Category Archives: Space Elevator Competitions



Each year, the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) holds a Climber competition acronymed SPEC (SPace Elevator Challenge) and each year they get more and more ambitious in their goals.  This year they had a 1,200 m long tether held up by balloons.  Climbers are powered by batteries and scores are awarded based on speed, payload, etc.

I had blogged about this previously, but said that videos/pictures/results had not yet been posted.  Now they have.

This video of the competition is very well done.  About 6 minutes and 50 seconds in, there is the rather astonishing segment of 100kg of payload for one of the climbers and then subsequently watching that climber carry it part-way up the competition tether.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand Japanese, you’ll understand everything going on in the video.  It’s in HD, so if you have a big screen monitor, flip the video into full-screen mode, crank up your speakers and enjoy…

The results of the competition can be found here (it’s in Japanese – if that’s not something you can read, open the page up in Chrome and let it auto-translate for you).

Finally, you can see all of the results of the various Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) SPEC (JSETEC) competitions here (again in Japanese).

Something I had also mentioned in the previous post on SPEC2014 was the desire by the JSEA to turn this competition into an International one.  The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) is now trying to recruit individuals to be on a committee to help organize the “American chapter” of this competition.  If you’re interested in participating (and, based on my participation in the Space Elevator Games, I can guarantee you an exciting learning experience if you do), please contact the President of ISEC, Dr. Peter Swan at

SPEC 2014

Each year, the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) holds a Climber competition acronymed SPEC and each year they get more and more ambitious in their goals.  This year for instanace, they had a 1,200 m long tether held up by balloons.  Climbers are powered by batteries and scores are awarded based on speed, payload, etc.

The competition was held this past August 6th through the 9th, but they have not posted results or pictures yet.  Several people from the JSEA, including JSEA President Shuichi Ohno, attended the just-completed ISEC Space Elevator Conference and they brought a verbal summary as well as a video they created, summarizing the competition.  As soon as that is posted, I’ll link to it here.  There is a very scant summary of the competition here (note, this website is in all Japanese – if you need it translated, open it with Google Chrome).

Of note, one JSEA’s major purposes in attending the ISEC Space Elevator Conference was to begin the effort to turn this into an international competition.  While this competition is held in Japan each year, only once or twice has something similar happened in Europe and, since the ending of the NASA/Spaceward Space Elevator Games, nothing like this has happened in the US.

There were a lot of people interested in this concept and a lot of discussion followed.  The bottom line is that there appears to be enough enthusiasm here to support these Games, but a ‘champion’ must be found – someone willing to take on the considerable organizing challenge this represents.  If you are interested in heading this up or assisting in any way, please contact ISEC President Dr. Peter Swan.

Results from the Technion Space Elevator Competition

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.  A couple of weeks ago, the Technion Institute in Israel held a Space Elevator competition (I’ve previously posted about this competition here and here).  The winner used the inner workings of an electric screwdriver to power his Climber.

Details can be found here.  Money quote from the winner: “The idea of basing the engine on an electric screwdriver we borrowed from the world of manufacturing plastic pipes using plastic extrusion, in which raw plastic material is melted and formed into a continuous profile,” said Atzili. “In short, it’s an idea that came to me originating from my experiences working in the plastics industry.

Congratulations to Technion and to the winners!

EUSPEC 2012 Revisited

One year ago, the 2012 European Space Elevator Challenge (EUSPEC) was held in Germany, at TUM Campus Garching.  A “highlights” video was created, which the EUSPEC team posted on its website.  They recently re-announced it and it makes fine/fun viewing.

You can view it here (Post by European Space Elevator Challenge (EUSPEC)) on Facebook.

The organizers of the competition have this to say about it:

 It has now been almost exactly one year since the last European Space Elevator Challenge. Take a trip down memory lane with this little video which was so far buried on our website.

We had a lot of fun during the event even though it was freezing cold at the time. In contrast, we had almost 20 degrees two days ago! Weather can be unpredictable…

We are hoping to bring back EUSPEC for 2014 or 2015. Stay tuned for any news on this site!

Looking forward to it!

If at first you don’t succeed…

The Kansas City Space Pirates are now making their fourth attempt to break the unofficial power-beaming record set by LaserMotive.  Brian Turner, captain of the Space Pirates, gives us this update:

  • Recap. We have flown 3 previous times. 1 hr, 2 hrs, 5 hrs.
  • First run failed because the laser aim was out of adjustment.
  • Second run failed when drone lost track of it’s bottom target and drifted into the wall causing crash.
  • Third run failed when we moved our broadcast system and interfered with the Drone comms.

They’ve also had some “environment” issues (had to partially open some shades to create better airflow) and they think that the simple act of people walking around was causing an issue.  They’ve pretty much stopped that now and things are very stable.

As of this blog post, they are about 3 hours into run #4 and, if all goes well, they hope to eclipse the old mark of 12 hours and 27 minutes about 4:12am, Sunday morning, CST.

You can view the live broadcast and participate in the chat session by going here.

The Japan Space Elevator Association announces SPIDER

I received an email from Shuichi Ohno, President of the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) telling me about a new racing event they are holding – SPIDER.  Shuichi had this to say about it:

“Today, I would like to introduce to you our new category SE climber activities. It is called SPIDER from it’s characteristic, right weigh, speedy, smart(will be).

Until this spring, we have been holding some kind of SE climber activities. But now, we categorize them in 3 series:

– LASER : Lego bricks Activities with Space Elevator Race (weight <500g)

– SPEC(SPEC in Japan, JSPEC for the world)  : Space Elevator Challenge (weight > 1.5kg)
Sub category ; SPEC class (<1km height)  and Full-SPEC (>1km)

– SPIDER : Light weight , inexpensive climber activities (500g < weight < 1.5kg)
Sub category ; Spider (Radio controlled) and Auto Spider (automated)

Distinction of SPIDER :
– Cheap : It is possible to build up with RC car kit parts and total amount in Japan is under $160 except RC  controller or micro board computer. ( Type 540 motor and Ni-mH battery, no expensive Li-Po battery)

– Easy to build ( but not too much easy) : Builder must work with drill and jig saw and file. EST to finish by high school techie student is 30 hours.

