Monthly Archives: November 2009

LaserMotive talks power-beaming

On the LaserMotive Blog, mention is made of a recent article in the SunBreak, a local Seattle newspaper (team LaserMotive is based in Seattle).

It’s a very interesting article and well worth the read.  LaserMotive’s Jordin Kare talks about power-beaming and why that interests LaserMotive (as opposed to a Space Elevator, which they are not interested in).

Jordin is quoted:

“Some of the people who are competing are very much believers in the space elevator–Tom Nugent and I, who started the LaserMotive team, are pretty skeptical,” admitted Kare. “It’s one of these things where it’s a lovely idea, and it may be physically possible–which I wouldn’t have said a decade ago–but it’s a very long jump drawing pretty pictures and writing basic equations to being able to build something a hundred-and-some-odd-thousand kilometers long.”

He’s absolutely correct, of course – right now a Space Elevator IS not much more than ‘pretty pictures’.  As the President of ISEC, it’s my job to change that ‘equation’…

It’s ironic – the team that really is not a fan of the idea of Space Elevator is the team that won the recent Space Elevator Games.  On one of the many news-clips that resulted from the Games, a reporter asked why LaserMotive bothered to compete in the Games if they don’t believe in the concept.  The reply was that they wanted to demonstrate their prowess in power-beaming.  I don’t think the $900,000 hurt anything either…

(Picture of Jordin from here – click on it to see a full-size version)

Post-competition analysis from LaserMotive

And, rounding out the post-competition analyses (KCSP is here and USST is here) , LaserMotive’s Steve Burrows gives us his team’s take on the recently completed competition.

Money quote (which occurred after their prize-winning runs on day 1) #1: ‘Waiting just a moment, Steve Beland requested clearance from Test Operations for the Team to begin breathing again.  Test granted the request, but for “shallow breaths only”.’

Money quote #2: “LaserMotive team members are grateful for the hospitality and safe and smooth operations of our host, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.  We hope they can invite us again to complete the NASA Power Beaming Centenial Challenge — we now have a title to defend!”

Congratulations again to LaserMotive and, indeed, all the teams for providing us with an extremely competitive and enjoyable three days.  Only 169 more days until the 2010 Games!

Fox News coverage of the Space Elevator Games

On the first day of the recently completed Space Elevator Games, there were several reporters and cameras (still and video) at the ISF (the conference center where Bryan and I did the first two days of live coverage of the Games over uStream).

One young lady was from ABC, another from AP and still another from Fox News.  I didn’t see a whole lot of coverage from ABC (but I’m still going through video clips) and the AP reporter somehow carried away the ‘fact’ that there was a team ‘from Alaska’ that was competing (that was funny – after that report went out, I got calls from two local reporters in Alaska wanting to know how to contact the ‘local team’).

However, Fox News did a lot of coverage of this – the reporter, Christina Gonzalez, did the interviews (including one with yours truly) and the best clip I’ve seen so far is the one below.  One reason I like it, of course, is because they actually spelled my name correctly – not something that I’m used to…

It’s so easy to sound stupid on TV.  I’m talking about using a space elevator to “colonize the moon or ‘the’ Mars”… Doh!  I wanted to say ‘the moon or the rest of the solar system’ but tried to change it on the fly to “Mars” and wound up with ‘the Mars’.  Oh well – I think I got the main point across.  A Space Elevator should be built to haul large amounts of stuff into space on an ongoing basis.  It’s a ‘carbon railway’ to outer space and that’s what we need to think of it as…

“This time, it’s personal…”

Or, so that’s what it says over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games.

The Climber / Power-Beaming competition has already been tentatively scheduled for next year, for the week of May 10th.

This is double-plus cool.  LaserMotive has already proved that they’re the real deal.  The Kansas City Space Pirates have built a kick-ass tracking system and now just need to upgrade their climber to complement it.  And, who knows what the USST team is thinking?  They’ve been the best performers for the first three games, the last two just barely missing out on the prize-money.  It must rankle a bit for them to see LaserMotive walk away with a cool $900K…  I’m sure they’re now on a mission to reclaim their glory days…

It’s on! (again)…

And, by the way, if you visit the official site of the Games, you’ll note that the picture gallery (upper left) and movie/video gallery (upper right) have been enhanced and added to.  Lots of new stuff from the just-completed games – check it out!

LaserMotive to appear on XM and Sirius satellite radio on Tuesday

On Tuesday, November 17th, at 4:30pm (Eastern time), members of the 2009 Space Elevator Games prize-winning LaserMotive team will be interviewed on the Jay Thomas radio show.  This will be broadcast both on Sirius radio (channel 108) and XM radio (channel 139).

The show will be replayed at 9:00pm (Eastern time).

If you subscribe (or you can get one of the ‘free trials’), this should be a fun interview to listen to.

Three (more) caballeros…

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the contributions and leadership provided by Ben Shelef, Andy Petro and John Kelly.  Today I’d like to thank the three people who actually made the whole space elevator raceway work.  Readers may remember the problems that previous incarnations of the raceway incurred.  Much of this was caused by the previous helicopter pilot’s inability to maintain position; i.e. keep his helicopter in the ‘safe zone’, away from the people below.  With the finding of pilot Doug Uttecht, this last hurdle was solved and the raceway became a safe, predictable, stable thing of beauty.

