Monthly Archives: February 2011

The 2011 Space Elevator Conference – Official Announcement

Previously, I had blogged about the 2011 Space Elevator Conference, but now the Official Announcement and Call for Papers has been released.  You can access it here.

This year’s conference will concentrate a large portion of its schedule on materials research – where are we at with the subject of ‘Strong Tethers’ and what can we look forward to?  In addition to Space Elevator enthusiasts, the Conference organizers are working to encourage carbon nanotube materials researchers to attend and present papers on their subject expertise.  This is something that the EuroSpaceward conference did in 2010 with great success and we want to continue this collaboration at this year’s Space Elevator Conference.

Incidentally, potential authors of Space-Elevator related papers now have three venues they can use to get their papers published.  They can submit them to the Space Elevator Conference, they can submit them for the Artsutanov and Pearson prize (if the subject matter is on Tether Strength) and they can submit them to the ISEC Journal.

Each outlet has its own criteria, but all of them encourage beginning and experienced authors to submit their papers for review and possible inclusion.

So, getting back to the Space Elevator Conference, I encourage all of you who have an interest in this most-magnificent of all engineering projects to reserve August 11th-14th and plan on attending.  It promises to be an exciting conference – see you there!

An oldie but goodie…

This video is several years old, but I don’t think I’ve linked to it before on the blog.  It is a 5+ minute long presentation, narrated by the astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson.  It gives a very quick overview of carbon nanotubes and how they are grown in a furnace (and then pulled off to longer lengths) and then talks about the 2007 Space Elevator Games – Climber / Power-Beaming competition held near Salt Lake City, Utah.


It’s a bit depressing to realize that the state of the art in growing long, strong nanotubes hasn’t advanced that much in the last few years, but we have every reason to hope that is now starting to change.  The upcoming Space Elevator competition – Strong Tether challenge looks like it is going to have its strongest field of contenders yet.

Stay tuned!

28Feb2011 Update – As noted in the Comments by Brian Turner, the ‘original’ version of this video can be accessed at the PBS website here.  There are also links to other Space Elevator related broadcasts and videos and webpages that have more information about the Space Elevator.  Thanks Brian!

ISEC welcomes Robert “Skip” Penny as a new Director

ISEC is very pleased to announce that Robert “Skip” Penny has joined its Board of Directors effective immediately.  A brief bio:

Robert E. “Skip” Penny, Jr. graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1970 with a Bachlor of Science degree. Over his 20 year Air Force career, he held a breadth of command and staff positions in NORAD/ADCOM, Air Force Space Command, US Space Command, and Air Force Technical Applications Center retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Upon retirement in 1990, he joined Motorola on the Iridium satellite program. As a System Engineer, he initially provided operations input to the early Iridium system design including authorship of the Iridium System Operations Concept and the Control Segment Operations Concept.  He was a key contributor to initial release and multiple updates to A level specifications and segment interface control documents. He generated multiple Iridium Technical Notes on operations related functions including a probability of collision assessment with recommendations for debris mitigation.

In 2000, he went to work for General Dynamics as Senior System Engineer. He was Network and Communications Integrated Product Team Lead for General Dynamics-Lockheed Martin GPS III System Engineering and Integration Team. He was responsible for system and segment level requirements and resulting design of GPS III’s network of ground and space nodes including crosslinks.

Skip has a Master of Science degree from the US Air Force Institute of Technology. His Masters thesis was a computer simulation that predicted the probability of collision for the US Space Shuttle using a methodology that has since been adopted by AIAA, and many space operators. He also has a Master of Arts in Procurement Management from Webster College.

Skip has a long-time interest in the Space Elevator and was a co-author, along with Peter and Cathy Swan of the just released ISEC Report on Space Elevator Survivability – Space Debris Mitigation.

Skip’s initial focus with ISEC is going to be on designing a plausible Operations Scenario for a Space Elevator system.  To date, this has not been done and it is the crucial first step to satisfy one of our goals for 2011, coming up with a cost of Operations for a Space Elevator.  There have been several estimates generated for the cost of BUILDING a Space Elevator but none, to my knowledge, for MAINTAINING and OPERATING a Space Elevator system.  These costs will, over time, almost certainly far exceed the initial construction costs.

No justification exists (again, to my knowledge) for the oft-repeated statement that shipping cargo to space will be cheaper via a Space Elevator than via rockets.  I think we all feel that this is almost certainly true, but no one is going to build one unless they can have a handle on the actual costs.  And no one can estimate how much such a system costs unless they can first have a plausible, detailed scenario on how such a system might be run.  There are literally hundreds of questions which must be answered and now we have someone on board who has the interest and skills necessary to answer these questions.

More will be posted soon on how Skip plans to go about this; which scenario he is going to adopt, what tools he is going to use to generate costs, how he can make it a collaborative effort, etc.

In the meantime, we’re very excited to have him on our Board of Directors.  Welcome Skip – we’re very glad you’re here!