– Safety awareness : Builder must study and think about dropping provision and safety mechanism with break.  Those are very different point from other robot building activities.

– Automation : I t is very easy to change RC receiver to micro computer like Aruduino.

On June 8th, we held a mini-race with collage and university students. 8 climber came and 4 climber succeeded to climb in almost 10km/h ascend speed.

I would like to ask you to introduce this kind of activities on you blog. It is not so difficult to build a smart climber with RC kit / parts of recent-day.

Important thing : Energy of recent battery and power of motors may cut the belt very easily if tire/roller run idle much. Please consider to use the heat-stable material tether/belt. In Japan we strongly suggest to use aramid fiber belt. Before you climb, please do the run idle and tether cutting experiment.

Thank you.”

He also posted a video on YouTube relating to this:



Thank you Ohno-San and congratulations to JSEA.  Let’s hope that this competition gets copied around the world…

2012 BEST South Regional competition – day 2 roundup

Today was the second and last day of the 2012 BEST Competition – South Regional.  Like the first day, it was frenetic, well-organized and a lot of fun.  To get the main bit of business out of the way, the overall winner of the competition was the Cornerstone Christian Preparatory Academy from a suburb just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Their overall score in several categories, Competition, Engineering Notebook, Display Booth, and some other categories, was the highest and so they were the overall winners.  After the competition was over, I was able to track them down (not very hard – I just followed the sound of the loudest cheers) and spent several minutes talking with them and taking pictures – a great bunch of kids.  They were trying very hard to talk me into visiting their school in the near future and talking about a Space Elevator – maybe we’ll be able to do it via Skype…

Regarding the Climber competition itself, there were certainly no new Engineering principles at work here – they were robots, assembled from a Kit.  I have posted a video of one of the competition runs at our new channel on YouTube: ISECdotORG.  But the whole idea of the BEST competition, as I have written about earlier, is to encourage middle-school and high school level kids to get interested in techie stuff, science, engineering and technology.  It certainly seems to have succeeded in doing that and I’m truly grateful that Mr. Brent Percival of Auburn University (where this competition was held) called me up (out of the blue) one day earlier this year and asked if ISEC would be interested in participating.  We did spend some of our funds on sponsoring this competition and a few more of our dollars on hand-outs (posters, business cards, CLIMB Volume 1 and the ISEC report on Debris Mitigation) and I think it was very well worth it.  I had people talking to me almost the entire time I was there about the Space Elevator.

Some anecdotes…

Just before noon, one of the competition organizers came up to me and told me that I and 9 other vendors / sponsors would be stationed at tables outside the arena.  The idea was to give each of the kids participating in the competition a card with spaces on it for 8 different types of “stamps”.  Each of us at a table would have a stamp and, as the kids came around and talked to us, we would stamp their card.  If they were able to get all 8 of the stamps on their card, it would go into a drawing for a door prize.  However, there were only 8 stamps for our 10 tables.  At any one time, 2 of us would not have them.  I had a steady stream of kids and their parents coming up to my table, wanting to get their card stamped and wanting to talk about the Space Elevator.  Even when it wasn’t my turn to have a stamp, very few of the kids drifted away when they found that out – they really like the idea (and kids love posters and I had a lot of them to give away!).  I had no idea this was going to happen – completely caught me by surprise.  But it was a fun way to spend 2 hours, even if the back of my neck did get a little bit sunburned…

People sure treat you nice when they find out you’re a sponsor :).  I was given an ‘all-access’ pass and was able to go anywhere I wanted and talk to anyone I wanted. I made a point of introducing myself to the event announcer.  When I found out that his son was very much into robotics and the idea of a Space Elevator, I made sure to give him a copy of CLIMB, an ISEC Report, all 4 years of posters that we have and a couple of years of Conference proceedings to give to his son.  I wasn’t looking for any favors, just trying to get the word out, but boy, did ISEC get top billing whenever they thanked their sponsors!  Every other sponsor was just mentioned by name.  When he mentioned ISEC, he raved about how this group was really working on the idea / project of building a space elevator.  I would say, with a very high degree of confidence, that fewer than 10 people at the event knew about ISEC when the event started.  But by the time we were finished, I had people coming up to me to talk to me, people would point me out when I walked by, everyone would say “Thank you for helping out this event”, etc., etc., etc…  We truly did get some excellent publicity at this event.

A case in point was at the end of the competition and I tracked down the team from Cornerstone.  Many of them knew who I was and what ISEC was about and they insisted that I join them for a group photo (which you can find on our Flickr account; ISECdoORG, along with other photos from the 2-day event).  That was pretty cool…

There was just a lot on fun, techy-nerdy stuff going on too.  Each of the teams could submit a short video which was then displayed several times during the competition – and a winner was chosen at the end of the competition.  The winning video was a play on Star Wars, with the punch line being “May the Centrifugal Force Be With You” – I love it!  But my personal favorite (which took 2nd place) was about how Thor was banished from Asgard by his father.  Naturally, he landed in a Science Class and, after he told the students his plight, they built him a Space Elevator so he could return home – very creative.

Each of teams had a mascot.  There were robots (lots of different kinds), Sharks, Eagles, Tigers, etc., and, today, they held a “Dance-off” – again the top three each being awarded a prize.  The audience really got into it (and so did the referees!).  I took a video of the first round of competition, but didn’t post it as it did get a bit long.  But the finals were short and fun and I’ve posted a video of that too.  Sorry for the not-great quality.  I tried to make my Canon point-and-shoot do double-duty (pictures and videos) and it just doesn’t do a great job on videos.  But the final result was OK and I think you’ll enjoy watching it.  And I’m also sorry that the song they danced to was “Gangnam Style” – it seems to be everywhere!

