Archive for December, 2009

Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 92 birthday…

If he was still with us, Sir Arthur C. Clarke would have been 92 today, December 16th.  I assume that most readers of this blog know who Sir Clarke is, but, if by some chance you’re not, then you’re missing a treat.  Sir Clarke was one of the most prolific and one of the very best SciFi authors we have ever had the good fortune to enjoy.

His novel The Fountains of Paradise was the book that inspired me and many others to dream about a Space Elevator - and now many of us are working towards making that dream a reality through the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).

The Planetary society recently had a program celebrating their own Planetary Radio’s 7th anniversary.  The bulk of the show was replaying a March, 2003 interview they had with Sir Clarke shortly after they began broadcasting.  This is a fascinating interview and well worth your time…  One of the items from the interview that I found very interesting was Sir Clarke’s revelation about how at lunch one day with JR Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame), Mr. Tolkien revealed to him how he came up with the idea of the “Hobbits” - funny stuff…

They also briefly discuss the Space Elevator and The Fountains of Paradise.

Incidentally, the host of the Planetary Society’s Radio Show, Mat Kaplan, shows that he’s always had ‘the touch’ when it comes to conducting interviews - Mat, you’re the best…

This YouTube Video is of Sir Clarke talking about the Space Elevator.


I was just able to locate the vinyl record of “Selected Readings” of The Fountains of Paradise that is shown and referenced in this video.  I’ve been looking for it for over a year - I love ebay…

The three photographs of Sir Clarke I’ve included in this post have been, in previous posts of mine about Sir Clarke, but for new readers they should prove interesting.  The first picture is of Yuri Artsutanov (on the left), one of the modern day ‘fathers’ of the concept of the Space Elevator, and Sir Clarke.  It is undated and I found it online (and, alas, the original location of it no longer exists so I can’t reference it or give credit to anyone for it).  The second is also a picture of Mr. Artsutanov and Sir Clarke from 1980 (the other “modern father” of the Space Elevator, Jerome Pearson, kindly emailed it to me).  The third picture is of Soviet (yes, at the time it was “Soviet”) cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and Sir Clarke at Sir Clarke’s 90th Birthday party.  I found this picture on Thilna Heenatigala’s blog.

Listen to the Planetary radio interview with Sir Clarke, watch the YouTube interview with Sir Clarke and, if you haven’t read The Fountains of Paradise, do yourself a favor and find it and read it - you’ll be glad you did.

Happy birthday Sir Clarke - we miss you and your boundless optimism for the future.  Someday we will make a Space Elevator and, if there’s any justice, it will be named the “Clarke Elevator”…

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

3 comments December 16th, 2009

My presentation at the 2009 EuroSpaceward Conference

My presentation at the EuroSpaceward conference seemed to be fairly well received (at least I wasn’t booed off the stage).  But then again, everyone was in a hurry to get lunch… :)

Anyway, here is a link to my presentation.  It consists of my opinion on the “State of ISEC”.  Part of me is discouraged that we haven’t done more, but the bigger part of me is very happy that we are up and functioning, that we have lasted more than a year, that we have some projects up and running and that we are (slowly) accumulating members.

If you are reading this and wondering what you can do to help the Space Elevator effort, I ask you to join ISEC.  Your membership fees & donations will go DIRECTLY towards space elevator related activities.  Much of the membership fees we collected this past year went to sponsor the Space Elevator Games, the ’signature event’ in the field.  Our next major goal is to get these academic competitions up and running.  We are very fortunate to have the two modern “fathers” of the Space Elevator, Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson agree to have our academic prizes named after them.  We have a team of physicists and engineers ready to review the academic submissions.  As President of ISEC I have submitted our first Strategic Plan to the Board of Directors of ISEC and, once it’s approved, I’ll publish here (or on the ISEC website).

What we need now are funds to complete this task.  Please join us and help us make the Space Elevator a reality.

2 comments December 16th, 2009

More YouTube videos

This video is from the recently completed Space Elevator Games.  It shows what ‘went wrong’ with a Climber pick-up before the problems were fixed and then it ‘went right’.  Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates, is narrating.


And one more Space Elevator-themed video.  I think I posted an earlier version of this, but this is the ‘final version’…


In general, this video has it’s facts correct with a few exceptions.

