immediately called this procedure into effect and executed it.  Procedures are useful only when they are followed and this one was followed promptly and correctly.

Laser testing continues to go well and will conclude tomorrow (Friday).  The TRUMPF laser continues to perform nominally and the remaining teams are taking full advantage of it.

(Click on the picture thumbnail for a larger version of the picture)

King of the Road

This is more like it!  When USST showed up for the first round of testing, there were only four of them.  I was quite disappointed, expecting their usual army.  For this round of testing, however, they are here in force, 13 in all.

And they’ve come in style – look at the picture of that truck!  Yes it’s a rental, but it’s easily the coolest vehicle I’ve seen so far in this competition.  The truck is a Chevy (with a Santini paint job) and is a monster.  They are using it to pull the motor home they have with them – I think it could pull a lot more.  I asked them if they would wash it for me so I could get a good picture of it, but they declined.  Spoilsports…

When I visited their work area yesterday, their climber was mostly assembled – you can see it here.  However, you’ll note that they have nothing on there to hold payload (at least I didn’t recognize anything that could be used as such).  When I asked what they were going to use (last year they had some tubes mounted to their climber), I just got some smiles and an offhand comment about “we’ll have something”.  I’m sure they will.

And, it looks like from this picture that they’ve been putting in some long hours (as everyone involved with the Games has)…

(Click on the first or last picture thumbnail to see a larger version of the picture)

We’re now live

NASA has now got their live TV coverage from the lake-bed working.  It was actually working about an hour ago, but I logged on in an attempt to clean up a screen title and screwed things up.  Fortunately the NASA guys are pretty sharp and fixed it.  Sorry guys…

The direct link to see us is

You can also go to and then click on “Go to Show Page”.

You must have the Flash Player installed to make it work.

Enjoy! (and thanks NASA!)

Below is a screen shot of the uStream feed from a few minutes ago…

Day 3 begins…

I spent 8 years living and working in Saudi Arabia.  As anyone who lives in the desert will tell you, the sunrises are spectacularly beautiful.  This picture is of sunrise over Edwards Air Force base this morning…

In the sunrise picture, you’ll note a garbage can in the foreground labeled “FOD” – I’ve included a close-up picture of this also.  FOD is an acronym for one of two things; the “FO” stands for “Foreign Object” while the “D” can stand for ‘debris’ or ‘damage’.  If you find an object on the desert floor out on the lakebed, you pick it up and put it in a FOD can (or throw it away or something – just get it off of the lakebed).  Airplanes land there and the last thing they need is any “Foreign Object Debris” to cause grief.  If a plane is damaged by some such object, than it is said to have been “FODDED” – “Foreign Object Damage”.

Great care is taken here to prevent FOD.  When vehicles come off of the lakebed and cross the runways to get back to the hanger (or wherever they’re going), they are required to do a FOD check before they cross the runway.  You stop the car and go around and check all the tires for rocks and other debris.

FOD is a big deal here and rightly so.  Anyone who doubts that a small piece of metal or other debris could be harmful to an aircraft only need remember Concorde Flight 4590 – a flight that crashed due to picking up a piece of metal on takeoff.


(Click on a picture thumbnail to see a larger version of the picture)

Getting ready for Day 3…

Tomorrow should be a fun day.  If all goes well, we’ll see our first climbs on the helicopter-hoisted cable.  The climbers will be powered by batteries, not lasers, but this should still be cool nonetheless.

Also, if all goes well, we’ll be live-streaming this out to everyone to see.  You have two options to view this.  You can go to – that should take you to the live, streaming website.  Also, you can go to the official site of the Space Elevator Games,, and click on the Live Coverage tab at the top.  This should take you to a page where you will see both the streaming video and a Twitter Feed to let you know what’s going on.

Stay tuned!

Day 2 – Miscellaneous coolness

Our base of operations here at Dryden is Hanger 4823.  It’s an adjunct to a machine shop, a very cool, professional and accomodating machine shop I might add.  They’ve already turned out several parts for us on a moments notice.

