Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Space Elevator conference and io9

Over at io9, they have a summary posted about the recently completed Space Elevator Conference.  I’ll be doing my own in the near future, but thought I would link to this for your enjoyment.

You should especially check out the brief interview with Mark Haase.  Mark is a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati and a longtime fan of the space elevator.  He gave one of the presentations on Friday, the “carbon nanotube day”.  He has an interesting comparison between the development of carbon nanotubes and the development of aluminum.

I have one problem with the io9’s graphic of the space elevator though, it has a very ‘Chinese theme’.  As I’ve written before, in the long run I don’t care who builds the space elevator as long as it gets built, but I’ll be very, very, very disappointed in my fellow Americans if we don’t do it first…

And finally, the article was written by Annalee Newitz – Annalee and I have corresponded before via email.  This year she attended the conference and I had the pleasure of meeting her in person – You have a great site Annalee and thanks for coming to the Conference!

The 2011 Strong Tether Competition

The 2011 Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Challenge was held yesterday, August 12th, at the 2011 Space Elevator Conference.

This competition is part of the NASA Centennial Challenges program, a program funded by Congress and run by NASA, with the purpose of fostering new technologies.  Successful competitors are awarded prize money.  For the Strong Tether Challenge, there is a prize pool of $2Million for any entry that meets all the benchmarks.

NASA doesn’t run the competitions themselves.  Instead, they partner with organizations who run the actual Games.  These organizations set the rules (with NASA’s review and approval), they arrange the venue, they find the teams, etc.  For the Strong Tether Challenge and the Power Beaming Challenge, the Spaceward Foundation is the organizing partner.  These two competitions are packaged together by the Spaceward Foundation and labeled “The Space Elevator Games” as Power-Beaming and Strong Tethers are crucial components of building a Space Elevator.

When the competitions are held, NASA sends a representative to judge the results and to make the final determination as to whether or not a prize will be awarded.

This year’s strong Tether competition was held, as mentioned earlier, at the annual Space Elevator Conference.  This is the third year that the competition has been held here and it seems to be a perfect venue.  The facilities are absolutely first rate and there is already a gathering of space elevator enthusiasts and, this year, carbon nanotube (CNT) scientists and researchers.

To actually test the tethers, you need a machine that stretches the tether to failure and records the value at which the tether broke.  Spaceward built the machine that does this testing.  A tether is mounted on the test rack.  A hydraulic pump is then manually pumped, putting strain on the tether.  When that tether breaks, the readout device shows the measurement of the level that the tether actually broke at.  This measurement is then entered into a formula which also contains the length and weight values for that tether and final score is computed.  If the score exceeds one of the prize benchmarks, then that tether is a prize-winner.

Two teams competed this year.  One was an individual and first-time competitor in the Strong Tether Competition, Flint Hamblin.  If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because he was part of team which competed in the Power-Beaming competition some years back.  Flint has decided to go after the tougher nut to crack, making a strong tether.  The second team was Odysseus Technologies, Inc – a team which also competed last year.

Flint brought three tethers to the competition.  Each tether was measured (weight and length), put on the test rack, and then stressed until they failed.  His first tether needed a score of 898 pounds, but broke at 153 pounds.  The second tether needed a score of 948 pounds but broke at 264 pounds.  The third tether needed a score of 452 pounds but broke at 154 pounds.  The reason for the different metrics was that the tethers themselves were of different weights and length.  The prize competition formula normalizes these measurements so that all tethers have an equal shot of winning.  Flint’s tethers were made with off-the-shelf components plus some “secret sauce”.  As a newbie in the competition, Flint stated he didn’t expect to win this year, but wanted some baseline measurements he can use to help judge future year’s results.

The second competitor, Odysseus Technologies (headed by Dr. Bryan Laubscher), brought only one tether, but it was made out of carbon nanotubes.  This tether however, broke at a very low level.  It’s target score was 2,000 pounds, but it broke at just 11 pounds.  This tether did not perform as well as the CNT tether that Odysseus brought last year, so obviously something adverse happened.  Whatever it was, this means that we concluded another year of Strong Tether competition without awarding any prize money.

However, hope springs eternal.  Attending the conference this year were Dr. Vesselin Shanov and graduate student Mark Haase of the University of Cincinnati and Dr. Boris Yacobson and Dr. Vasilii Artyukhov of Rice University.  They were very enthusiastic about what they saw and expressed a strong interest in having their departments work on competition entry.  With the resources they have behind them, this should provide a quantitative leap in the entries for next year.