I think that’s it.  I do want to sincerely thank the BEST organizers and the Auburn staff, especially Mr. Brent Percival who invited ISEC to participate, for all their kindnesses – they truly showed what Southern Hospitality was all about and they ran a great competition.

(The top photo thumbnail is of the representatives from Cornerstone, hoisting their trophy in triumph.  Not great quality – taken on a camera phone so I could Tweet it right away.  The bottom thumbnail is of my favorite poster at the event.  Click on either to see a full-size picture and visit ISECdotORG on Flickr to see more photos from the Event).

2012 BEST South Regional competition – day 1 roundup

70 degrees today here in Auburn, Alabama.  Sunny skies, very little wind – just a delightful day.  So what am I doing?  I’m inside all day watching the South Regional BEST competition!

I’ve posted before about what BEST is, so will concentrate on today’s event in this post.  Most of the day was setup and practice – actual competition didn’t begin until 5pm.  These were preliminary, ‘seeding’ matches – 4 teams competed at one time, with the best 2 moving on to tomorrow’s finals.  On the ISEC Flickr account, I’ve posted the best of the pictures I took today – more tomorrow, I promise.  Also, I’ll have a video tomorrow of one of the competition runs.  I captured one today but it turned out to be of very poor quality.  Memo to self – don’t use the zoom feature of my Canon point-and-shoot when recording video.

Each team was given a kit to make a climber out of.  In this sense it is very similar to the LASER competition held by the Japan Space Elevator Association.  The tether belt was shorter than the one at LASER – maybe 5-7 meters tall.  There were various types of ‘payload’ that the Climbers had to grab and either go up the tether with it and put it in its proper location or else grab it from the top of the run and bring it back down to the bottom.  The teams have 3 minutes to get as much payload moved as possible.

The results of the competition are only one part of a team’s final score.  The booth they had, the engineering project workbook they made and a few other items all were part of it too.

The competition is really well organized.  They have lots of judges and referees, teams are staged before they actually are let into the competition area, scores are kept electronically and, in general, it is a very orderly process.  But it’s not quiet, oh no!  Each team has a cheering section and it reminded me of a European Soccer match.  Waving flags, chants, etc., and with music pounding in the background.  Each team also has a mascot, so there were high-school kids dressed up as robots (many varieties), sharks, war eagles (the Auburn mascot) wandering around all day too, just to add to the festivities.

As ISEC is a sponsor of this event, we have our logo in all of the literature and it is also shown on the Scoreboard over the Arena – the first time, I think we’ve been up in lights!  I also have my own table where I spent a good part of the day hanging around.  I brought several copies of CLIMB, the ISEC Report on Space Debris Mitigation, posters from all 4 years, some Conference proceedings and a few copies of the National Geographic that the Space Elevator and ISEC was featured in.  And, oh yes, lots of ISEC Business cards.  I only put out half of the material today which was a good thing, because by the end of the day it was all gone.  I’ll hand out the rest of it tomorrow.  It was also a lot of fun talking to the competitors, their teachers and their parents about the Space Elevator.  Even with the cold I have, all in all, a great day.

More tomorrow!

And, if you want up-to-the-minute information, follow us on Twitter and/or on Facebook at ISECdotORG!

(Picture thumbnail is a close-up of one of the Climbers. Click on it to see a full-size version or visit our Flickr page (ISECdotORG) to see more photos).

BEST Competition – getting ready for Day 1

There is never an opportune time to get sick, but here I am, with a cold, at the South’s regional BEST competitionin Auburn, Alabama.  I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled to many, many places, both inside and outside the US, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to Alabama.  Last night was my first experience with Chick-Fil-A and, I must say, the sandwich lived up to the hype.

I’m staying at a Best Western hotel in Opelika and at breakfast this morning, there were a lot of teams/team members there – very neat to see…

Competition doesn’t begin until 5pm today at the Auburn Arena.  The time prior to that is setup and preparation and I’m looking forward to wandering around the arena, introducing myself (as much as my sore throat will let me), taking pictures and, in general, just soaking up the competition atmosphere.

Gonna be fun!

(The picture thumbnail is of team #408, in the hotel parking lot, getting a last-minute briefing from one of the adult members.  Click on the thumbnail for a full-size picture.)

The Return of the Kansas City Space Pirates

Followers of this blog and/or the Space Elevator Games are very familiar with the Kansas City Space Pirates.  Captain Brian Turner and his fellow team members competed in several of the Space Elevator Games – Power Beaming competitions and acquitted themselves very well.

They have a new challenge they want to meet and that is to break the record for longest continuous flight of an aircraft fueled solely by wireless power-beaming.  Several days ago, they issued this Press Release, detailing what their plans are.  Money quote from the Release:

This August the KC Space Pirates will take the next step in the development of laser powered flight and in the art of wireless power beaming. We will attempt to keep a one pound robotic aircraft flying for 2 full days (48 hours), nearly 4 times the previous world record…The date of this attempt is set to coincide with the International Space Elevator Consortium’s ( annual conference in August of this year.

The current record is held by LaserMotive, also a veteran (and prize-winner) of the Power-Beaming competition.   With NASA ending its support for the Power-Beaming competition, it’s good to see that the spirit of competing is alive and well.

More to come soon – bring it on!

2012 JSETEC is in the works

This coming August, the Japan Space Elevator Association  (JSEA) will be holding it’s fourth annual JSETEC (Japan Space Elevator Technical and Engineering Competition).  Each year, the JSEA gets more and more ambitious with its competition and this year, they are aiming for a racecourse more than a kilometer high!