When we here for Round 1 of testing, conditions were a bit more primitive then they are today.  There are bathrooms and water was available but Internet access was almost impossible unless you were lucky enough to have Verizon wireless data service (like I do).  For the testing this week, they have set up several tables; each with power and wired Internet access.  Lots of bottled water and Gatorade.  It’s all very civilized…

One of the new things added for this round is a Televison monitor.  We’ve seen CNN and the Weather Channel on it and today, they switched to Base Camera 8.  This monitors activity out on the lakebed.  We are now able to monitor the activities out at the lakebed testing location.  The picture isn’t all that clear (long distance, heat waves diffusing up from the desert floor and I think they are just retransmitting something they sent to uStream – add that all up and you lose some detail), but it’s very cool nonetheless.

And, a little while ago, I had a visit from the Geeky squad (aka the KCSP team).  They have purchased these ‘cool’ hats, complete with white LEDs.  Geekiness lives…

(I want one)

(Click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture)

The University of Alberta Space Elevator Racing Team (UASERT)

The surprise entry in these Games, at least IMHO, is the team from the Universityof Alberta (UASERT).  This is partly my fault; there are team chats every Sunday which I used to attend.  However I haven’t recently, but the UASERT has.

They and their equipment arrived yesterday and they are now in the Hanger with the rest of us, assembling their entry.  I’ve taken a couple of photos and included them in this post.

The first two pictures are of the bottom side of their solar array, one shot looking downward on the array while the other shot is looking edge-on to the array.

The third picture is of the steel box which holds their optics.  Hmmm, steel, painted black, sitting out in the Mojave desert sun for several hours.  I hope they brought asbestos gloves…

They’re still assembling their system and hope to get out to the lakebed tomorrow for laser testing.

One other note about this team; if you visit their website, you can read both their blog (which is very interesting and gives the reader a good view of the team’s activities as it scrambled to get ready for this competition) and a number of photos.  Good stuff…

(Click on any picture thumbnail to see a larger version)

Right angle turns in mid-air

Have I said how cool this place is?  So much advanced research going on here – it’s been one of the issues in getting the Games working here – coordinating the Games schedules with everything else going on at this location.

I was writing a blog post today when another sonic boom occurred – there have been enough of these that they don’t make me jump anymore.  But I still go outside after I hear one and hope that I can see something cool.  Today I most definitely did.  The picture isn’t great, as the contrail was already starting to dissipate by the time I got my camera, but darned if, at the bottom of the photo, that doesn’t look a 90 degree turn in mid-air…

And not only is this place, cool, it’s hot.  Take a look at the screen shot I captured today of the Weather Channel.  Of course it is the middle of July and we are in the Mojave desert…

(Click on the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture)

USST is here…

USST is now here in force – they brought a whole army with them this time – I’m going to see if I can get a group shot of them sometime (part of them are out on the lakebed right now doing laser testing).

When they arrived late for the first round of testing, no one was very worried that they wouldn’t eventually be ready.  They did get a lot done in the short time they were onsite and were provisionally cleared to compete.  And, we all know that they are a force to reckoned with in these Games, having had the best performing climbers in the 3 previous Games.  They are also the only team with a successful laser climb to the top of the competition tether under their belt – and they did it multiple times in a row.

Still, its nice to see them here, all loaded for bear as the are.  I’ve included several pictures of their partially assembled climber in this post (they are putting it together as I blog).

The topmost picture is of the top of their solar cell array while the second picture is of the bottom of the array.  I picked it up – it’s not nearly as heavy as it looks.

This third picture is my favorite – it’s the case they use to transport part of their climber in.  It looks suspiciously like the case I use for my Mossberg 535…

The last picture is of the treadmill that they use for some of their testing.  You can see the climbing mechanism of their climber on the right.

One more USST note; they’ve changed their website – the new location is now  Because I hadn’t noticed this, I haven’t seen their latest updates including a very good summary of their last testing go-round.  It’s really worth a read and lets you know the efforts and issues that these teams have to deal with.

More later…

40th Anniversary of the First Man on the Moon

Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon, or indeed on any astronomical body outside the earth.