There were a trio of people involved with operating the raceway.  First, of course, was the pilot, Doug Uttecht (pictured in the center).  Doug was the guy responsible for picking up the raceway cable, keeping it on station and at correct tension and then bringing it back down when the run was completed.  This guy was amazing.  His control of his MD530FF helicopter was remarkable and brought about the best line I heard at the Games; “If this guy was any better, we almost wouldn’t need a tracking system”.  Truly he could make that helicopter dance.  During the pre-ops briefing held on the final day, Doug actually received a round of applause from everyone else there (50+ people) for the outstanding job he was doing. The guy is money…

The second part of this trio was Keith Mackey (pictured on the right).  He is an aviation safety consultant that Ben Shelef, CEO of Spaceward, found on the Internet!  His list of credentials and long experience is just amazing.  Ben thinks he might be the most credentialed pilot in the world today.  He is licensed to fly just about everything, commercial jets, private aircraft, helicopters, even blimps!  Keith was the person who came up with the GPS system which allowed the helicopter to station-keep with such amazing accuracy.  How this device works is described over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games.  Keith’s ‘job title’ at the Games was ‘helo ground control’.  He interfaced with Doug via the radio, telling him when to ascend and descend and how fast.  As Keith is a helicopter pilot too, he knew exactly what Doug needed to know and just the words to say it in.  The conversations between the two were succinct, with not a word wasted or out of place.  Between Doug and Keith, that raceway was kept a tame beast, waiting to do the competitor’s bidding…

And finally we have Tetherman (aka Michael Keating – pictured on the left).  Michael was the guy who was responsible for the safe ascent and descent of the Climbers themselves.  Before ascent, he would hold the Climber and cable (with his special ‘ring tool’), waiting for Doug to pick up the cable and bring the Climber to it’s starting position.  In descent, he would have to track the cable and Climber down and guide the Climber to a gentle landing.  This was a huge responsibility – these Climbers represent tens of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of man-hours of work – keeping them from plummeting to the desert floor was a good thing.  Tetherman has developed a cult following and I fully expect him to arrive in a cape and special helmet for the next Games.

Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef has created a special video to honor this threesome (I think this is your best effort yet Ben – really well done!).  You only see Tetherman in this picture (until the very end and then Keith makes a brief appearance) but rest assured that Doug and Keith are doing their jobs, too.  All three had to work together as a coordinated team to make this thing work and they did so flawlessly.  Thanks guys – this wouldn’t have worked without you!

(Graphic of the Three Caballeros from here – and truly, if you haven’t seen this Disney classic, you’re missing a treat – the music alone is worth a view.  Click on the picture thumbnail of Michael, Doug and Keith to see a larger version of the picture)

The three caballeros…

Time to start giving thanks where thanks are due.  There were many, many people and organizations who’s help was crucial to the success of the recently completed Space Elevator Games.

Pictured are, from left-to-right, Andy Petro, John Kelly and Ben Shelef.  Andy is from the NASA Centennial Challenges ‘office’ and he was the guy there ensuring that the Challenge was successfully and legally met and also had the happy task of handing the $900,000 check to Team LaserMotive.  Andy was the guy who had to fill the very large shoes of previous Program Manager Ken Davidian, but the shoes certainly seem to be a comfortable fit.  When Andy first took the position, I asked him to say a few words about himself for we in the Space Elevator Games “community” – his response can be found here. Finally, how many people have a “look-a-like” contest named after them?  Andy is such a lucky guy…

The guy in the center is John Kelly.  He was the NASA point man at the Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) and there’s only one word to describe him; awesome.  When Ben first approached Dryden about hosting the Games, it was John Kelly who grabbed this ball and ran with it.  He marshaled more and more forces at DFRC until, it seemed, that he had the entire organization working with us.  Whenever we needed something, he came through for us.  He took very large chunks of the organization process off of Spaceward’s shoulders, allowing Ben Shelef to concentrate on the few critical issues that only he could handle.  He was the middle-man who successfully interfaced the rigid structure of the NASA organization to the loose amalgamation of Spaceward and was absolutely key to making it all work.  On top of it all, he’s just great guy, with a wonderful sense of humor and a real joy to work with.  Plus, and also very important, he knew all of the good restaurants in the area.

Andy and John – we owe you huge thanks – THANK YOU!!!

Finally, the guy on the right is Ben Shelef, the CEO of the Spaceward Foundation.  It was Ben who dreamed up the idea of the Space Elevator Games, creatively and succesfully piggy-backing onto the NASA need for power-beaming and strong-tethers.  This competition has been Ben’s baby since Day 1.  I’ve had the pleasure to work with Ben over the past 3+ years and I know that a) he always finds a way to get something done, even when things look bleak and b) he’s persistent, persistent and persistent.  I know Ben has taken some heat because of previous Games not producing any winners, but he has kept his focus; forcing competitors to continually improve their capabilities and thus advancing the state of the art (which is what NASA wants).  He richly deserves the congratulations that he is now receiving.  Finally, I’ve had some brief chats with him about his future plans and, all I can say is ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…’.