The main advantage of a Space Elevator is it’s scalability (i.e. it’s ability to scale up to carry huge amounts of material into space), not it’s relatively lower cost/kilogram to get something into orbit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  With a Space Elevator (and only with a Space Elevator), you can lift the enormous quantities of material you need to colonize the moon or mars or establish a significant amount of space solar power.

Scalability people, think scalability.  The video is correct in comparing the Space Elevator to the intercontinental railway for that’s what a Space Elevator is - a carbon railway to space.

Another mistake in the video is at the end when he is fancifully showing space elevators begin stationed near Spain or Japan.  While it’s possible to build a Space Elevator in those areas, the many problems which will occur (and have been described in the Edwards-Westling book) will almost certainly preclude it.

And finally, I must disagree with a third point of the video - that whoever builds the first Space Elevator will control access to space.  Even if the United States (or Russia or the ESA, etc.) does not build the first one, they have the resources to build one later on.  Certainly whoever builds one first will own a huge commercial advantage, but only until that second elevator is up and running.

It might sound like I’m dissing this video - I’m not.  It’s well done and has most of its facts correct.  But we need to have all of our facts correct if we’re going to convince someone that this is an idea worth doing…

Add comment December 15th, 2009

Space Elevator Miscellany…

With the recent effort surrounding the Space Elevator Games and the EuroSpaceward Conference, I’ve neglected some Space Elevator related items which have been piling up in my RSS Reader.  And so…

A YouTube clip from a CNN-Chile newscast states that NASA wants to build a Space Elevator (at least that’s what it says when I plug in the caption into Yahoo Babel Fish).  Also, I clearly hear the announcer say “Microsoft” during her report.  I don’t know if she’s talking about the recent Space Elevator conference at the Microsoft Center or somehow she thinks that Microsoft is going to build a Space Elevator.

(See update at the bottom of this blog post)…


And in this clip (from the Science Channel no less), it says that “NASA is holding a contest to see who can come up with the best plans for building a “space elevator”.  I wish that were true.  The Space Elevator Games piggyback upon NASA’s desire for power-beaming and strong-tethers - they have no avowed interest in building a Space Elevator (though the NASA people who I talked to at Dryden during the recent Space Elevator Games thought it was a cool idea).  The clip also says that the trip to the top will take “3 months”.  I don’t know where they got that figure.  Even a ride to the end of the tether (100,000 km) would, at 200 mph (320 km/hour) take about 13 days.  Add some time in for slowing down during start-up and at the end and maybe a stop/transit at the GEO space station and you still have well less than 1 month to the top.  And, the story says that passengers could be “struck by meteroids”…  Oh my.  They finalize the clip by repeating the lame joke about “Elevator music”.  Oh well, at least it IS the Science Channel…


And then we have a new Space Elevator cartoon - this one from the strange mind of Andy Carolan.  Having LaserMotive win that $900K at the recent Space Elevator Games has given the whole effort a new burst of publicity…

I think it’s “Alien” that’s coming out of the Space Elevator, but I’m not sure… :)

I’ve yet to view the new Star Trek adventure, the one with the Space Elevator in it, but thanks to this Spanish language publication talking about Space Elevators in general and the recent Space Elevator Games in particular, now at least I have a ’screen-shot’ of what it looked like in the movie.  I rented it today from redbox and will watch it tonight (I know, I’m so far behind).

All for now…

(Dec 14, 2009 Update - In the Comments, reader J.D. Muriel provides a translation of the Chilean broadcast.  It’s odd (’surprising’ in J.D.’s terminology) to say the least…  Microsoft is not sponsoring a Space Elevator, but the Space Elevator conference.  And, as far as I’m aware of, there is no “Japanese-Russian alliance” that is working on this project.  I think they read this article and misinterpreted it.  Now don’t get me wrong - I’d love it if the Japanese and Russians decided to do this.  I’ve heard rumors that the Japanese are supposedly working on some sort of ’secret’ carbon nanotube initiative and the Russians have as much (maybe more) experience working in space as does US-NASA.  But I just don’t think it’s happening.  Please prove me wrong :)

Thanks J.D. Muriel!)