(Skip is pictured here at last year’s Space Elevator Conference, held at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, Washington.  Click on the picture thumbnail to see a full-size version of the picture).

ISEC Releases its first ISEC Report

I am very happy to announce that the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has released its first ISEC Report (formerly known as ISEC Red Team Studies).  In our first strategic plan (2010), we set out a goal of releasing a report every year addressing the ISEC Theme for the year.  In 2010, our theme was “Space Elevator Survivability – Space Debris Mitigation” and this is the title of our first ISEC Report.

The report was co-authored by Peter Swan (a Director and Vice-President at ISEC), Peter’s wife Cathy Swan and Robert “Skip” Penny.  The front cover design was done by ISEC’s own Graphic Artist Frank Chase and modeled after the 2010 ISEC Poster.  I just received a copy of it and I am very impressed with the quality of both the writing and the presentation of the book.  It’s in 6×9 soft-cover format,

From the summary:

The International Space Elevator Consortium has placed this position paper as a recognition that the space debris problem is an engineering one and can be mitigated. The question: “Will space debris be a show stopper for space elevators?” is answered emphatically. NO! The mitigation concepts presented change the issue from a perceived problem to an engineering concern; but, by no means is it a significant threat. This pamphlet illustrates how the development office for a future space elevator can attack this problem, predict probabilities of collision, and convert the concern into another manageable engineering problem.

You can purchase this book at for $14.50.

Thank you Peter, Cathy and Skip!

More adventures

And, while I’ve been not up-to-date in my blogging lately, our intrepid explorers have posted 3 of their latest adventures.

In the first, we get a belated Christmas wish…


In this next snippit, we see proof that one cannot escape ‘civilization’, even on a Space Elevator…


And finally, we have a band concert that is truly Grunge…


I hope they have a special Valentine’s Day adventure coming up…

Gearing up for JSETEC 2011

Shuichi Ohno, the president of the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) sent me an email with some links to videos put on YouTube.  These videos show some of the preparation work underway for the third annual Japan Space Elevator Technical & Engineering Competition (JSETEC) to be held in August of this year.

These three videos (shot in HD, no less) show three different Climbers ascending / descending a 28m long tether.  All of these Climbers are battery powered, so a comparison to the beam-powered Climbers used in the Space Elevator Games is not really valid, but the ‘middle Climber’ zips up to the top with a speed of nearly 5m/second – very impressive.




I blogged about their 2010 competition here and their 2009 competition here.  I’m sure their 2011 competition is going to be the best one yet.

Announcing the 2011 Artsutanov and Pearson prizes

In 2010, ISEC announced the Yuri Artsutanov & Jerome Pearson prizes, prizes established to foster research into Space Elevator related topics.  There were no winners in 2010, though we had two papers that qualified for Honorable Mentions in the Artsutanov Prize.

The Pearson Prize, sponsored by the Leeward Space Foundation, is open to all Undergraduate students.   The Artsutanov Prize, sponsored by the Space Elevator Blog, is open to everyone (ISEC Directors and Officers excepted).

ISEC is very pleased to announce the 2011 Artsutanov & Pearson prizes.  Unlike 2010, where eligible papers for the Pearson prize had to be on the Yearly ISEC Theme while papers for the Artsutanov prize could be on any Space Elevator subject, for 2011, papers for both competitions must address the 2011 ISEC Theme.  This theme is “Developing stronger, lighter tethers – 30 MYuris or bust!“.  The specific topic papers for both competitions must address is:

The biggest hurdle on the way to building a Space Elevator is constructing a tether that is strong enough and light enough. We estimate that a tether with a minimum strength of 30 MYuris1 will be sufficient to construct the Space Elevator and ISEC wishes to promote research and thought targeted towards this goal.  Therefore, the 2011 Artsutanov and Pearson prizes will both be awarded for the papers that make the most significant contribution towards a 30 MYuri tether.

Now, we don’t actually expect anyone to submit a paper which shows us how to make a 30MYuri tether (though we will all be thrilled if this actually happens), but the paper must be a serious effort to advance the state of the art in this area.  Consequently, we expect people like chemists, physicists, materials engineers, etc., to submit papers on growing longer, stronger carbon nanotubes.  Other people may submit papers on turning these tubes into stronger threads.  Or perhaps the specific topic of a paper might be on how to use composites to make the overall tether stronger.  In any case, the paper must advance our understanding of how we can get closer to constructing a 30 MYuri tether.

Questions about the competition may be answered on the ISEC website.  You may also email the prize committee at or and the competition chair will get back to you promptly with answers to any of your specific questions.

One final note – though both prizes are going to be awarded for papers on the same theme, eligible contestants for the Pearson prize MUST be currently enrolled in a 2 or 4 year accredited undergraduate program.  Papers in the two competitions will be judged separately – they will not compete against each other.

There is a $1,500 cash award for the Pearson prize and a $2,500 award for the Artsutanov prize, so get those thinking caps on!  And, if you know of anyone who may not be a reader of this blog and might be interested in entering a paper, please let them know about the competition.