I remember precisely where I was at that time.  I was at my fiance’s home, watching TV with her and her family.  They had a black and white TV and OK reception – but it was good enough to see everything I wanted to see.

Much has been made lately about the restored footage of the moon landing – but none of that matters to me (though the responsible party, or perhaps I should say irresponsible party at NASA that allowed the original tapes to disappear deserves to have his/her name(s) listed on the all-time Wall of Shame).  I saw it happen when it happened and the magic of the moment has never left me. Near-senior citizen status does have its compensations, I guess.

It’s amazing that this happened 40 years ago.  And no one else has done it, only the United States through its NASA arm.

We’ll be back…

Miscellaneous updates – 2

Here is some more Space Elevator miscellany, gleaned from the web over the past several weeks…

The website Next Big Future always has interesting posts and I subscribed to it long ago.  This is a posting from this site from last January, talking about Alan Windle’s carbon nanotube ribbons.  According to the article, he has created something which has been measured at 9GPa.  If true, I sure hope he brings it to this year’s Strong Tether competition (being held at the Space Elevator Conference) – he would be a favorite to win.

This is an article, in French, about the Space Elevator Games and Space elevators, in general.  If you parlez the Francais (sorry for my slaughtered translation), enjoy…

And then we have another article about a Space Elevator, this time in Vietnamese…

One of my favorite sites, io9, has a posting about a new book with a Space Elevator as a backdrop, The Third Claw of God.  This is the second in the series of Andrea Cort novels and  io9’s review of the book says its a winner.  I suppose you can find it at your local bookstore, and it’s available in paperback from Amazon for $7.99.  It’s also available for Kindle and, as I’m lucky to have one, I’ve just downloaded it – I’ll start it on the plane-ride out to California next week.  When I’ve finished reading it, I’ll post a review.


In a recent speech to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute class of 2009, Futurist Peter Schwartz spoke of “…ten areas to make a Global Impact, find success” to help create a peaceful, prosperous world by the year 2050.  “The final item on Schwartz’s list is discovering new ways to radically lower the cost and environmental impact of space flight, and developing new ways, such as a space elevator, to get into space.”  I can only say “Amen” to that…

James Coughtrey has created an alternative world scenario entitled “Vast Worlds“.  It’s driven by humans acquiring technology from a derelict alien starship.  In this scenario;

The Chinese space elevator was the only one that was actually on the equator. Both the Commonwealth and AMA have theirs off centre for economic reasons. New Inca’s is placed further south to avoid American airspace, America doesn’t cross the equator and Russia doesn’t actually have a space elevator but an assisted floater rocket system.

I haven’t had a chance to review all of this, but it looks quite interesting…

Dave Barry recently opined on the Space Elevator here – most of his jokes about the elevator are a bit dated.

This is an interesting blog post concerning Space Based Solar Power.  A constituent attended a congressional briefing by Mark Kirk (he represents the district next to mine) and asked him about his views on SBSP.  Congressman Kirk identified one of the issues preventing the widespread use of it; i.e. the cost to orbit.  The writer states that we should look at this issue in light of; “…the mass required to produce a kilowatt of electricity (kg/kw) and the total system cost to produce a kilowatt of electricity (cost/kw)“.  I think this is correct, but alas, the writer didn’t supply his opinion of what this number should be.  I’ve written before about my skepticism about the practicality of SBSP and gave my numbers here.

A related article about Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) purchasing electricity created by SBSP is here.  Two companies are mentioned, Solaren and Space Energy.  As I’ve said before, I’m skeptical if this idea can work – it’s a lot easier to make a website than it is to generate SBSP cost-effectively.  I have no issues with the technology – I have serious doubts if we can generate enough electricity (we use so much of it) via SBSP to every make it worthwhile.  But if you believe that the idea of SBSP is a good one, I think you absolutely have to support the idea of a Space Elevator – no other technology gives you a chance to get enought stuff into orbit, cost-effectively enough, to perhaps make this idea work.