2 comments December 14th, 2009

“Humanity is the Spinoff”

If you are like me and believe that humanity MUST get into space; to live, to explore, to declare our right to be an ongoing part of the Universe, then you’ll enjoy this video from Space Task Force.

“Is it me, or does it seem crazy, that even today, we have to justify sending people into space? The so-called “spinoff” argument. As we continue our series, Space 2010, we look at the most important spinoff of all — ourselves.”

As far as I know, it’s not on YouTube, so you’ll have to go to the Space Task Force site (or use my link, above, which does directly link to their video) to view/download it.

Add comment December 13th, 2009

H1N1 running rampant on Space Elevator

No comment necessary…


See all of the webisodes of our intrepid explorers here.

Add comment December 11th, 2009

Updates from the Kansas City Space Pirates

A few weeks ago, Brian Turner (captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates - KCSP) sent out this email to his mailing list.  This email, detailing “What Went Right”, is a follow-up to his “What Went Wrong” email I posted here.

In my last email I talked about what went wrong. In this one I will cover what went right. The glass is half full point of view. Sorry if I get a bit technical. And I must point out that all numbers are estimates.


Keeping all the power of the laser on target is no small task. We were the only team with a fully functional and automatic tracking system. The performance was spectacular. We were able to keep the laser on target 99.99% of the time for the first 500 meters. That performance dropped to 99.7% or so from 500 to 700 meters. At that point the .3% was driving our motor controller and power tracking nuts. This was markedly better than the manual tracking that the other teams were using. USST’s automated systems were down. Probably because of the same radio interference issues that we were suffering from. LaserMotive was using manual tracking that utilized 2 expert video game players with lots and lots of practice. Some time ago I had estimated that the cable would not be as stable as it was and that manual tracking was at the edges of human ability. So I was wrong in that the cable was really very docile. But I was right in that it is at the edge of human ability as Lasermotive was only able to keep it on target about 93% of the time from what I could see in our tracking camera. We do still have room for improvement here and I already know ways to make it better. I will be talking to National Instruments about a bigger and faster FPGA processor in our Compact Rio so we can improve the tracking even further.


All three of the top teams did well in creating a competitive optics system. One that could handle the power while directing it quickly and accurately. This was however a major stumbling block for the teams that did not qualify. I would like to thank Thor Labs for providing the bulk of the high quality components needed to pull this off.


Our climber was 1.2 Kg with payload vs 8.8 for USST and 5.4? for Lasermotive. We were less than 1/4 the weight of our nearest competitor. The climber was also simpler. We were the only team willing to run without added structure to save the climber from damage from landing mishaps. I suspect that we will be seeing lighter climbers from the other teams in the next round.

Power Transfer:

We had a peak power transfer of 190 watts. For our lightweight climber that is enough to do 5 m/s. In our field testing we had power conversion of more than 200 watts at the full Km distance. LaserMotive had a peak of 1000 watts in the competition. USST was boasting 1200 watts at 800 meters in their testing. This puts us at just under 1/5 the power levels of our competitors. What is impressive is that we are in the hunt with them using only 1/5th the power. The reason for this disparity is the cost of the solar panels. USST commented that their panel cost $120,000. That exceeds our entire cash budget. We do get over that number counting Sponsors like TRUMPF, but clearly our competitors are much better funded than us. LaserMotive is using experimental cells that have no price on them. I would estimate that they are around $60,000 in value because they are less exotic than USST’s cells. Our cells cost less than $4000 per climber. I think this illustrates that no team does more with a watt or a buck than we do.


Although we can probably eek out a 5 m/s run with our current system we clearly can’t be competitive with the power levels of the other teams using our current PV(solar) panels. We also crossed the finish line running well into the red on our finances. Although I have seen a few ideas that might have potential, I have to assume that there are no silver bullets to give us $75,000 PV panel performance from $4,000 panels.

What’s Next:

I had “The Talk” with my wife and she pointed out that the basement is full of this stuff, either sell it or use it. With the usual provisions about not losing any major items the house or cars. I really love how understanding she is. So now I need to talk with the team and work out details with them. Then I need to switch to fund raiser mode and raise enough to buy and build the PV panel that we need to be competitive.