Planning details are still sketchy, but I have received the following additional information from Devin Jacobson of the JSEA:

The next space elevator competition here looks like it will be the first week of August 8/1-8/5.  We will probably have a narrower/thicker tether 25mm x 1.2mm, and plan to get up past 1km this time.  There is quite a bit of activity due to the recent report from Obayashi Consortium that they plan to build a space elevator by 2050.

We will welcome any teams from the US that want to participate, so I will pass on the competition details once they are fixed.  Sounds like end of June or July will need to be the final decision to come or not. Please feel free to pass the information on as well.  Again there is no prize money but participation fee should also not be too much, probably cost much more just for the trip to Japan 🙂

If you are interested in participating,  you can contact Devin directly at devinjacobson [at]

The JSEA also recently held a workshop for JSETEC, 2012.

Previous posts about the 2009 competition here, the 2010 competition here and the 2011 competition here.  There are also several other posts related to these games on this blog – just key in “JSETEC” in the blog’s search window to view them.

Congratulations again to the JSEA – we look forward to an even bigger and better JSETEC this year!


And, catching up with another old item…

In early August of last year, the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) held their third annual JSETEC (Japan Space Elevator Technical & Engineering Competition) event.  16 teams competed in this event, an event that had, at the highest point, a nearly 600 meter long ‘race-course’.  Just recently, JSEA posted their English-language version video summary of the competition.  You can find it at this JSEA website page (the top version is in Japanese, the bottom one is in English).

Watching this video, I had a very definitive feeling of Déjà vu vis-à-vis the NASA/Spaceward Space Elevator Games.  Yes, I know, there was a lot that was different between the two competitions.  In the 2009 Space Elevator Games, the Climbers were powered by Lasers while in all of the JSETEC competitions the Climbers were battery powered.  And in the Space Elevator Games, the tether was held up by a crane, or, in 2009, by a helicopter while the Japanese used balloons.  But still, there were many things in the video which reminded me so much of the Space Elevator Games…

  • Seeing one of the JSEA competition Climbers catching fire brought back memories of the 2007 LaserMotive entry and the “smoke-filled room”.
  • .

  • Viewing the JSEA competitors working on their Climbers and seeing the note on the video about “repairing” and “modifying” the Climbers “at the last minute” could have been applied to all of the NASA/Spaceward competitions…
  • Watching the rain at the JSEA event reminded me so much of the rain and generally nasty weather at the 2007 NASA / Spaceward competitions held in Layton, Utah.

But there were differences too…

  • When the tether broke at the 2007 Space Elevator Games, it was just replaced with more tether (and a prayer that it wouldn’t break).  When the tether at the JSETEC games needed repairing, well, they repaired it.  The video shot of the ‘many hands’ working on this was remarkable, truly.
  • .


  • JSEA set up a wi-fi network connecting everything at their competition, including the end-point of the competition run.  The Space Elevator Games didn’t do that, but for the 2009 competition, we had full use of all of NASA’s cameras and associated equipment to measure what had (and had not) been accomplished.
  • The 2011 JSETEC competition was held at the “Osawa alluvial fan of Mt. Fuji” while the Space Elevator Games were held on the “Rogers Dry Lake” at the NASA-Dryden facilities inside the Edwards Air Force base.  Two more different locales could not be imagined.

And the idiomatic differences in language, shown in the Japanese video, are much appreciated too.  I think my favorite was the description of the “Belt tether patched by execution committee”…

You know, so many times you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.  I miss our power-beaming Games, I really do.

This is a fine video – check it out.  It’s 14 minutes, 25 seconds long and very much worth your time.  And, for the next JSETEC competition, the Japanese aim for a height of 1,200 meters – higher than the winning run of the 2009 Power-Beaming competition.

Congratulations to JSEA!

(Picture thumbnail is of the USST Climber and the tether which broke while they were attempting a Climb.  Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version of the picture).

LaserMotive Tweetup!

Tomorrow, Friday, March 2nd, beginning at 1pm Eastern (10am Pacific), LaserMotive is hosting a Tweetup to mark their 5 year anniversary.

5 years.  Geez.  Lest anyone forget, this is the ONLY team that has won any prize money in the NASA / Spaceward Space Elevator Games.

And, as a side note, though the NASA / Spaceward sponsored power-beaming competition seems to be ‘on hiatus’ as they say, I think the future of space-elevator related competition is bright (pun intended).

So, get on Twitter tomorrow, and tweet Lasermotive @lasermotive.  Feel free to send them questions or just say hello!

Congratulations LaserMotive for reaching yet another milestone!

(Picture thumbnail – courtesy of NASA – is of winning LaserMotive team and their Climber from the 2009 Space Elevator Games – Power Beaming competition.  Click on it to see a full-size picture.)

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!


EuSEC announces competitors

The first European Space Elevator Games (EuSEC) website now has a page devoted to the teams who will be participating.

It’s good to see our friends from ETC (Earth-Track-Controllers) involved in this competition.  They were great competitors and great sports at the 2007 Games held near Salt Lake city.

A total of 8 teams are listed.  The ‘usual suspects’ are included (Japan, US, Germany), but there are also teams from the UK, Iran and Macedonia!  Truly, the whole idea of “Space Elevator Games” is now becoming a much more international endeavor…

Announcing JSETEC2011

The Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) has announced the JSETEC2011 competition, to be held August 4th through the 8th.

Details can be found on the announcement webpage.  If, you’re like me and cannot read Japanese, open the page in Google Chrome and translate it to your language of choice.

This is the third JSETEC (Japan Space Elevator Technical & Engineering Competition) event and I’m sure it will be the best, most ambitious one yet.  Among other changes, they are increasing the height of the climb from 300m to 600m!

In February, I had blogged about this competition, and included some videos that Mr. Shuichi Ohno, president of JSEA had sent me.

Congratulations JSEA – we look forward to an exciting event!

(Hat tip to reader Darren Coste for alerting me to this – thanks Darren!)

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!