So there you have it – these three guys are the key organizers of all the efforts to have a successful Space Elevator Games and they all deserve our thanks and our gratitude.  THANKS GUYS!!

(Graphic of the Three Caballeros from here – and truly, if you haven’t seen this Disney classic, you’re missing a treat – the music alone is worth a view.  Click on the picture thumbnail of Andy, John and Ben to see a larger version of the picture) 

LaserMotive’s first prize-winning run

As many/most of you know, the recently completed Space Elevator Games were broadcast live on  I hope you were watching and listening.  After a very ragged first day, commentators Bryan Laubscher and myself did OK, I think, in bringing you all of the action.

For the competition next year (plans already in the works), we’ll be doing this again and hopefully, even better than this time around.

One of the neat things you can do with is record what you watch.  Marc Boucher from did just that with LaserMotive’s first prize-winning run and it is now available on YouTube.  You can watch the run in all it’s glory and listen to Bryan and I (in all our “unglory”) as we call the action.  Thanks Marc!

Post-competition analysis from USST

Mark Boots, one of the captains of the USST team, sent out this wrap-up of their team’s performance at the just-completed Space Elevator Games:

The X-15 rocket plane is one of the most famous test aircraft ever flown at the Dryden Flight Research Center. Flying higher and faster than anything before, it explored boundaries that made possible the design of winged spacecraft like the Shuttle. The project manager and chief test pilot once said: “The purpose of test is to separate the imagined problems from the real, and to seek out the unimagined or unexpected problems.”

That statement sums up this past week for the U of S Space Design Team. We left Saskatoon with a world-class design, and our strongest effort to be prepared. From the time we arrived, we faced a set of unexpected problems that we’d never seen in our testing at home. Despite an all-out problem-solving effort by everyone on the team, we didn’t get past all of those problems in time. The final results: Our congratulations go to LaserMotive, a corporate team that succeeded in beating the 2m/s prize criteria and winning $900,000. Neither us nor the Kansas City Space Pirates (Yarr….) were able to make it all the way to the top, and no one took the 5m/s prize.

“What happened?” is the big question that everyone is asking. There were two major problems that we faced: During testing the day of the competition dry-runs, we broke the shaft connecting our main drive motor. Our backup motor had unexpected problems with its controller, and Shea spent an epically stressful day and night trying to get that motor running, while Matt and the mechanical team worked with the machinists in the NASA Dryden fabrication shop to repair the shaft on the original motor. (These guys were awesome, and we owe them huge thanks.) Unfortunately the motor problems caused us to miss the first two of our three 45-minute competition windows.

The other critical issue was with our GPS-based tracking system: We had tested it as much as we could in Saskatoon on cranes, and even chased motorbikes at 1km. This week, we watched it track our climber flawlessly as the helicopter pulled it up from the ground to the starting position at 100m. However, every time we reached the starting position, a strange source of interference hit the receiver on the climber and caused it to continuously lose its lock on the GPS satellites. We had never seen this before in all of our testing, and we’re still mystified by what could have been causing this. We put our manual tracking system into use, and although Ariq did an amazing job at the controls, we didn’t have enough time in our final 45-minute competition window to perfect the switch-over between manual and GPS tracking, or adjust the climber programming to let it be more tolerant of losing the beam.

We’re all hugely disappointed, especially because we know how close we came. The fact that no team took the 1st place prize reminds us that this is a really difficult challenge, and when you’re pushing the boundaries of what’s technologically possible, things can go wrong.

We really want to thank all of our families, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, and everyone from the University that has supported us so much, sacrificed for us, and enabled this crazy opportunity. We’re really sorry we couldn’t bring back the prize, and we tried so hard to represent Saskatchewan as world-leading innovators and respectful professionals.

To our list of thank-you’s, we need to add a special shout-out to the machine shop staff: both Keith and the guys in the UofS Engineering Shops, and the NASA Dryden people, for the outstanding work they did for us. We’re also hugely grateful to the Dryden team: John Kelly (for running the show, kindness, and wisdom), Mike Kapitzke (for running very smooth, tight operations and keeping everyone safe), Elizabeth (for getting us where we needed to go, and being our cheerleader, even at 5 in the morning — you’re awesome!), Freddy (the coolest van driver ever), and John Piatt (who handled the challenge of laser safety on the lakebed in a keenly responsible, always critical, yet flexible and understanding way.)

Last but first, we thank all of our donors and sponsors; the critical link that made this opportunity possible. We especially want to thank the TRUMPF team: Dave Marcotte for having the business guts and the “more power — let’s do it!” race-car driver attitude to make this project possible, and the one-and-only Ivan, who kept an 8kW laser system running in the middle of the desert, without a single issue! We’re sorry we couldn’t do the same on our end.

Another huge shout-out goes to the helicopter team that supported the vertical cable: “Foxtrot” (Doug, the excellent heli pilot — If he was any better, we almost wouldn’t even need a tracking system!), “HeloGround” Keith Mackey (for keeping Foxtrot on target despite our very confusing directions, and his helpful advice), and “Tetherman” Michael Keating (for his hustle and tireless dedication to running around the desert floor catching climbers all day). We should also probably thank Ben Shelef, the competition organizer and head of the Spaceward Foundation (even if you did make us pay for the whole thing ; ) We recognize how hard it is to single-handedly organize all of this, and seriously: nice work.