No, I still haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie, but I’m very interested in seeing the Vulcan Space Elevator made of “…of metallic chunks the size of refrigerators.”  Maybe after the Space Elevator Conference is over…

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you dropped balls (or other heavy weights) from a Space Elevator, here’s a discussion thread on the question.

Enough for now – time to get ready to head out to NASA-Dryden for Round 2 of testing for the upcoming Space Elevator Games

(Picture thumbnail of Galileo and his balls from here – click on it for a larger version).

The new pulley

Interrupting my series of “Miscellaneous updates”, I’d like to show you a picture of the new pulley built by NASA.  This will replace the one which failed in the last testing round and will, hopefully, prove to be more than capable of handling the load.

The next round of testing starts, in earnest, next Tuesday.  Some of us are in California already while others (including myself) will shortly be on the way.

This coming week should be a lot of fun.  Stay tuned to this blog or the official website of the Space Elevator Games or Twitter to keep up to date.

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

Miscellaneous updates – 1

Lots of Space Elevator items have been posted on the web in the past several weeks, items I’ve neglected to mention as I’ve been concentrating on the upcoming Space Elevator Games and Space Elevator Conference, so today and tomorrow I’ll be doing some ‘summary posting’ of some of these items:

First, of course, is a Status update from the Games themselves, posted on the official website of the Games…

A new “Space Elevator” (of sorts) has made it to the movies.  There is a new movie coming out “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” which, incidentally, some Hollywood blogs are all upset about because they say it is a ripoff of the Harry Potter movies.  In a trailer for the movie, Percy is shown entering an elevator at the Empire State Building, but the elevator car blasts through the top of the building and all the way to Mount Olympus.  We don’t actually see the “Space Elevator” of course…

The idea of an inflatable space elevator has been making the rounds lately.  There were several postings about this, one of the more complete ones is here (with some comments on it here).  While I haven’t given it a lot of thought, it sounds a bit dicey to me.  It will be only 20 kilometers high and supposedly be kept vertical by the use of “stabilizers and gyroscopes” and will withstand the force of hurricanes by “leaning into them”.  Supposedly you could also save some rocket fuel by lifting the components up to the top of the tower and then launching them from that point.  However, no numbers are given as to how much could be lifted, how often, etc.  I wish them success…

Another type of Space Elevator recently proposed was the “Rotating Space Elevator” a method to use centrifigal force to power climbers ascending the structure.  This sounds cool, of course, as it’s essentially free power, but I don’t think it’s practical – I don’t think that enough force is generated to lift anything useful.  But I will admit I’ve only glanced at this article in a cursory manner and perhaps I’ve missed something.  So many Space Elevator concepts, so little time…

During the first round of testing at Dryden, there was a “Press Day” where NASA had local columnists and camera crews come out and visit.  I made a presentation to them and then they visited the workshop where teams had set up plus the testing operations out on the lakebed.  One of the stories is here, complete with a couple of pictures of  the NSS and University of Michigan team climbers.

All for now – more miscellany tomorrow…

Testing, round 2, begins…

I’m told that at the NASA-Dryden facility, testing begins today on the newly engineered pulley which will be used during the upcoming Space Elevator Games Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

Readers may recall (from my blog and also from the official website of the Games) that the pulley used during the first round of testing failed after much of the testing had been completed.  This pulley failure caused the steel cable raceway to shear.  It was the only technical failure of the day, however, as everything else seemed to hold up very well.

This is preliminary testing of the pulley only as testing with the helicopter and winch will not occur until next week.  I’m sure however, NASA will test this pulley every way they can and so we all are confident that the pulley will perform as needed during the second round of testing next week and at the Games.

This is what testing is for; find those components of the system that fail during normal operations (or beyond) and redesign and/or strengthen them.

Over at the Space Elevator Games Blog, Ben Shelef writes about testing in general.  It’s a very good summary of what testing is all about and the limitations with it.

I’ll be out at Dryden next week for the testing and will be blogging and Tweeting onsite.

(Click on either picture thumbnail to see a larger version of the picture)

The 2009 Space Elevator Conference

Sometimes lost amid the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Space Elevator Games is the fact that the 2009 Space Elevator Conference begins in just a few short weeks; from August 13-16 in Redmond, Washington.