Updated information for EuSEC – Europe’s first Space Elevator Challenge

A few days ago, I received an email from Franciska Volgyi, Technical & Organizational lead for EuSEC; Europe’s first Space Elevator Challenge.  I had previously posted about this competition here.

In this email she sent me updated information about the competition.  This can be accessed here:


If you have any questions about this competition, you can email Franciska at “spaceelevator [at]”.

Thank you Franciska – I think this is going to be great event and I sincerely hope my schedule will allow me attend!

KCSP Closure party

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the official Kansas City Space Pirates ‘closure party’, a party hosted by KCSP Captain Brian Turner.  As I had posted earlier, KCSP has officially given up in their quest to win the NASA Centennial Challenge Power-Beaming competition (part of the Space Elevator Games).

Brian rented out a community center in Kansas City and invited all team members and their immediate family (who, almost inevitably, got involved with the project too) to thank them for all of their efforts and to briefly review KCSP’s accomplishments in the three Space Elevator Games they competed in (2006, 2007 and 2009).

Brian brought the optics box and climbers, as well as balloons for the kids.  There was lots and lots of food, and enough beer and wine to go around (and a local police officer to make the alcohol officially legal).

Brian’s speech was gracious and inclusive, and he singled out every person there, talking about what they had done and thanking them for their contributions.  From Brian, I would have expected nothing less – he and the whole team was a class act and we are all sorry that they were not more successful in the Games.

If anyone wants to pick up KCSP’s legacy and compete with LaserMotive in the future, please contact Brian (brian [at]  I’m sure their equipment (especially their optics and climber) can be obtained for a reasonable price.  But don’t wait too long as we’ll probably see bits and pieces of it up on Craigs List in the not-too-distant future.

I’ve included thumbnails of a few photos I took at the party.  The topmost is of a custom-made Pirate cake that Bryan’s wife made.  Very cool and very tasty.  Next is a picture of some of the children at the party drawing on one of the big balloons that Brian brought.  These are the same types of balloons that KCSP brought to the 2007 Games to use as ‘target-practice’ in sighting their mirrors.  The third picture is of Brian in mid-oration.  The last picture is of Brian, flanked by Dan (on the left) and Nic; the principals of the Chicago Video Production company, Bitter Jester Creative, Inc., the ‘chroniclers’ of the people-side of the Games.  They are located in the Chicago area, as I am, so we all drove down to the party together.  Nic and Dan took the opportunity to interview Bryan (extensively) and other attendees as part of their of project.  I can’t wait to see the final result – they literally have hundreds of hours of footage and it’s going to tell quite a story.

So, what does KCSP have in store for the future?  I’m going to leave that for a blog update on their part.  Suffice it to say that they have new challenges they are taking on, but they are staying close and true to their robotic roots.

Congratulations again to Brian Turner and the Kansas City Space Pirates.  Future Games will sorely miss your participation…

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

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.

Results from the 2010 Strong Tether Challenge

In a word, disappointing.  No team’s entry seriously challenged for the prize.  No team’s entry performed even to 10% of what was needed to win the prize.  Even with three teams entering carbon-nanotube or carbon-nanotube-reinforced entries, no visible, forward progress was made.

However, in another sense, progress WAS made.  Because of the way that the rules have been modified (i.e, to allow entries much shorter than was previously required), this allowed less-expensive tethers to be built.  And because of this, we had multiple, carbon-nanotube based entries this year, a first.  And there is every reason to believe that these teams will be back next year with a better product and, hopefully, with additional competitors.

One item of note; after the third or fourth tether entry was tested, Yuri Artsutanov (who was there to witness the competition) offered his tie as an entry…

It’s truly amazing how hard this is.  It’s truly amazing how hard it is to find someone who wants to build a carbon nanotube tether (let alone enter it into a competition).  I, personally, had tried to find competitors for this year’s competition and found it to be next to impossible.  There are several companies and universities out there making carbon nanotubes, but they, almost universally, are ‘in it’ for the electrical and other, non-strength related properties of carbon nanotubes.  One would think that the prize money and/or potential market for super-strong materials should be enough to spur development, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.  And the NASA rules precluding non-US-based entries certainly does not help.

But someone, somewhere, someday is going to do this.  All the physics point to this as being possible.  In the meantime, we’re all waiting as fast as we can…

So, until 2011…

23AUG10 Update – Andy Petro from the NASA Centennial Challenges program corrects me by pointing out that the rule precluding any non-US teams competing for prize money is a rule set by Congress, not by NASA. He also points out that non-US teams are welcome to compete, they just won’t be eligible to win any of the Prize Money. My apologies to Andy and NASA and thank you for setting the record straight.

The other two entries

Here are pictures of the other two entries in the Space Elevator – Strong Tether Challenge.

The two loops are from the same competitor.  In one of my earlier posts, I showed a nanotube thread – this is the end result of them (Spaceward as sent multiple threads) being wound into a loop.

The ‘long, shiny thing’ is, I understand it correctly, glass fibers coated with carbon nanotubes – I will find out more later and post it.

As always, please click on the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture.

uStream TV ready to go for Strong Tether Competition

All hail Maurice Franklin from Microsoft for coming in at the last minute and rescuing the uStream TV broadcast of the upcoming Strong Tether Competition – Thanks Maurice!

The URL to follow this is—strong-tether-competition.  The feed is live now, you can see people setting up – it will probably be on and off between now and the competition.

The competition is scheduled to begin at 4:15pm US Pacific time.  I’ll be tweeting the status too.

Tune in – watch the future as it unfolds!

Another Tether entry

Just in the past few minutes, the third tether entry in the Strong Tether competition confirmed that they will compete.  A picture thumbnail of the nanotube loop being entered is included in this post (click on it for a full-size version).

As you can see, this has little in common with the meter-sized loops from previous competitions.  The Spaceward Foundation changed the rules this year to encourage more participation – and with three, confirmed entries, all of the carbon nanotubes, I think I can say it succeeded.