Even in this huge disappointment, we’re really proud of our team. Ben refers to us as the “many-headed hydra”, and we take this as a huge compliment. It recognizes that everyone on the team had a crucial part — everyone individually has something that they are the best at. Every day we saw new problems, and every night someone came up with a creative solution. Unfortunately, we just never got to the end of all those problems in time.

It’s hard to imagine the level of dedication that causes someone to stay up for three nights in a row, and still be coming up with solutions on the last one, until they fall asleep standing up during a NASA tour on the last day. (John M., you’re a hero.) This level of dedication is there for everyone on the team, and we really gave it our all. After doing this for a year and a half, it’s so disappointing to end up here.

We are looking for the positives. This was a learning experience for everyone that surpassed anything in our official curriculum — both technically, and in what we learned about leadership, teamwork, and project planning. We, as undergraduate students and recent graduates, developed technologies and a core design that were (and still are) superior to anything in the world. This is shown from the reactions of people such as Lawrence Davis, head of NASA Test Pilot School; NASA personnel; and even our competitors. On the way back, we had a chance to tour the SpaceX facility in Los Angeles, where they are designing and assembling the Falcon 9 spacecraft which will replace the Shuttle for trips to the International Space Station in 2011. It was reassuring that we could pick out similarities in almost all aspects of their work and what we have done on this project. Some of the team members are already talking about what’s next: there’s still a $1.1 million prize out there for 5m/s, and we have a design that’s easily capable of achieving that — we just need to get it all working at once. It is great to see that the team is not discouraged by the outcome, but sees it more as a challenge and lesson to move on and and keep going.

From here on, it’s about talking about lessons learned, catching up on schoolwork, deciding what comes next, and figuring out other ways on how we can give back to the University community, even if we don’t have that $2 million prize money.

All of us were surprised, frankly, that USST didn’t run more successfully.  In every previous competition, they have had the best performance.  But no one who knows anything about this team doubts their ability and their desire to win. I’m very sure there will be another competition next year (after all, there is still more than a million US Dollars in the prize pool waiting to be claimed) and USST will be back, even more determined to show that they are a force to be reckoned with…

The photo, of course, is of the USST team.  Those pictured are, starting from the front and going left to right; Ben Shelef (Spaceward Foundation), John Steeves, Andrew Williams, Ariq Chowdhury, Dave Williams and Shea Pederson. Back row: Nathan Windels, Jordan Gareau, Clayton Ruszkowski, Mark Boots, Dawson James, Matt Evans, John McClean, Rylan Grant, Patrick Allen, Justin Equina, Doug Grant, Kevin Krieger and Bethany Murray.

Finally, if you were listening to the broadcast (and you should have been) on Friday during the USST run, team member Nathan Windle was providing commentary about their team efforts.  Thanks again Nathan – you did a great job!

Post-competition analysis from the Kansas City Space Pirates

Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates, sent out this email to his supporters and ‘inner circle’:

As you may have heard by now we were unsuccessful in our attempt to win prize money in the NASA power beaming challenge. LaserMotive was alone in the 2 meters per second $900,000 prize level. USST was unable to to climb more than a few hundred meters up the cable. The 5 meters per second $1.1 Million prize went unclaimed.

We were challenged with a number of problems in our attempts but I will give you a quick rundown of the biggest failure points for each of our three attempts.

Day 1. Our radio link that tells us the height and speed of the climber was unable to handle the radio environment of the competition. We made it approximately 750 meters up the cable before we guessed wrong on the altitude and speed settings while driving blind and had to descend. We had this same problem in our test in Seattle a month back. I thought that we had the problem solved and could not justify the $1000 plus dollars to change it out to a different frequency that might prove to be even less robust. So Tuesday we ordered the other frequency for first overnight delivery from EagleTree systems. We had it installed and running for our next run the following day.

Day 2. We made it a little above 500 meters when our beacon light decided to turn itself off repeatedly. When we loose that beacon the laser starts wandering around the sky and has to be shut off immediately. We then turn the beacon back on, find the climber again and turn it back on. This takes from 5 to 15 seconds each time it happens and the climber is descending the whole while. When the beacon was shutting off every 25 or so seconds we could not manage to continue climbing. The sun set while we were running and our camera could no longer see the climber. Again, we had very rarely seen the beacon off problem before. We saw it on the battery powered practice climb on Tuesday and even had the software fix programed up and ready to install the day before. However we did not have time to get it in because we were working on the telemetry. We got it installed and running for the next day.