This conference is the latest in a series of conferences about Space Elevators which began in September of 2002.   Much has changed since that first conference; carbon nanotubes have gone from the lab into the real world (albeit not yet strong enough to make a Space Elevator tether), laser power has increased by leaps and bounds, new books and papers have been written on the subject, the Space Elevator Games have been created, Space-Elevator themed organizations have come into existence in Europe and Japan and the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has been created.

But the basic premise remains the same; if we can ever build a Space Elevator, it should prove to be a far superior way of delivering cargo (and eventually people) into space.  It is far more scalable, much cheaper, much easier on the cargo and environmentally much more friendly than conventional rockets and it has a coolness factor which is absolutely undeniable.

If you’re interested in the concept of a Space Elevator, this upcoming conference is a ‘must-visit’ event.  I’ll be there, presenting two papers (one on ISEC and one on Risk Assessment) – and many other presentations are in the works.  I hope you are planning on coming too.

There are several ticket plans available, all spelled out on the official website of the conference.  Note that early registration is now closed but that if you’re a member of ISEC, you can get a discount to the conference.  So, join ISEC, help advance the cause of a Space Elevator, and save some money!

On Friday, August 14th, the Strong Tether competition portion of the Space Elevator Games will be held at the Conference.  While the Climber / Power-Beaming portion of the competition is ‘sexier’ and gets more attention, the Strong Tether competition is at least as important to building a Space Elevator (and NASA has donated a prize purse of 2 Million US Dollars to this competition too).  This year I’m told that we will have more than one team at the competition with a carbon nanotube tether.  As with the Climber / Power-Beaming technology, tether technology is advancing too, and the Space Elevator Games are playing a major role in this.  If you want to see engineers do their best to break things, you’ll want to attend this Conference event…

Everything scheduled in this conference is of interest to me, but as President of ISEC, Sunday is especially key.  This is the day where the Four Pillars Workshops will be held, dealing with the Technology, Business, Legal and Public Outreach facets of building a Space Elevator.  If you want to get involved in a hands-on way with furthering the concept of a Space Elevator, these workshops are a great way to do so.  You’ll meet like-minded people, talk with the ISEC Pillar leads and will be able to contribute your thoughts and ideas (and get more involved if you like).

See you in Redmond!

Bryan Laubscher appears on NPR radio

Earlier today, Bryan Laubscher, PhD, astrophysicist, long-time supporter of the concept of a Space Elevator and conference organizer extrordinaire, appeared on NPR Radio.  The topic was entrepreneurship and Bryan was talking about developing carbon nanotubes to build a Space Elevator.

It’s a short piece but very interesting.  Check it out.

NASA Dryden Research Facility

In my last post, I showed some of the aircraft (real and mockups) that are scattered about the Edwards Air Force Base and NASA Dryden Research Facility.  But they also have spacecraft they’re working on too – after all, this is NASA.  Here are a few more photos and brief explanations:

  This is the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), used by NASA astronauts to practice landing the Apollo Lunar Module on the moon.  This is one of the actual vehicles used, not a mockup.
This is a sign posted by the LLRV, explaining its significance. Its just so cool to be able to walk right up to something like this.  
  At Dryden, they’re testing the new Orion spacecraft in various abort parameters. This is the life-size mockup they’re using – with yours truly standing in front and obstructing the view.
This is the top of the Orion mockup – and is where the parachutes (and other things) are stored. These are the parachutes which are deployed to help soft-land the module.  

(Again, click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture)

Edwards Air Force Base

Have I said how cool this place is?  Just outside the main checkpoint at the Northern entrance sits a B-52.  This is a real B-52, flown by NASA and now retired.  It was used to lift several prototype aircraft into the air for launch including the X-15 and the X-43a’scram-jet’.  The unofficial history of this aircraft can be found here.

