Monthly Archives: October 2010

What’s up with LaserMotive…

The day after the recent Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, Washington, I needed to drive Yuri Artsutanov and his translator (Eugene Schlusser) back to the Sea-Tac airport so that they could catch their flight.  On the way, we stopped at the LaserMotive facility so that a) the LaserMotive people and Yuri could meet and b) we could see what was happening with them.

The visit was a lot of fun – Yuri, being inquisitive and generous as always.

LaserMotive is now demonstrating their beaming-power technology by remotely powering a toy helicopter for, essentially, unlimited amounts of flight time.  In late August, they demonstrated their technology at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America 2010 Conference in Denver, Colorado.  Yuri, Eugene and I saw their demo while we were at the labs and it was very impressive.  Turn on the laser and the helicopter takes off and flies.  Turn off the laser and the helicopter ends its flight.  Runs forever.  Very cool…

And, they announced on their blog a few days ago:

LaserMotive to Demonstrate Laser-Powered Helicopter at Future of Flight Aviation Center; Will Mark Longest Duration Untethered Laser Powered Helicopter Flight on Record. In partnership with Ascending Technologies, we will be flying their Pelican quadrocopter via laser power for at least 10 times (and maybe 20 times) the duration possible with batteries alone.

No updates yet on their website as to how well the demo went, but we’ll hear from them soon on this, I’m sure.

Finally, LaserMotive received the runner-up prize at the recent NWEN (Northwest Entrepreneur Network) ‘First Look’ forum earlier this month.  Congratulations to LaserMotive for this and all of their accomplishments!

(Picture thumbnails are, from top to bottom, Tom Nugent of LaserMotive showing Yuri the Climber that won the Space Elevator Games – Climber/Power Beaming competition, Yuri enjoying the $900,000 award check that LaserMotive won in the competition, the demonstration system (enclosed in a transparent case) – you can see the helicopter sitting on its ‘landing pad’, and finally Tom showing Yuri this demo system – you can see the helicopter in flight.  As always, you can click on any of these thumbnails to see a full-size version of the picture.)

Fatal Ascent

There is a new book out which has a Space Elevator as a central theme.  The title is Fatal Ascent and the author is Mr. Gordon McKinzie.  I’ve just recently learned that Gordon was supposed to be at the recent Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, but a sudden and severe medical issue prevented him from attending.  He does live in the area and so we can hope to see Gordon at the next Conference.

From the advert:

Near a remote scientific facility on the equator north of Tahiti, a small plane suddenly spins out of control and crashes. Only the scientists of Space Grid International at the secret atoll know what has happened: The plane has collided with thin carbon tapes that have been stretched taut from the atoll’s coral shelf to a point 62,000 miles into space. Conceived in absolute secrecy, the tapes are the critical element of the world’s first functioning space elevator that can transport men and materials to and from satellites without the prohibitive cost and logistics of rocket launches. Shortly afterwards, investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board visit the facility looking for answers, but are too close to discovering the true cause of the crash and the atoll’s secret. Soon after their chartered aircraft leaves the facility it suddenly explodes in mid-air.

One of the team’s members, Michelle Kahana, shares a critical piece of information with her brother, Scott, just before she and her team depart the facility on their fateful flight. Scott, a promising Honolulu architect and F-16 pilot in the Hawaii Air National Guard, begins pursuing the details of Michelle’s disclosure only to uncover a trail of betrayal, deception and murder that implicates the FAA and the facility’s brilliant Research Director, Dr. Krishnamurty Karemcheti.