Day 3. We got the last slot of the competition. We loaded up the climber named Maryann with enough payload to take first place. Perhaps we were too greedy as she did not perform well and overheated. With time running out in our window I called for a climber switch and we put on Skipper. Skipper was sitting on the bench waiting to make a shot at the 5 meters per second prize after Maryann was done. Because we were having problems getting the peak power out of the climbers in the dynamic competition conditions we considered Skipper to be a long shot for the 5 meters per second prize but he should be able to cruise into 2nd place for the 2 meters per second prize level easily. He was set up light and fast. Nothing like his namesake. Skipper was performing well with forward motion faster than 5 meters per second when we had all parameters tuned well. However when one of the many parameters fell out of the acceptable range Skipper was shutting down. The capacitor pack that was supposed to prevent this from happening was not performing properly. The climb once again became a thumb wrestling match with dozens of controls in our trailer while Skipper alternated between sliding backward and moving forward. We fell off the 2 meters per second pace in a high intensity balancing act that we were slowly loosing. The time ran out on our turn. But like in football the games is not over until the end of the last play. We decided to push for the top. We were gaining on it when the radio down link cut out for a moment. The camera was far enough out of focus that I could not verify the safety of the helicopter so I called to turn off the laser beam. I turned on Skipper’s brake and hoped he would not slide too far backward while I fixed the focus on the camera and also hoped the radio down link would come back up. The helicopter’s fuel reserve limit came up. So with a dark motionless climber the operations manager understandably called it a day.

This email is far too short to really tell you everything that happened on this roller coaster we call the Space Elevator Games. But I would like to thank everyone that has helped us along the way. We have to wait for things to settle down before I can talk about “What’s next”.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

So, there you have it from ‘the man’.

The picture is of the KCSP team and their climber.  Team members shown are (from left-to-right) Don Stowers, Dan Leafblad, team captain Brian Turner, Frank Smith, Duane Johnson and Ryan Smith.  Not present were Chad Hampy, Jerry Fredrick, Terri Niles, Debbie Leafblad, Rich Brull, Martin Lades, Warren Moore and Ravi Shankar Durgavathi.  In the foreground is Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef and I’m sure you noticed that the KCSP team have their ‘hat headlights’ on…

Though their team didn’t qualify for the prize money this time around, they certainly showed that they are a force to be reckoned with and we know they’re going to be back, aiming for the 5 meter/second prize.

Awards Ceremony

NASA turned the Awards Ceremony into a full-blown presentation, complete with speeches, media coverage and, of course, the awarding of the $900,000 prize to Team LaserMotive.  This ceremony was held in the hanger / machine shop that was the team headquarters throughout the competition (and throughout the testing).

First up to speak was David McBride, acting Center Director for the NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center.  He was only recently (April, 2009) appointed to this position and I have to think he was very pleased by this turn of events – it marks a success for his center and he and his team.

Next up was Andy Petro, Program Executive for the Innovation Incubator – part of the NASA Innovative Partner’s Program.  He spoke about how the Spaceward Foundation’s accomplishment in this just-completed Challenge was exactly what NASA had in mind when they started this program – using prize money to encourage people outside of NASA to think outside the box in developing technologies that NASA believes has a future in space exploration.

Then it was Ben Shelef’s turn.  Ben is the CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, the organizer of this Centennial Challenge (and also the Strong-Tether Challenge).  Ben gave a brief history of this Power-Beaming challenge and then thanked all of the people who helped put on this event (it was a lengthy list).  He then introduced the team captains.

USST’s Patrick Allen spoke about how, though his team was disappointed in the outcome, they were very happy to have been part of this Challenge.  He thanked his University (the University of Saskatchewan) for their support and then thanked all of the USST team members, past and present, for their efforts.

The Kansas City Space Pirate’s Brian Turner was up next.  He gave a short, emotional speech thanking the event organizers, his team sponsors and most of all his team members for their efforts and for ‘believing in him’ even when he doubted himself.  He also talked about how he is a person who is driven to compete and he thanked the other two teams for being worthy competitors and driving KCSP to be the best they could be.

Last up was the LaserMotive Team.  Dr. Jordin Kare (on the right) spoke first and gave a brief history of how he and Tom Nugent started LaserMotive and their evolution to their current success.  He thanked the event organizers, NASA, the team sponsors and team members.  Tom Nugent joined him and echoed Jordin’s thanks to all concerned.

Finally, Andy and Ben took the podium again and presented the $900,000 check to Jordin and Tom from Team LaserMotive.  It was a exciting and very satisfying outcome of this Challenge.

Well done to all!

Official NASA Games release

And here is NASA’s take on the just completed competition.

I’m going to write more about how the NASA people helped us during this competition, but for now I just want to say that they were superb.  They are technically very competent and a real pleasure to work with.  They obviously wanted this competition to succeed and they did everything they could to make it happen.

To the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center personnel, we owe you HUGE thanks…

Time to celebrate!

Last night, we had a celebration party at Domingo’s – a restaurant in nearby Boron that is the place the Shuttle astronauts eat at when they land the Shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base.

We had the entire patio reserved and, outside of being a bit chilly, the atmosphere was superb.

There were at least 60 people in our party.  There were people from NASA, Spaceward, the helicopter crew, TRUMPF and, of course, the three teams.

Good mexican food and beer, lots of camaraderie and a celebration of an event that was extremely successful – what more could you want?

I’ve included a few pictures in this post.  The topmost one is of the outside of Domingo’s – very festive as you can see.

The second is of part of the assembled party-goers.  Truly, everyone had a good time.

And the third shows LaserMotive team member Dave Bashford wearing a sombrero.  It was his birthday yesterday (Quite a birthday, yes? – being part of a team that had just been awarded $900K!) and the restaurant gave him their ‘birthday salute’.  They smeared his face with whipped cream, put the sombrero on his head and sang Happy Birthday to him in Spanish and English (I missed the whipped cream part but was told about it).