So if anyone knows a company that would like to sponsor a high profile, underdog, high tech team, be sure and let me know.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

Let’s hope they succeed in their funding efforts.  I expect they will and further expect to see them at the next round of competition (May, 2010) ready and loaded for bear…

1 comment December 10th, 2009

Carmina Burana and the Space Elevator

Here is the latest video from Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation - organizers of the Space Elevator Games.

He explains it in his latest post on the official site of the Space Elevator Games.  He says, in part:

The video clip tries to capture the scope of the project, and is dedicated to everyone who helped make it happen.

This clip was officially unveiled at the just-completed EuroSpaceward conference in Luxembourg.

1 comment December 9th, 2009

A very special “Elevator to Space”

It’s good to see that our intrepid explorers can talk through these issues and help each other out when the need arises…


I identified with this webisode as I’ve often been the guilty party when my wife has yelled out “Hey, who ate all the ice cream?“  I’ve also tried the Astronaut Ice Cream, having purchased some at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Gift Shop (yes, there really is one there and they have some cool stuff for sale) during the Space Elevator Games tests and competition.  I wasn’t expecting much, but they’re actually edible.  I should have refrigerated them before eating though - then I think they would have tasted more like ice cream.

And I should mention that this episode 19 in the Elevator to Space series.  I’m glad to see that these guys aren’t winding down and continue to entertain us with their humor.

Visit their website to view all of the webisodes - thanks guys - I’m always very happy when my RSS reader tells me you have a new webisode up…

1 comment December 8th, 2009


Over the past few months, I have received several emails detailing different ideas for Space Elevators, or Space Elevator translations, or general questions about Space Elevators, etc.

I’m very sorry I haven’t responded to most of them - these last few months have been very busy for me and for ISEC.  Now that the EuroSpaceward conference is completed and another project I’ve been working on will take a break starting next week, I’ll have some time to devote to these emails.

Thanks for understanding, and now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Add comment December 7th, 2009

EuroSpaceward conference comes to an end…

And so the 2009 EuroSpaceward conference comes to an end.  It was very interesting, highly informative and I’m very glad I came.  I learned a lot and, more importantly (IMHO), I was able to spend lots of time with Markus Klettner (heading up EuroSpaceward) and Shuichi Ohno (heading up the Japan Space Elevator Association).

We had several very constructive conversations about how to jointly move forward the international effort to build a Space Elevator.  This goal is the reason why the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) was founded and I think it is fair to say that the ideas we had and agreements the three of us made will significantly move this idea forward.

Over the next few weeks, we will finalize and formalize these agreements and then use them to jointly move forward.  I think it will be exciting times for ISEC and the Space Elevator Community as a whole.

So let me end this post with a plea - if you are interested in helping efforts to build a Space Elevator, please consider joining ISEC.  Now more than ever, we need your donations & membership fees to put the aggressive plans we have made into action.  More than ever, we have an enthusiastic core to push our ideas forward - come join us to help make this exciting project a reality.

We need you - come and join us - the water is fine!

1 comment December 6th, 2009

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference - Day 1 (5)

And now for something completely different…

At last year’s EuroSpaceward Conference, Aage-Raymond Riise, ESA-ESOC (Germany) brought a demonstration of a”Longitudinal wave climber”, demonstrating how a climber could be made to go up and down a tether purely through the use of vibrating it at the proper frequency (I had blogged about it here).  At the 2008 Conference, Aage used a belt sander to vibrate the wooden tether to produce the necessary frequency.

He was back at this year’s conference with a new, improved model and I’ve included some photos (and another YouTube video) of the climb.

Rather than use a belt sander to induce the longitudinal waves in the tether (as he did last year), Aage this year used modified speakers.  This first picture shows one of the speakers (there were two), modified with a little tripold that transmitted the vibrations to the tether.

This second picture shows the overall view of the setup.  There were two poles, supported at the floor and ceiling.  The two speakers were mounted on the poles, one above the wooden tether and one below.  The tether was directly attached to the speakers so that when they “played”, the tether would vibrate.  If I understood Aage’s presentation correctly, he said that the speaker on top was controlled so that it was 180 degrees out of phase with the one on the bottom, thus creating a sawtooth wave that could be used to control the climber (if I’ve got this wrong, I’m sure I’ll be corrected and then I’ll update this post).