Once you get through the parking lot and enter the NASA Dryden facility, you park your car in the centrally located parking lot.  Surrounding this lot is a series of aircraft (some real, some mock-ups).  The coolest plane, by far, is the SR71 Blackbird, but they are all awesome, especially since you can walk right up to them.  Here are a few pictures I took…

  This is the B-52 of which I wrote.  It’s hard to imagine how big this aircraft is until you are standing right next to it.  In front of the aircraft is a parking lot.  You can get out of your car and walk right up to the aircraft.
As most of you know, if the Shuttle is not able to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, its backup landing site is right where we’re holding the Games, on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base.  If the Shuttle has to land here, it is mounted on a specially modified Boeing 747, pictured here, for the trip back to Kennedy.  
  When they put the Shuttle on the 747, a special shroud, pictured, is attached to it to help its airworthiness.  This appears to be made out of wood, not metal, something which surprised me quite a bit.
A nose-on view of the SR-71. This really is the sexiest aircraft ever built (IMHO).  
  A side view of the same SR-71.

Incidentally, there is a Shuttle launch scheduled for July 11th. Lets hope nothing is delayed and they can land fine in Florida – otherwise it might affect the Games.

(You can click on any of these picture thumbnails for a larger version)

The human side of the Games

Yes the technology is way cool – we’re going to watch Climbers powered by class-4 lasers ascend  a kilometer long steel cable, at 5 meters/second no less, held aloft by a helicopter.  All of this will happen at the NASA Dryden Research Center located at Edwards Air Force base – and then there is the small matter of the $2Million prize purse too…  Who could view all of this and not be awed by the work and technology that has gone into making this happen?

It takes people to make this all happen and documenting the work, the planning, the disappointments and frustrations, the success stories and all the other human effects and emotions incumbent in these Games is the job of the Chicago video production company Bitter Jester Creative, Inc.

I’ve blogged about these guys before, but think it’s time to mention them again.  At the Games Official Website, Ben has a fine post about the people and the project at Bitter Jester.

They’re such perfectionists – I remember at the last Games they spent so much time setting up the ‘perfect shot’ for the Space Elevator Toy that the Japanese team (E-T-C) brought with them – and it will probably only get a few seconds in the final production (if it’s there at all).  They take this same attitude towards everything they’ve been doing.

I can’t wait to see the final project – it should be most cool.  The trailer, below, they did for the Games this year is some of the best advertising we have for it – and they treated it almost as a throwaway.


They’re working on several other very cool and inspiring projects too – check out their website and look for them at the Games – they’re everywhere!

Station Keeping at 1km+ high…

In the previous Climber / Power-Beaming competition portion of the Space Elevator Games, the ‘raceway’ tether was held aloft by a crane.  Each year this tether distance became higher, culminating in a 400 foot tether in the most recent competition.

For this year’s competition, the raceway is a full kilometer long –  and a crane just isn’t going to cut it.  Several ideas were looked at including using a balloon, holding it up inside a (very tall) building, holding it up along side a (very tall) building, but in the end, the idea of using a helicopter to hold the raceway aloft turned out to be the best option.

Though this solved the problem of how do you hold up such a long tether, it presented another problem – namely how does the helicopter pilot keep the aircraft in a relatively stable position?  At such a height and in such a featureless location, this caused some concern.

At the official website of the Space Elevator Games, Ben Shelef tells us how this problem was addressed.   The solution is very ingenious…

(The first picture thumbnail is of the crane used in the 2007 competition.  The second picture thumbnail is of the helicopter which is going to be used in this year’s Games.   Click on either thumbnail for a larger version fo the picture)

Team LaserMotive

At the 2007 Space Elevator Games, team LaserMotive made it’s first appearance.  Many of us who closely followed the runup to the competition had high hopes for this team’s performance.  They seemed to have all their bases covered, their climber was laser-powered (one of only two teams to be so), and enjoyed the assistance of a true laser expert, Dr. Jordin Kare.

Unfortunately, however, they were badly bitten by not being totally prepared in time for the competition.  It’s easy to point fingers afterwards and say that they could have done a better job, but they, like everyone else, are doing this in their spare time.  They have other things, like day jobs and family, that they have to balance with their Space Elevator passions. In retrospect, it was amazing that they had all of this equipment working at the Games – they were basically setting up a lab at the launch point every time it was their turn to make an attempt.