Happy Birthday Dave!

The 2009 Space Elevator Games make history!

I’m sorry for the lack of posts today, but this is literally the first free moment I’ve had to blog…

The 2009 Space Elevator Games – Climber / Power-Beaming competition is over and it was a roaring success.

This competition saw several firsts, the most important being:

  • The first laser-powered climb to a kilometer (accomplished by Team LaserMotive 4 times)
  • The first laser-powered climb to exceed 2 meters/second (again, accomplished by Team LaserMotive 4 times)

Team LaserMotive was the only team to climb the full length of the tether.  The Kansas City Space Pirates climbed an appreciable fraction of the tether (> 50%) several times while the USST team frankly struggled a bit.  They were still able to power the climber over short distances with a laser, though.

For their accomplishment, Team LaserMotive won the $900,000 prize for performing a beam-powered climb to a full kilometer at an average speed of 2 meters / second or greater.  Their best showing was nearly 4 meters per second and, for good measure, they accomplished these prize-winning climbs 4 times.  Their system was very, very impressive.

I’ll have much more to blog about this competition over the next several days – and lots of pictures and video to share with you.

The picture thumbnail is of the winning LaserMotive team holding the winning check given to them by Andy Petro, the NASA Centennial Challenges honcho.  LaserMotive team members shown (from left to right) are: Steve Beland, Bill Boyde, Carsten Erickson, Tom Nugent, Nick Burrows, Jordin Kare, Mary Kay Kare, Dave Bashford and Steve Burrows.  Not present were Brent Davis, Don Moore, Jeff Alexander, Joe Grez, Dave Truax and Nick Bratt.

There are so many people to thank and I want to do separate posts on each of them.  But for now, I want to say that the ‘tether trio’ of Doug Uttecht (Helicopter Pilot), Michael Keating (Tetherman) and Keith Mackey (Helicopter ground control) performed magnificently.  Also, we owe enormous thanks to John Kelly and all of the other people at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center where the competition was held.  Their backing was amazing and inspiring – we kept throwing curve balls at them and they kept hitting them out of the park.

Congratulations LaserMotive and all the other competitors at the 2009 Climber / Power-Beaming competition!

Done for the day

USST was unable to climb today.  KCSP, after some delay caused by a higher priority air mission, made multiple runs.

Unfortunately, the KCSP Climber never made it to the top.  They seemed to climb for about 3 minutes and would then just ‘lose it’.  It’s useless for me to speculate as to why, so I won’t try.  I do know that during their first attempt, they experienced a ‘dark climber’ condition (i.e. their laser lost tracking).  I don’t know if that was what happened in subsequent runs.  I’m sure there will be some (more) midnight oil burned by the KCSP team tonight working on this.

So, the summary is this.  LaserMotive is sitting pretty.  They’ve qualified for the $900K prize.

Tomorrow is the third and final round of the Games.  Up first is USST, then the Space Pirates and finally LaserMotive for their third and final Climb window.  If any team passes on their chance tomorrow, they won’t get another one.

First climb window is from 7:00am to 9:00am, second window is from 9:00am to 11:00am and the third and final window is from 9:00am to 1:00pm.

Tune in to to follow all the action LIVE.

USST passes…

USST was originally scheduled to run between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm while the KC Space Pirates were scheduled to run between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

USST has passed on their window.  The KC Space Pirates are doing what they can to speed up their launch window, but they are under no obligation to do so.  If they can launch by 1:00pm or so (which looks very unlikely), then USST will get another chance at around 3:00pm.

If the Space Pirates cannot launch by that time (or shortly thereafter), then I would assume that USST could use that slot if they get ready.

We’ll see…

Calculating scores…

So, if you have climbers of different weights carrying different payloads and having different times to complete the run, how do you come up with a fair way to judge who the winner is?

The way Spaceward has done this is to give preference to climber speed and to payload ratio (the amount of payload vs. the weight of the climber).  In the latest post on the Official Site of the Space Elevator Games, we learn that the formula used to calculate this is:

The speed of the climb (in meters/second) times the payload (in kilograms) divided by the weight of the climber (again, in kilograms).

This formula allows the user to normalize the results; i.e. put them in a format where you can do an ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

Plugging in the numbers for LaserMotive’s best run yesterday, you get a score of .45.  Other teams will try to beat this.

(Update Nov 11 – Reader Joel Polowin points out an obvious mistake I made.  The speed factor is meters/second, NOT total elapsed seconds.  My bad.  I fixed the post.  Thanks Joel…)

Day 2 – Getting ready to go

We’re all here getting ready for Day 2.  First up will be USST as they did not get to go yesterday.  Once they are done, then Round 1 will be completed.

The original plan was to decide the order of future rounds once the preceding round was completed.  However, the teams today wanted to set the order for Round 2 and 3 so that was done.  The order of the rounds are:

Round 1: (Wednesday & Thursday)

  • KCSP (completed)
  • LaserMotive (completed)
  • USST (yet to run)

Round 2 (Thursday)

  • LaserMotive
  • USST
  • KCSP

Round 3 (Friday)

  • USST
  • KCSP
  • LaserMotive

They’re even beginning to make plans for the Prize Ceremony on Friday – this is good.