The last picture shows the ‘climber’ itself, attached to the tether.  The amount of force used to hold this climber to the tether was a very tricky adjustment.  They tried to make it work numerous times, adjusting the screws holding the climber clamps after each run.  They finally did get it to work and this is shown in the YouTube video, below:

Add comment December 5th, 2009

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference - Day 1 (4)

At the 2008 Space Elevator Conference, a large contingent from the then newly-formed Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) showed up.  They blew us away with how much they had accomplished in so little time and wowed us with videos, TV-show recordings and Anime from Japan - all showing how well-accepted the idea of a Space Elevator (aka the “Space Train”) is in Japan.

At this year’s EuroSpaceward conference, the Japanese are again here in force and are, again, wowing all of us with how successful they have been.  This past year, they have run two Space Elevator competitions (JSETEC and LASER ‘09) and next week will be hosting their second conference (in Japanese only - no translators this year).  Shuichi Ohno, the President of JSEA gave a presentation about what JSEA has been doing this year and brought with him a sample climber made out of LEGO’s.  You can actually buy a Space Elevator LEGO kit in Japan now from JSEA - now THAT’s organized).  I’ll have to see if we can do this in the US too - I can’t think of a better way to get children interested in the concept of a Space Elevator (except, perhaps, to have a Family Guy or South Park episode based on a Space Elevator - actually, that’s not a bad idea…).

They have also published a Space Elevator introductory pamphlet and Shuichi showed a video made summarizing JSEA and it’s activities and it was marvelously well done.  I’m working on getting permission to upload it to YouTube and then I can share it with all of you.

The first picture is of Shuichi while the second is of the LEGO Climber.

I’m very glad the Japanese are here, but they sure set the bar high…

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

Add comment December 5th, 2009

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference - Day 1 (3)

And, some pictures from the conference.  I’m not going to be posting pictures of everyone who spoke - that will be for later on the Space Elevator Blog photo album.  But there were a couple of note that I want to post now.

The first picture is of Dr. Jordin Kare, co-founder of the LaserMotive team that just won a cool $900K at the recently held Space Elevator Games at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.  He spoke about his team’s experiences in getting ready for the Games and their experience at the Games.  It’s always a pleasure to listen to an expert speak in his/her area of expertise and Jordin is a good guy.

One of the Games anecdotes he related was that, at the end of the first day and their team had just completed two successful climbs, one of the team members (Steve Beland) asked “Test” (Mike Kapitzke at the NASA Control group) if it was “OK to breathe”.  “Test” was in charge of all activities (and did a fantastic job) and so the request to “breathe” was jokingly asked, of course.  Without missing a beat, “Test” responded “Yes, but shallow breaths only”…

And, one other anecdote I want to relate about Jordin (and his wife Mary Kay - aka “Team mom”).  At Domingo’s restaurant where we all gathered Friday night to celebrate (I blogged about this here), I sat across the table from Jordin and Mary Kay.  Mary Kay had a drink waiting for Jordin when he arrived and Jordin looked at her and said “Dear, you are the light of my life“.  I then heard him mutter “Actually, the light of my life is 808 nanometers” (the wavelength of the LaserMotive laser)…

This next picture is of Dr. Martin Lades, team member (albeit long distance as he is now living in his native Germany) of the Kansas City Space Pirates.  Martin gave his perspective on the good and the bad of the KCSP performance and made the interesting comment that the only reason they didn’t climb the full kilometer is that they were not able to fully collimate (dial-in) their beam to that distance because they didn’t have sufficient time to do so (the Laser Clearing House had called a halt to testing the previous day).  If that’s true (and I have no reason to doubt that it is), then KCSP should have even more reason to be optimistic for the next Games - they were pretty close as it was.

This last picture in this post is of Andreas Hein, from the WARR Space Elevator team; out of the Technical University of Munich, Germany.  Andreas has been a regular at the conferences and he’s a typical Engineering guy.  Wednesday evening, several of us were at the bar discussing things in general and I happened to mention reading Michel van Pelt’s new book (I blogged about it here) and the concept of the Aerovator.  Andreas had not heard of this before and, after asking me a couple of questions about it, went silent.  When I looked at him a few minutes later, he was filling up a napkin with equations and “what ifs”, trying to understand how it worked.  I took pity on him and went back to my room and got the book for him.  I just hope he returns it before he leaves :)

The WARR team was the winning climber at the recently completed JSETEC games in Japan - they totally blew away the competition having a time which was nearly three times as fast as their nearest competitor.  I blogged about this before - including linking to a YouTube video of one of their climbs.