Karemcheti has recently been given a “no confidence” vote by the Board of Space Grid International. He has no use for the altruistic vision of CEO Mark Darden, who wants to deploy the revolutionary Ladder to Space as a means to connect the planet to space-borne solar energy “farms” that could ultimately supply all of the world’s energy needs.  Karemcheti, however, is intent only on selling the technology to a Chinese syndicate that would use the concept for military purposes to hold nations of the world hostage, and is already overseeing the construction of an identical facility in the South China Sea. The disenfranchised Karemcheti wants to completely eliminate Space Grid International and its core of scientists and executives, and has conceived a diabolical plan that has been in motion for many months: A rogue Chinese trawler has captured a Pakistani midget submarine in the Arabian Sea and clandestinely transported it over ten thousand miles to the doorstep of the tiny scientific facility.  The mission of the submarine Nishtar is too horrifying to contemplate—it carries two full-size torpedoes!

Months earlier, Karemcheti had imposed on Shakeela Kabir, a beautiful American-born woman of Indian ancestry and daughter of an old family friend, to befriend a FAA staff specialist and persuade him to illegally alter government records that would guarantee absolute secrecy of the Ladder to Space project. Scott’s personal quest for information leads him to the FAA and a confrontation with the object of Shakeela’s intercession, Kyle Broderick. In a panic, the young engineer nervously confesses to his benefactor Karemcheti that he fears his role in subverting FAA regulations will be discovered. Shortly afterward, Broderick is killed in his sleep when his small ketch mysteriously explodes in a marina near Annapolis.  When Scott first learns of Shakeela’s involvement with Karemcheti, he is immediately distrustful and finds himself obliquely linking her to the horrific series of events. Abruptly, the anguished young woman travels to Honolulu and personally convinces Scott of her innocence in the tragic circumstances that have darkened their lives. The melding of their mutual desire to bring Karemcheti to justice leads to a poignant love affair that blossoms in the face of terrible adversity for Shakeela and deep emotional scars for Scott.

The FBI joins forces with the NTSB and moves quickly to find answers, some of which are found at the bottom of the South Pacific in a tape recorder recovered by a deep-diving submersible. Special Agent Victor Savage is convinced that Karemcheti can now be linked to at least nine deaths, only to discover that the scientist has left the country and all contact has been lost.

Soon the trawler and submarine are within striking distance of the facility, and Karemcheti re-appears with his iniquitous Chinese partners to launch his final act of treachery.  He gives orders for the submarine to fire its first torpedo into the heart of the research facility.  The second torpedo is reserved for the cruise ship Polynesian Princess anchored nearby—it has top government officials and members of the press onboard who have been invited to the public unveiling of the SGI elevator as it clamps onto the tape and begins its incredible odyssey into space. Shakeela is also on the cruise ship, ironically as a guest of Karemcheti, and Scott is one thousand miles to the south on a National Guard deployment with his F-16 squadron.

The inhabitants of the research facility and the cruise ship are defenseless against the massive torpedoes poised to execute their deadly trajectories. In a race against time, only heroic actions can deflect the momentum of the destructive forces about to be unleashed against them– if it isn’t already too late.

I’m supposed to be receiving my copy of the book any day now and it’s going to go to the top of my Fiction reading list.  I’ll post a book review when I’m finished.  In the meantime, you can get the book at Amazon (but not yet on Kindle – at least I’m hoping that it will soon be available on Kindle).

More on USST’s entry into JSEA’s JSETEC competition

On the USST website, they have a summary of their activities at the recent JSEA LASER competition as well as a couple of videos.

I had previously posted about the climb where they crash-landed, but didn’t post the one where they did much better.  And I had posted a wrap-up of the competition here.


Their summary of the competition is very interesting and worth checking out and it’s good to see that they are still ‘in the game’, despite being no longer eligible for the Space Elevator games prizes…

EuroSpaceward announces EuSEC – the first European Space Elevator Challenge!

Exciting news – EuroSpaceward has today announced EuSEC – the first European Space Elevator Challenge!

This competition is being organized by WARR, the Scientific work-group for rocketry and space flight of the Technical University of Munich in cooperation with the Technical University of Munich, the Klaus Höchstetter Foundation,  Lrt, the Institute of Astronautics and EuroSpaceward.