This time around, however, promises to be different. With a year’s experience under their belt, they are definitely loaded for bear.  On the official website of the Space Elevator Games, Ben Shelef has put up a series of posts about LaserMotive’s qualification.  To sum up, it appears that this team is READY…

In Ben’s first post about team LaserMotive, he talks about how this team is using a laser supplied by DILAS.  They are in the minority here, with only the McGill team joining them in using this system.  The other four competitors are all using laser power supplied by TRUMPF.  Because of this, there was only some reflectivity testing done onsite during the recent tests at Dryden – the main testing needed to be done at the LaserMotive facility.

In the second post about LaserMotive’s qualification testing (which was done onsite at the LaserMotive facility), Ben writes in more detail about LaserMotive’s power source.  Money quote: “The system uses two parallel beams, which originate in the two cube like devices at the back, are folded over several times as they bounce between the mirrors, and eventually exits through the top hatch after having bounced from the large bottom mirror. For testing, a last mirror is introduced at the top, diverting the beam so it comes out horizontally out the back of the trailer.”

In the third post, Ben writes about how LaserMotive has their laser doing double-duty; powering a climber and cooking hot dogs.  What, no beer?

And in the fourth and final post (so far) about this team, Ben writes about the Climber “Melt Test”.  In previous Games, the main issue was “Shake, rattle and roll” – worrying about how the climber would handle the wind and the subsequent twisting and oscillating of the tether.  That is not so much a worry this year as the climbers are not climbing a tether, but rather a steel ‘rope’ (cable).  There’s not much cross section for the wind to grab hold of.  The teams (and Ben) ARE worried about if the climber can take the laser at full power for the length of the climb (plus some margin).  Ben doesn’t give us the actual numbers, but you’ll note that he had no complaints.

Check out these posts that Ben has put up – they’re most informative and fun to read.  He has several pictures included, some taken by him and a couple taken by yours truly.  You might also want to read a couple of previous posts (here and here) that I had put up about DILAS.

I think it’s time for me to start a pool for this competition – I’ll be on the phone to Las Vegas shortly…

(You can view larger versions of the pictures by clicking on the picture thumbnails.  These pictures show NASA personnel doing their own testing of the LaserMotive climber)

KC Space Pirates status report

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

In case you have not heard the games are now set for the 1st week in August. I have been reading about all of this and had it in my mind that everyone else knew. Sorry, let me give you a recap of all of the high intensity happenings.

The safety review triggered by the cable breaking is done and things are moving forward. There will be another helicopter test in about 2 weeks to make sure that there will not be any problems with that operation. There will also be another round of laser testing to accommodate the rest of the TRUMPF teams that did not get done during the last testing.

Lasermotive has also passed the qualification requirements so the number of qualified teams stands at 2. We are expecting 1 or maybe 2 more during the next round of testing.

The coverage of the KC Space Pirates on the Science channel was pretty good. With a good overview and coverage of the space elevator challenges. We went from being able to deliver good sound bites while projecting an air of professionalism to producing cheesy quotes while looking like a group of hobbyist working from our garage. I can’t complain, because we are a group of hobbyist working out of a garage and I suppose I am a little on the cheesy side. Oh well. They showed some of our sponsor logos and that is the most I could hope for. They also left out some of the most embarrassing footage. And it was all a lot of fun.

Our to-do list for the competition actually has an end in sight. That is good because the added test dates ate up most of the added time.

Brian Turner

It won’t be long now…

Space Elevator Day

On Friday, July 17th, the Space Frontier Foundation will kick off their NewSpace2009 Conference at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California with SPACE ELEVATOR DAY.  This opening session will feature speakers from the Space Elevator effort including Bryan Laubscher, Martin Lades, Steve Steiner, Michael Laine and, assuming the Space Elevator Games testing (round 2) goes well, Ben Shelef.

This event promises to be fun, exciting and informative.  If you want to know what’s going on in the Space Elevator arena, first-hand, from the people who are making it happen, you should plan on attending this event.

Be there or be square!