Prize levels are different, depending on the weight of the entry and it’s specific strength.  The different types of entries have been a challenge for Spaceward in adapting their “Tether Torture Rack” to them, but they have adapted as necessary.

And now, full disclosure on my part.  The entry picture in this post is from Odysseus Technologies, a company I have invested in.  So, I will admit to some bias in rooting for this particular entry to win ?.

However, the important thing is that SOMEONE wins, because if they do, this means that the state-if-the-art in this field has been advanced, and, as the lack of strong enough material to build a Space Elevator is the ‘long pole in the tent’, a winner would mean that the day a Space Elevator can actually be built becomes more real.

Still no details on uStream – I’ll post that as soon as I have it, promise…

Carbon nanotubes are HERE

The picture thumbnail is of one of the entries in today’s Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Challenge.

This thread has now been wound into a loop and will be put on the “Tether Torture Rack” in today’s competition.

I still don’t have the uStream details yet, but hope to have them in the next hour or two and will publish (and Tweet) them as soon as I have them.

Latest updates on the Strong Tether Challenge

Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, organizers of the Space Elevator Games, arrived in Seattle / Redmond today.  He tells me that there will be at least two contestants, and possibly a third, in this year’s Strong Tether Challenge.  All of the contestants are bringing entries made out of carbon nanotubes.

This is über-mega-cool.  In 2007, there was a single carbon nanotube entry from team DeltaX, a collaboration between MIT and Nanocomp.  In 2009, there was another single carbon nanotube entry from Shizuoka University in Japan.  Neither one performed very well.  The Delta-X entry slipped at the knot tied in the loop (very high tech ) while the Shizuoka entry, a ‘tape’ formed from nanotubes held solely by Van der Walls forces, broke at a very low level.

But that was the past and this is now the future.  With two, maybe three entries, we could see some very good performances.  The lack of a material strong enough is the single biggest obstacle in the way of building a Space Elevator.  Having some sort of breakthrough demonstrated at this year’s Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Challenge would be nothing short of monumental.

Plus, if there are any winners, there is a cool $2 Million dollar prize purse, courtesy of NASA, to be awarded.

So, stay tuned.  Despite a last-minute glitch, we’re still hopeful of broadcasting the competition live on uStream.  Details will be posted here (and on Twitter) as soon as they are available.

Strong Tether challenge just 3 days away…

The Strong Tether challenge, part of the Space Elevator Games, is just three days away!  It will be held at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference, on Friday, August 13th.

This challenge is part of the NASA Centennial Challenge program and is administered by the Spaceward Foundation.  Oh, and by the way, NASA has provided a $2 Million dollar prize purse for this competition, just like they have for the Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

This year it looks like we may may have multiple entries – the first time that’s happened in a few years.  But we’re only going to know for sure at the competition.

For up-to-the-minute information and status, subscribe to our Twitter Feed “SEGames”.  And, if all works according to plan, we’ll be broadcasting the competition live over the Internet via uStream.  Details will be posted here and on Twitter.

I know that the Climber / Power-Beaming Challenge is the ‘sexier’ of the Space Elevator Games, but IMHO, the Strong Tether Challenge is the more important one.  No one in the know seriously doubts the ability to beam power over distance and then do something useful with it (though the devil is always in the details and I’m certainly not saying it is easy – look how long it took a team to actually win some prize money in this challenge), but creating a fundamentally stronger material is more than an exercise in ‘simple’ Engineering – it requires a real scientific breakthrough – and this breakthrough is required if we’re going to build an earth-based Space elevator someday.

If someone can win the challenge this year at the Space Elevator Conference, the year that Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson attend, well then I think it will be safe to say that Gods want a Space Elevator to be built.

Stay tuned!

Looking for a few good teams…

I received this email from Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates.  It’s pretty self-explanatory…

The dust has settled from the failed attempt to schedule the games for this fall. I will give a recap of how we got here.

A few months after the last games USST was informed that they would not be allowed to enter the games this time around. Turns out that the prize monies are reserved for US citizens. This was not a new rule but how would you tell a US team from a non US team? The rules said that the team captain had to be a US citizen. USSTs official captain was just a figurehead to meet that requirement. I will let you decide for yourselves if this is all fair or not. Personally I would rather compete to be the best in the world.

I do however have a bias. The KC Space Pirates were sharing laser expenses with USST. Also the cost of running the competition is divided among the teams. With USST gone our costs jump by $30,000 to $50,000. That was more than I thought we could handle. With only 1 competitor there really is not a competition. So the competition was delayed to give USST time to figure out a way. A wide array of options were explored. In May USST dropped out graciously.

The costs were just too high. I asked Spaceward to work on lowering the costs. A new venue was found up in Washington state that was close to the helicopter. This would lower costs significantly. Spaceward got a preliminary OK from the venue and I set about raising the funds needed. Amazingly I got pledges for the more than $50,000 we needed in just 2 weeks. But the time needed to find the venue and raise the money left little lead time for everything else to come together. We needed official approval from NASA the venue and TRUMPF to proceed.

An unfortunate snag was hit causing another 2+ week delay in the process of getting all the paperwork together and that was enough to push past fall and into winter. It’s not prudent to hold an outdoor event that requires mild weather in the winter in Washington state. So that leaves us with Spring 2011.

But there is still a cloud of doubt over the competition. Most of the pledges I received were conditional on fall 2010. So I still don’t know if we can raise the money and I don’t know if TRUMPF will still be willing to provide a laser. We also don’t know if even LaserMotive will stick around that long.

What we need is a few more teams to enter the competition. That will lower the costs and put the predictability back into the competition.

This has put me in the rather odd position of trying to recruit teams to compete with us. The threat of winning less money is balanced by the high cost of raising the money needed without additional teams.