Andreas talked about this, which was very interesting, but later gave a second presentation which was, to me, even more interesting.  He made a brief financial case of how a Space Elevator could take over the satellite-to-GEO market.  This is exactly the kind of thing I have been looking for and I’m going to put Andreas together with the ISEC Business consultant (Ed Gray - are you listening?) and see if we can turn this into a formal proposal.

Good stuff all around…

(As always, you can click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a full-size version)

Add comment December 5th, 2009

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference - Day 1 (2)

While setting up this morning for the conference, I happened to walk outside the conference room and noticed that the clock on the wall was acting strange.  This video is not sped up or altered in any way…


When I looked closer, I saw that there was a legend on the bottom of the clock which read “radio controlled”.  Obviously something was FUBAR’d…

I pointed it out to the Hotel personnel helping us set up.  They tried to fix it, but failed and finally just turned off the radio control.  It is now permanently 4 03′ 54″ (am?  pm?) at the conference.

Talking at the beginning of the video is John Winter (from EuroSpaceward) and myself…

Add comment December 5th, 2009

EuroSpaceward Conference - Day 1 - and we’re underway

The 3rd annual EuroSpaceward conference is now underway.  I’m fortunate to have wireless access (at USD 30.00 per day!) during the conference so can blog during the conference.

Space Elevators are a key part of this conference but by no means the only topic which will be discussed.

The first picture is of attendees filtering into the conference this morning.  We are in the Louis conference room of the local Novotel hotel.

The second picture is of Markus Klettner, Executive Director of EuroSpaceward, giving the opening Welcome address to the attendees.

My presentation (on ISEC and efforts to unify Space Elevator efforts worldwide) is at 12:30 this afternoon.  It’s just before lunch, so I think people will be hungry and eager to leave - maybe I won’t get too many questions :)

Stay tuned…

Add comment December 5th, 2009

Holiday time in Luxembourg

Well, I’m finished judging the entries for the drawing contest and have given them to EuroSpaceward to get the certificates printed up and notify the winners.  My disguise is being delivered tomorrow morning - hopefully it will keep me out of trouble.

And, my presentation is actually finished.  Really and truly.  I’ve even been able to have time to send it off the rest of the Board Members of ISEC to get their comments.  Will wonders never cease…

So, I’m in Europe, in Luxembourg, and it’s the holiday season.  I have some free time and am told that the local “Christmas Market” is a great place to do Christmas shopping.  Also, I get a chance to walk around ‘old Europe’ and it’s always been a great pleasure of mine to do so.  I’ve done lots of walking in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Great Britain (England and Scotland) and especially the Netherlands.  I love it - it’s so different than where I live (a suburb of Chicago).  There the streets are straight and wide and (relatively) new.  You have to drive to get anywhere and the attempts to make a ‘town cente’ in the suburbs just don’t cut it.  Old Europe streets are narrow and paved in cobblestones.  You rarely can see what’s 50 yards in front of you as the streets twist in all directions - it makes walking anywhere seem like an adventure.  And town centers are vibrant with life, especially during the holiday season.

I’d been looking forward to walking around in the old part of the city in Luxembourg City and I was not disappointed.  I did get a good chunk of Christmas shopping done but, sadly, did not find anything for my wife.

I have a confession to make - I did not buy my wife a Christmas present last year.  She’s tremendously difficult to buy for and, when pressed as to what she wanted, she finally told me “A condo in Hawaii”.  I wasn’t able to come up with one last year, but did have faint hopes that I might find something while Christmas shopping today that could act as a substitute.  Alas, no…

I’ve included some pictures from today’s walking tour of Place D’Arms (the location of the Christmas market in the Luxembourg City Town Center).

The first picture might take a little explaining.  It’s an outdoor heater.  Several of these were located by the tables located in the middle of the Christmas market - tables where people ate and drank their Glühwein.  They were quite effective - I can attest to that.  Though there was no snow on the ground, it was damp and near freezing - the heaters were definitely welcomed by all who were there.  The third picture is a 4-tiered chocolate fountain - there are chocolate / confectionery stores everywhere.  The rest of the pictures are of the Christmas market.  I particularly like the last one - it really seems to capture the atmosphere I saw and felt tonight.