More later.  Tune in to to watch everything LIVE!

Stay tuned!

uStream – Chat – schedule

I received several complaints today from people who said that they were following our Space Elevator Games broadcast on uStream and were using the uStream Chat feature to ask us questions, but were getting no response.

We’re very sorry about this, but we are unable to log onto the uStream chat server ourselves – I think it’s a firewall issue here at the NASA-Dryden Flight Research center.  We’re working with their network people to resolve the issue, but I’m not optimistic that it will be solved before the Games are over.  Until it is resolved, I’ve disabled the Chat feature for this broadcast so that users will not feel like they’re being ignored by us.

So, if you want to ask us questions, use the Social Stream feature of uStream.  Unfortunately it requires that you have a Twitter account, but it’s the best we’re going to be able to do right now.  We did use this today and I responded to all of the questions that were sent to us.

I freely admit that our broadcasts are not ‘professional’ or of the ‘highest quality’.  We’re all volunteers, we’re all new at this and we’re all doing the best we can.  Bryan Laubscher and myself (who are your hosts for these broadcasts) are monitoring several sources of information simultaneously to try and provide you with the latest updates.  We’re working on limiting the ‘information conflicts’ and also promise to try and refrain from drumming on the table while we’re broadcasting 🙂

Tomorrow, the number of Media personnel here in the ISF (the NASA facility that we are broadcasting from) will also be less and this will also help us try and keep things on a more even keel – we were trying to answer questions from the Press while also trying to follow the NASA radio chatter (of which we could only hear one side) and second-by-second updates provided by Ben Shelef to me via cell-phone.

Also, rather than logging into uStream directly, I would strongly urge you to go to the website.  In addition to being able to watch the live broadcast, you can also view saved video clips and pictures.  You can also chat with us (again, via the Social Streams Twitter function) by clicking on the CHAT link at the bottom of the page.

Finally, I truly do appreciate the comments and (constructive) criticism I’ve received, either via email or as comments sent to my Blog.  It’s helped us spot where the errors are and is being used by us to improve our Broadcast.  But for those very few of you who have decided to make the criticisms personal, please keep your venom to yourself; it is not needed or appreciated and, in the future, will be ignored.

Day 2 of the Space Elevator Games starts in just a few hours.  USST is scheduled to be up first and we’re aiming for their climb window to open up at 7:00am Pacific Time.  Once they’ve had a chance to Climb, the three teams will get together with Ben Shelef and decide on the order for the next set of Climbs.  These should start shortly after the initial USST run.

So, four runs scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday.  Today was great – tomorrow should be even better and more exciting…

Stay tuned!

LaserMotive – one happy bunch…

As I noted in an update to my previous post, LaserMotive’s second climb was 1 second faster than their first one.  So, right now the time to beat is 4 minutes, 1 second.  Over (nominally) 900 meters, that works out to about 3.73 meters/second.

What a great way to finish day 1 of the 2009 Space Elevator Games!

I had a quick chat with some of the Kansas City Space Pirates and they expressed confidence that they have taken care of the problems that plagued them in their first go-round.

And, let’s not forget that USST, the team that has performed the best in all previous competitions, has yet to make a run.

Tomorrow promises to be an even more exciting day than today.  Please tune in to and watch and hear the action live!

And, a few pictures of the winning team for you.  The first two are of the LaserMotive team (all except Dave Bashford) who was out in the truck watching over their climber) while the third picture is of Dave (on the right) with Ben Shelef (in the middle – CEO of the Spaceward Foundation – host of the Space Elevator Games) and Andy Petro – NASA’s person who is in charge of the NASA Centennial Challenge program.  Andy will be handing out the check(s) during the prize ceremony (date/time yet to be determined).

Those first two pictures show the LaserMotive team being interviewed by Fox News.  ABC, AP and some local press were also present.  Look for LaserMotive to be on the news tonight!

More pictures are on the official site of the Space Elevator Games (  Click on the LIVE COVERAGE button on the top and then click on the LATEST PICS button on the right hand side.

Again, congratulations LaserMotive – you’ve done us all proud!

(Update – I mis-identified Dave Bashford as Carsten Erickson – sorry guys…)

LaserMotive qualifies for NASA Prize Money!

Today history was made.  The Team LaserMotive climber traveled the raceway (approximately 900 meters) in 4 minutes, 2 seconds, about 3.72 meters/second.  This run more than doubles the previous best beam-powered climb (performed by USST in the 2007 competition) of 1.8 meters/second.

While this run does not qualify for the 5 meters/second prize, it easily qualifies for the 2 meter/second prize – a cool $900,000…

Their performance was very impressive.  On their first run, their climber would not move at all.  They brought the climber down and did ‘something’ to it (I’ll find out what it was and report back – and I’m sure it will be on their blog, too).  They then ran the course in the aforementioned 4 minutes and 2 seconds.  For good measure, they did it again, in approximately the same time.

And this is just their first shot.  They’ll have another chance tomorrow (and, perhaps, Friday) to better their time.

Pictures and more info will be up soon.