I am even going so far as to offer help to new teams to help them up the steep learning curve of the competition. This offer is in exchange for a cut of their prize. Remember, we are pirates after all.

The altruistic motivations that provided the resources to run the competition in the past are substantially less this round. Mainly because the success of the competition has shown that power beaming works largely as predicted and is only currently practical for a few applications. The big motivators of cheap Space Access and the Space Elevator are firmly located in the future world of better lasers and bigger budgets. I think that both of those are coming.

But without new teams bringing in new innovation and resources the competition may not happen at all.

So the KC Space Pirates are on a recruiting drive. If you think you have what it takes, want to go where few have gone before, and have at least some kind of budget, contact me.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

So, the gauntlet has been thrown – any takers?

The Mighty Tether – now on YouTube

In May of 2008, I posted about a DVD-story that had been created about Team Astroaraneae – a group of people that had entered into the first two Space Elevator Games – Strong Tether Competition.

This DVD, entitled the “Mighty Tether” is now available in 5 parts on YouTube.

Part 1



Part 2



Part 3



Part 4



Part 5



It’s a shame that they have not competed since the first two competitions…

Remember, the 2010 Strong Tether Competition will be held at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference in Redmond, Washington – it’s still not too late to make your reservation, but time is running out…

Here’s to a successful 2010 Competition!

Power-Beaming competition postponed…

I received word yesterday from Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation (the group that organizers the Space Elevator Games) that this year’s Power-Beaming competition has been postponed until March/April of next year.

The Strong-Tether portion of the Space Elevator Games is still scheduled to be held at the upcoming Space Elevator Conference.

As more news becomes available, it will be posted here and at the official site of the Space Elevator Games.

June is Space Elevator month

I’ve written about the NASA MICI (NASA Minority Innovation Challenges Institute) before (here), telling you all about a video which had been posted on this website.  This video showed portions of the competition in several of the recent NASA Centennial Challenges.

That’s all well and cool, but Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation (organizers of the Space Elevator Games) has just let me know that, at the NASA MICI channel, “June is Space Elevator Month“.  Two presentations relating to the Space Elevator Games have already been posted and two more are on the way.  And, if you login to the site while a presentation is underway, you’ll be able to interact (via Chat) with the presenter, asking questions in real-time.

The presentations that have already been posted are:

  • The Space Elevator (Ben Shelef)
  • Robotics and the Space Elevator (Dr. Antonio J Soares)

Upcoming presentations are:

  • Photovoltaic cells and the Space Elevator (Dr. Antonio J Soares) – June 21st, 3:00pm US Eastern time
  • Lasers and the Space Elevator (Dr. Antonio J Soares) – June 28th, 3:00pm US Eastern time

The ‘catch’ to all this is that to register to view these presentations, you must be a professor that is “…currently employed at a university or college located in the United States” or a student that is “…(a) a US Citizen currently enrolled at a university or college or (b) a non-US Citizen who is currently enrolled at a university or college located in the United States. ”  If you don’t fall into either of these categories, you can apply for login permission (you’ll see how to do this on their website).

This site and it’s videos are there to encourage participation by US students and faculties in the NASA Centennial Challenges program.   If you qualify (i.e. are a faculty member of student meeting the MICI requirements), then I would highly encourage you to sign up for this.  We are always looking for more competitors in the Space Elevator Games and the majority of teams that have registered have been university-based.  The more the merrier!

LaserMotive gets some new sponsors…

Just a case of the rich getting richer…  Team LaserMotive, winners of a cool $900K in last year’s Climber / Power-Beaming portion of the Space Elevator Games, has acquired some new sponsors in its attempts to collect the remaining $1.1M in the NASA-provided prize pool.

This is detailed on their latest blog posting on their website.  Money quote:

“We’re pleased to announce these industry partners as sponsors of Team LaserMotive as we prepare to enter the next round of the Power Beaming Competition in 2010,” said Tom Nugent, president and co-founder of LaserMotive. “Laser power beaming — the wireless transfer of energy from one location to another using laser light — offers tremendous potential to businesses in a wide variety of industries, ranging from alternative energy to unmanned aerial vehicles. Not only do we believe that the sponsorships will enhance the development of our entry for this year’s Competition, but the technology developed can be used to further practical applications for laser power beaming, both near and long term.”

This is just going to make them an even more fearsome competitor in the upcoming competition.  Congratulations again to LaserMotive!

An (old) interview with Clayton Ruszkowski

Anyone who is familiar with the Climber / Power-Beaming team from the University of Saskatchewan, the USST team, knows or knows about Clayton Ruszkowski.  Clayton was the team captain for the first several years of their competing and, in the latest competition held in 2009, Clayton was there as an elder statesman…

Many moons ago (Dec 28, 2007), Stan Taylor of the Science Teachers Association of Ontario did an interview with Clayton and recently, he kindly emailed it to me.  You can read the interview here (it’s in pdf format).  It’s very interesting and we learn all sorts of interesting facts about Clayton.  For instance, he is a Canadian and, when he was younger, he played hockey – what are the odds?

He gives his future plans as ‘joining the Canadian Air Force’.  I wonder if it’s this Canadian Air Force he’s thinking of:

STAN FREBERG: …ahem, okay people, now when I give you the cue, I want the 700 foot mountain of whipped cream to roll into Lake Michigan, which has been drained and filled with hot chocolate. Then the Royal Canadian Air Force will fly overhead towing a 10-ton maraschino cherry, which will be dropped into the whipped cream to the cheering of 25,000 extras. All right – cut to the mountain!
(Appropriate SFX)
Cue the Air Force!
(Appropriate SFX)
Cue the maraschino cherry!
(Appropriate SFX)
Okay, 25,000 Cheering Extras!(Appropriate SFX, which end abruptly)
Now, you want to try that on television?

