November 10th, 2009
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”.
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.