In the meantime, congratulations to LaserMotive!

(Correction: Their second run was completed in 4 minutes and 1 second; 1 second faster than their first run – Well Done!)

Quick status update

KCSP made several attempts this morning.  While they were able to climb under laser power, they did not make it to the top.  I’m sure they’re working this issue now.

Next up is LaserMotive.

Watch us live at

We’re also taking questions and will try to answer them.  We unfortunately are unable to use the uStream chat service – we can’t log into their chat server.  I suspect this is a firewall issue and that’s for NASA to decide whether or not we can access that.  In the meantime, we’re using the ‘Social Service’ feature of uStream.  It works, but you must have a Twitter account to use it.  If you care to, you can chat with us there.  Just click the “CHAT” link at the lower, left-hand corner of the site. 

Today is THE DAY!

Today is the first day of the 2009 Space Elevator Games – Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

We’re not sure of the starting time – always last minute details to work out, but we do know the order of the teams taking a crack at it:

First up – Kansas City Space Pirates
Next up – Laser Motive
Last up – USST

Depending on the results of the first set of runs, then the order of second and subsequent runs will be set.

Log onto to follow all the competition LIVE!  You can also Tweet me questions (use the CHAT button at the bottom of the web page) which I’ll try to answer for you.

Good luck to everyone!

Re-installing rotor blades on a helicopter

The helicopter used for the Space Elevator Games, a McDonnell Douglas MD530FF, was trucked in from its base in Washington.  The rotor blades were taken off for transport and consequently had to be re-installed when it got to NASA-Dryden.

This occurred on Monday morning and I filmed part of it.  During filming, I misspoke and said that the mechanics were reassembling ‘the rotor’ – of course I meant the rotor blades.


Piece of cake…

No more video today

Whoops – they’re not doing any more video today, so don’t bother going to uStream to see more of the Dry Run.

Tomorrow morning, you should be able to go to the official site of the Space Elevator Games and click the Live Coverage button at the top or you can just go directly to to see it.

Tune in – $2,000,000 is at stake!

Dry run; so far, so good

Some wind issues cropped up during the first helicopter flight necessitating a ‘re-thinking’ of some of the flight procedures.  Once those were ironed out, the helicopter ascended again and we were able to see a battery-powered climb (using the KC Space Pirates) climber all the way to the top, and with a successful descent and recovery.

The helicopter was getting a bit low on fuel, so it is being refueled and will then bring the cable aloft again.  LaserMotive is next up to do a battery powered climb and then USST.

If you go to, you can watch the action live.  You can also log into the chat (if you have a Twitter account) and ask questions – I’ll be moderating this.  I also have a mike and will try some commentary too.

Finally, you can get up-to-the minute status comments at

I don’t want to jinx anything, but all is looking very good!

Status – doing a dry run…

I’m sorry for the lack of posts in the past couple of days.  Lots of work trying to get the official site of the Space Elevator Games updated, plus getting uStream to work with us, plus getting the media center ready, etc…

The status right now (9:20am, Pacific time), is that they’re getting ready to do a ‘dry run’.  There was an all-hands meeting this morning where all the procedures were gone over.  A few holes were found, but nothing major.  The crew and teams are out on the lakebed getting ready to try everything out so that when the competition starts (tomorrow), hopefully most of the bugs will be out of the system.

If you go to the official site of the Games, and click on the Live Coverage button at the top, you’ll see the Twitter feeds, more photos from the Games and, hopefully, Live TV via uStream.

Right now, the official Games site is tuned different uStream channel so if you want to watch the Dry Run activities today, go to URL  At the moment there is video only, but we should have commentary going out on it to today (certainly by tomorrow).

A couple of blog photos for you.  The first is moonrise over the desert – the picture doesn’t capture how beautiful it was.  The vehicles / trailers in the foreground, under the moon, is the operations center out on the lakebed.

The second photo is of Doug Uttecht, our helicopter pilot.  A lot is riding on his competence and from everything we’ve seen, the confidence in him is well placed.

The Games are still scheduled to start tomorrow morning at 7:00am, Pacific time.  Stay tuned!


So, one of the criteria for winning, assuming that a Climber can make the ascent in the required minimum time, is how much payload the climber carries – it figures into the prize-winning calculation.

Given that we have three teams here, and that the rules for payload are very lax (basically, nothing that has or has had a heartbeat), it is to be expected that each team will be a bit creative in deciding what they will use for payload.

The Kansas City Space Pirates are using BB’s – weighed into bags.  The picture shows KCSP team member Frank Smith weighing the BB’s – different bags for different weights.  Rumor has it that they also maybe using Susan B. Anthony Dollars too, if they get very confident…

Team LaserMotive is using Poker Chips.  As a big fan of Texas Hold’em (yes, I admit it, I watch them play cards on TV), I am particularly fond of this solution.  And as team member Jordin Kare (shown holding the Poker chips) said to me; “If we don’t win the prize money in the climb, perhaps we can win it playing cards“.

Finally there is USST.  They are as usual, very tight-lipped about this.  They tell me that they haven’t worried about carrying payload, just about making 5 meters/second.  Yeah, right, sure…  This picture shows some of their team members looking around for something – perhaps it’s their payload…