So, until 2012…

(Picture thumbnails:  Topmost is Sam Ortega, one of the NASA representatives attending the competition.  Next is Ben Shelef, principal of the Spaceward Foundation.  As part of his introductory speech, he is showing a piece of a cable we obtained from the Puget Sound Rope Company.  Next is Flint Hamblin, showing one of his tethers.  Fourth is the carbon nanotube tether from Odysseus Techologies.  And last is a picture of the two competitors.  Dr. Bryan Laubscher from Odysseus Technologies is on the left while Flint Hamblin is on the right.  As always, clicking on any of the thumbnails will give you a full-size picture).

2011 Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Competition – is Friday

undefinedOn Friday, August 12th, the next installment of the Strong Tether Competition of the Space Elevator Games, one of the NASA Centennial Challenges, will take place.  It will be held on the first day of the Space Elevator Conference and is part of the ISEC theme this year of “Longer, stronger tethers – 30MYuri or bust!”

It looks like we have a couple of competitors this year and we are all hopeful that they can raise the bar on tether strength and help point the way to a material strong enough to build a Space Elevator.

Like last year, the competition will be live video-streamed for your viewing pleasure.  The URL for the livestream is here, and the competition is scheduled to begin at 4:00pm, US Pacific time.  If you are unable to follow the competition live, I will be Tweeting the activities as they occur.

And today, on a related note, several of us visited Puget Sound Rope, one of the Cortland Cable companies.  They are located in Anacortes, about an hour and a half north of Redmond.  We had an absolutely fascinating tour of their factory and I took lots of pictures and videos – I will post these in the next few days.  But I wanted to share a YouTube video with you that they gave me the link to.  This video is a compressed version of a test-to-failure of a big, big rope.  The machine that does this testing is truly industrial strength – and it’s our hope that a machine like this will be needed some day to test a space elevator tether.

Enjoy – and stay tuned to Friday’s competition!


Space Elevator Conference begins Friday!

Friday, August 12th, marks the official start of the 2011 Space Elevator Conference.  I’ve posted about this conference on this blog ad nauseum so will just refer you to some links (here, here, here, here and here).

If you live in the Seattle area and haven’t yet registered, it’s not too late.  And, if you’re into carbon nanotubes and live in the Seattle area, you really, really, should attend – you’ll find it very worth your while.

See you there!

The Space Elevator Analysis Spreadsheet

Long-time space elevator fan Maurice Franklin has created a very interesting document, the Space Elevator Analysis Spreadsheet.  He explains it as follows:

The Space Elevator Analysis Spreadsheet provides you with the ability to calculate the characteristics of a Space Elevator and vary the inputs to those calculations.  Thus the spreadsheet allows you to see the impact upon the mass, capacity, time to build and other important aspects of a Space Elevator when different strength of ribbon, type of deployment spacecraft, efficiency of climber power array or other critical choices are made.  As provided, this spreadsheet follows closely the choices and calculations made by Dr. Bradley Edwards in his NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts proposal, though the author has attempted to validate the calculations independently of his work.

The author has three goals for this spreadsheet.  First, that Space Elevator enthusiasts wishing to dig into the physics (and thus the math) behind the dynamics of a Space Elevator will find this spreadsheet a useful tool for that purpose.  Second, that individuals who have critiques of the physics of a Space Elevator as laid out by Dr. Edwards, and interpreted here by the author, will have a reference against which to make a case for different calculations.  Third, that anyone proposing alternative Space Elevator configurations will have be able to use this spreadsheet to work through the impacts of their configuration across the many aspects of the Space Elevator system in a consistent and complete manner.

The author looks forward to getting feedback from users of the spreadsheet, whether it be improvements in usability, alternative configuration scenarios, corrections to the physics and math, or anything else.  Contact information for the author can be found on the first tab of the spreadsheet.

In addition to creating this spreadsheet, Maurice is a former employee of Microsoft and is one of the chief organizers of the Space Elevator Conference.

This spreadsheet is going to have a permanent home on my blog.  At the top, in the section which used to be marked “Translation Project” is now the “SE Spreadsheet”.  As new versions are created, they will be updated here and be made available to all enthusiasts and potential collaborators (the Translation Project page is now on the ISEC website).

Thanks Maurice – this is one cool document and should prove be of great use!

Official Space Elevator Conference Poster released

It’s still not too late to register – the 2011 Space Elevator Conference, to be held at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond, Washington, is only a few days away.  This year’s conference is going to be very good and somewhat different in than in year’s past – an entire day, Friday, is going to be devoted to developments in the CNT arena – developments that are crucial to building a Space Elevator.

And, the Space Elevator Conference committee has released their official 2011 SE Poster.  Please feel free to print it out, post it, send it around to your friends – be the first one on your block with this poster in your window!

See you there!