The conference starts tomorrow.  My internal clock is adjusting well and I should be fully functional, or at least coherent, by tomorrow morning.

Stay tuned!

(Click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a full-size version)

Add comment December 4th, 2009

A new Brad Edwards interview

Sander Olson of the Next Big Future kindly emailed me to let me know that his recent interview with Dr. Brad Edwards has now been posted at their website.

Most interesting quote (IMHO) from the interview:

Small quantities of some nanotubes have been made that are sufficiently strong to be used in a space elevator. We would obviously need to produce hundreds of tons of such nanotubes to build a space elevator. With sufficient funding, we could create a nanotube-based material appropriate for a space elevator within a couple of years.

That certainly sounds overly-optimistic to me, but who am I to argue with Dr. Edwards?

Anyway, it’s always interesting to get the current thoughts of Dr. Edwards and I recommend that you check out the interview.

3 comments December 4th, 2009

Space Tethers and Space Elevators

On the plane ride over to Luxembourg (I am attending and presenting at the EuroSpaceward Conference this coming weekend), I read Michel van Pelt’s new book; Space Tethers and Space Elevators.  Michel had kindly sent me a copy some months ago, and I had been saving reading it for this trip.  I can’t sleep on airplanes and I knew I would have several uninterrupted hours that I could devote to this much-anticipated treat.

And what a treat it turned out to be.  In this book, Michel explains what the advantages of tethers in space are and the benefits they can provide, including Space debris mitigation and tether propulsion.  He gives the history and results of previous tether experiments in space, some of which I was unaware of.  He talks about the rockets and their alternatives, most especially the Space Elevator:

The space elevator concept has the potential to cause a revolution in human history.  We have been living at the bottom of a gravity well up until now, and we only recently acquired the technology to climb out once in a while at high cost.  A space elevator would provide an easy, regular, and sustainable way out of that well, allowing many people to clamber up and explore, develop, and colonize space ever further.  As will be shown in the next chapters, tether technology is a possible solution for many of the most stringent spaceflight constraints.

Michel briefly but thoroughly discusses the history of how the idea of a Space Elevator came about and how it has gradually permeated popular culture - everything from Arthur C. Clarke’s magnificent book, The Fountains of Paradise to showing up on Star Trek and even the Microsoft Xbox game Halo 3.

Other topics of discussion include problems that will need addressing in the building and operation of a Space Elevator, the current ’state of affairs’ in Space Elevator development (including a discussion of the Space Elevator Games) and the cost to build one.

When discussing Space Elevators, much of his information is drawn from the Edwards / Westling book The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System but Michel adds updates and new material to this to bring everyone up-to-date.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned much from it. It will be very valuable to anyone who wants to learn about alternatives to using rockets to get into space or space tethers and/or space elevators in general.  Michel van Pelt’s book is a very valuable addition to the ever-growing body of literature on this subject.

Highly recommended.

2 comments December 3rd, 2009

In Luxembourg…

Well, this was a switch.  The flight from Chicago to Zurich and then the connection between Zurich and Luxembourg were both on time and mostly empty.  I’m used to flying planes in the States - everyone packed in like sardines.  I wondered why the airfares from Chicago to Luxembourg kept getting cheaper and cheaper and now I know why - SwissAir (or whatever they’re called now - why is their airline code “LX”?) was trying to lure some more passengers.  Anyway, it was quite pleasant - well, as pleasant as 9 hours in an airplane can be…

I arrived today at the Luxembourg airport at about 2:20pm, local time.  Markus Klettner from EuroSpaceward kindly met me at the airport and drove me to the Novotel where the conference is being held at and where also I’m staying.  On the way, he gave me a little surprise - I’ve been chosen to judge a coloring contest - “How do you Imagine Life on the Moon?” - an event held as part of the EuroSpaceward conference.  The particulars:

This contest is intended for children attending school in Luxembourg from levels 1st to 9th grade to create awareness of the technological and scientific areas of space study, research and development forty years after the first human steps on the moon.