The theme of the competition is:

make it ecology minded
make it efficient
make it European

And the focus of the competition is:

technical implementation
reference to the ‘real Space Elevator’

The competition is scheduled to be held from June 10-12, 2011, with backup dates set as June 16-18, 2011, and the location will be in Germany at the campus of the Technical University of Munich – Campus Garching (Garching Forschungszentrum).  Several prizes are offered, with the top prize being 2,000 Euros.

Enquiries about the competition should be sent to Franciska Volgyi, the technical and organizational lead, or Andreas Fleischner, responsible for the SE agenda at WARR.  Both can be reached at (spaceelevator [at]

Details about the competition can be found in this handbook.  A competition flyer, a powerpoint presentation and poster have been created as well as a website for this Challenge.

Mark your calendars – this should be a lot of fun!

This now makes a total of five space elevator games / challenges now in existence.  We have the two American Space Elevator Games (the Climber / Power-Beaming challenge and the Strong Tether Challenge), the two Japan Space Elevator Games (JSETEC and LASER) and now the European Space Elevator Challenge (EuSEC).  I love it!

Congratulations to WARR, the Technical University of Munich,  the Klaus Höchstetter Foundation,  Lrt, the Institute of Astronautics and EuroSpaceward for making this happen!

The Kansas City Space Pirates throw in the towel…

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

Well, At some point you have to give up and move on. The ideal point for this passed some time ago. Perhaps years ago. 😉

The risk/reward ratio is just no longer where it needs to be to make the power beaming competition worth our efforts. Without the TRUMPF 8 kw laser we have slim to no chance of beating LaserMotive. Lasers cost about $75,000 per kw. That makes the prize $333,000 and it will cost us $200,000 to make a credible run at that. I have said before that between 4 and 5  to 1 was the ratio that would get us to go for a competition. We have enough into the power beaming competition that I would be willing to lower that to as low as 2.5 to 1. We just are not close.

But just because we lost does not mean we’re not pirates! What do pirates do when they get beat? Have a party. It’s just my way of saying thank you to all the people that have helped along the way. Oh, and there is that whole closure thing. We’ll have a bawl… er… I mean ball. It may turn into a roast Brian evening but that’s OK with me.

So I am working up the invitation list now. If you think you should be on that list, drop me a line.

A quick recap of what we accomplished.

Three times over 5 years we turned in the second most exciting performance in a international high stakes NASA technical competition. We missed out on millions in prize money by slim margins and provided innovative solutions that the industry had never seen before. All of this on a budget that was from 1/2 to 1/4 that of the teams that managed to beat us.  We raised over a quarter million dollars in sponsorship and funding.  And put in over 4,000 hours of time.  It was quite a ride!

And because I don’t have a good way to invite companies to the ball I want to say thanks to them once again here.

Thor Labs
National Instruments
Barr Associates
Burns McDonnell
Optica Software
Citizens Bank & Trust
Palinurus Books
Diversity Model Aircraft

I also want to thank Tom and LaserMotive for being great competitors and the consolation prize arrangement that has let me keep my house.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

So, what can one say about the Kansas City Space Pirates?  I think they were everyone’s favorite competitor.  I think even the other teams wished that if they themselves didn’t win the prize money, they hoped that KCSP would be the ones to do so.  Their work was so innovative and every member of that team was just a joy to be around.  They certainly demonstrated the technical capability to win the prize, but they were always thwarted by the unexpected event.

Their willingness to help everyone, their continued good humor in the face of adversity and, above all, their sense of fair play is going to be greatly missed.  I salute them, one and all…

And Brian’s appearance on the Conan O’Brien show is a highlight that will live on in Space Elevator Lore.  We at ISEC are collecting some items we’ll want to broadcast during the maiden run of the first Space Elevator and this Conan O’Brien show clip will certainly be one of them.

So, major bummer.  I have had several conversations with Ben Shelef about the future of the Climber / Power-Beaming competition and, while it is much too early for me to spill any of the beans, I can safely say that some significant changes in the structure of the Games appear to be in the cards.