This challenge is held for the second time in Luxembourg city, encouraged and organized by the European Spaceward Association who is dedicated to the research and development of space related activities in Europe, and sponsored by MUDAM (Musee d’Art Modern) Luxembourg and Skoda, Luxembourg.

Full imagination and artistic sensitivity will be portrayed in each of the children’s drawings containing a message towards life on the moon, beyond borders and differences in their background, cultures and languages.

The Guidelines state that the “Drawings can be submitted in color or pencil” and that “The most original drawings will be considered for winning selection.”


An art critic I’m not, so this should be quite a challenge.  I think building a Space Elevator might be something easier for me to do.   I’ve got about 60 drawings to look at and I have to choose 9 of them as “...the most original...”.  To top it all, I’m the one designated to hand out the prizes, so I will be there, in person, to receive the grief for a job poorly done.

But I guess it goes with the territory.  If I’m going to be the President of such a large and prestigious organization as the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), I have to fulfill my role as a fount of wisdom :(

The picture thumbnail shows several of the drawings I have to judge (click on the thumbnail to see a full size version).  I have until Friday, noon, to make my decision.

I’ll let Markus publish the funeral arrangements.  Please don’t send flowers - send donations instead to “The Luxembourg Foundation for Needlessly Pissed-off School-children“.

More tomorrow…

Add comment December 2nd, 2009

EuroSpaceward Conference - and the future of Space Elevator Development

I leave this evening to fly to Luxembourg.  There I will attend the EuroSpaceward Conference on “Space Elevator, CNT Tether Design & Lunar Industrialization Challenges“.  I’ll also be giving a presentation entitled: Space Elevator Consortium: stimulation and alignment of SE research activities.

Saying all of that is quite a mouthful…

I’m still polishing my presentation (sorry Markus) but will share it with my readers after I give it.  I can give you the abstract however:

In the many years since the concept of a Space Elevator has been popularized and advanced in Science Fiction, the number of people actively supporting this concept has not appreciably increased. In addition, the theoretical and practical boundaries on the strength of carbon nanotubes are beginning to point towards a material weaker than hoped for (but still strong enough to build a Space Elevator, albeit with reduced capacity). Given these facts, how do those of us in the Space Elevator community move this idea forward?

We first need to recognize and acknowledge that the Space Elevator is a “solution in search of a problem”. We then must find the need that a Space Elevator (and only a Space Elevator) can fulfill. The author proposes that the goals of Space Solar Power and the colonization of the Moon and Mars can only be accomplished with a Space Elevator and he further proposes that the Space Elevator community speak with one voice on this topic and work to ally itself with the proponents of Space Solar Power and Moon/Mars colonization.

While the recent successes at the Space Elevator Games certainly has been a ’shot in the arm’ for the Space Elevator effort, it is no secret that we’re still a small group - and not really growing.  Why is this?  Certainly a major reason is that the long/strong carbon nanotubes needed to build a Space Elevator do not yet exist.  But another reason, I think, is that everyone in the effort has their own ideas on what a Space Elevator can and cannot do and, consequently, their own ideas on how to proceed.  If there were thousands and thousands of us, this would be all well and good.  But with such a small community, these non-unified efforts quickly lead to little or no results.  This has to change.  As the President of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), it’s my job to do this.  I need to get all of us to rally around a common theme, a common goal, a common purpose - and that common purpose has to be more than just “Let’s build a Space Elevator because it’s cool”.  That’s not going to get it done.  As I say in the abstract, we need to find the critical need(s) for which a Space Elevator is the best or only solution and then ally ourselves with people working to satisfy those needs.

I am going to be paying MUCH closer attention than I have in the past to people who want to colonize the Moon and/or Mars as I think the Space Elevator is the only way to go to accomplish these goals.  The more realistic souls among these groups (i.e., those who have come up with some defensible numbers) may indeed be our future ‘best friends’.  In addition, I’m going to take another look at Space Solar Power (though I’m very dubious that this can work on a commercial scale) and finally see if there is any possibility that a Space Elevator can be made economically viable by taking the majority of the commercial satellite launch market.

I invite comment and (reasoned) suggestions - it’s time to get serious guys…

And, on a final note, as I AM the Space Elevator Blogger, I’ll be reporting from the conference as often as I can.

2 comments December 1st, 2009

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