Of course, if you weren’t a fan of Stan Freberg, that probably didn’t mean anything to you…

Anyway, it’s a cool interview – check it out.  And hey, Clayton – you still owe me a USST mug…

NASA Centennial Challenges Video

Recently posted on the NASA MICI (Minority Innovation Challenges Institute) website is a short video showing portions of the competition in several of the recent NASA Centennial Challenges.

The Power-Beaming competition is shown, of course, with the 2009 prize-winners, LaserMotive, as the representative.



If you visit their photos/videos page, you can see several other cool things worth watching.

Hat-tip to the LaserMotive blog posting which alerted me to this.

Mr. LaserMotive goes to Washington…

As I posted several days ago, a gathering was recently held in Washington DC – a gathering of NASA people involved in the Centennial Challenges program (of which the Space Elevator Games are a part) and most/all of the recent organizers and competitors from the recent competitions.

Team LaserMotive arrived in force and a post about the trip is now on their blog.

They have good things to say about the new direction of NASA and Ben Shelef, head of the Spaceward Foundation (organizers of the Space Elevator Games), agrees.  Let’s hope everyone’s new-found optimism turns out to be correct…

(The picture is from the gathering and is of members of Team Lasermotive and several NASA personnel – visit the LaserMotive blog post to see a (slightly) larger version of this picture and several others)

“One of the problems we had last year was wind-induced oscillation…”

The Chicago Video Production company, Bitter Jester Creative, Inc., the “official video chronicler” of the Space Elevator Games, has some updated and some new video clips available.  The sound is in stereo, too…

Check out this page to view them.  All of them are of the very high quality that we have come to expect from this talented and dedicated group.

Nic DeGrazia, one of the members of this group, sent me this email about these clips:

Hello Elevator Boys!

I sent you the crane building vid for your enjoyment but I thought I’d let you know that I added that clip (with a nicer fade at the start) and two others (one that you’ve seen, where Ben explains the space elevator on the white board and another new one … UBC delicately polishing their solar cells before the wind whips their climber around) to the BJC site as well.

Check out this page on our new(!) website to see the clips in question…


The title of this post was a quote from Ben Shelef (in the video clip ‘Building the crane‘) talking about how the redesign of the raceway would, hopefully, dampen the oscillations in the tether caused by the wind.  Alas, this tether failed during the competition (described here and here) due to those pesky oscillations, and was a primary reason why Ben moved to a steel cable (which performed spectacularly well) in the 2009 Games.  This was just one of those things that you don’t know if it’s going to work or not until you try it.

Watching these clips of the 2007 Games brought back a lot of memories – most of them good, but some of them sad.  The weather really was a handicap in this event; lots of rain, lots of wind and even some snow and hail for good measure.

I enjoyed watching all of these videos, but the one showing the UBC Climber was, IMHO, particularly fascinating.  At the end of the clip, you can see how the wind just played havoc with everything, the tether and the climbers. The picture thumbnail of the UBC Climber, reflected off of their gigantic mirrors, was truly a video highlight of the Games.  Click on the thumbnail for a full-size version of the picture.

Centennial Challenges gathering…

This past Thursday and Friday saw a meeting at NASA HQ in Washington, DC of all parties involved in the NASA Centennial Challenges.  This is the NASA Press Release:


WASHINGTON — NASA will honor the achievements of the 2009 Centennial Challenges prize winners and competition hosts with a technical symposium Feb. 25 and a recognition ceremony Feb. 26. Centennial Challenges is NASA’s program of technology prizes for the citizen-inventor. Nine prizes totaling $3.65 million were awarded in 2009. Both events will be held at the James E. Webb Memorial Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, 300 E Street, SW, Washington.

The Centennial Challenges Technical Symposium will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 25. Winners will discuss their accomplishments and future plans and answer questions from the audience. A one-hour panel discussion will be dedicated to each of the challenges, including the new Green Flight Challenge and ongoing Strong Tether and Power Beaming Challenges. The public is invited, and government, industry and media representatives interested in the technologies and incentive prize competitions are encouraged to attend.

The recognition ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 26. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will participate, as will winners of the Regolith Excavation, Lunar Lander, Power Beaming and Astronaut Glove Challenges. Reporters will have an opportunity to talk with the winners during a reception in the NASA Headquarters West Lobby immediately following the one-hour ceremony.

The competitions address a range of technical challenges that support NASA’s missions in aeronautics and space with a goal of encouraging novel solutions from non-traditional sources. The partner organizations that conducted the competitions are: California Space Education and Workforce Institute (Regolith Excavation), X Prize Foundation (Lunar Lander), Spaceward Foundation (Power Beaming and Strong Tether), Volanz Aerospace Inc. (Astronaut Glove) and Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency Foundation (Green Flight).  NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program manages the Centennial Challenges.

NASA Television will broadcast the events. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

For additional information about the Centennial Challenges, visit:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have made their podcasts.

Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation (organizers and hosts of the Space Elevator Games) attended as well as team members from LaserMotive and the Kansas City Space Pirates.

LaserMotive blogged about attending this event (which you can view here). There have been some articles in the press about this – one of them can be found here.

I talked with Ben about the meeting and he said that it was quite good and had exceeded his expectations.  I hope to get a more complete summary of the meeting in the near future from him and/or some the attending team members.

More from the KC Space Pirates…

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

This is one of those newsletters where I mostly have bad news. It looks like the competition date of May 10th is coming unstuck. We don’t have a new date at all right now which is just as well because once you miss one date then there is a pretty good chance that you will miss another. So a little time to make sure that the new date is firm is good.

The helicopter has a hard time lifting the cable on the hot days of summer in the desert. Perhaps we can use a lighter cable now that we know how all of that works, I will have to look into that.

If not, then we have to pick a different location for the competition or wait till Sept. I don’t have the resources to keep this as a priority in my life for that long and neither do my teammates. That means that our competitors will have an opportunity to gain on us if they spend a lot more time between now and then.

Seems that Lasermotive has used the proceeds from their last win to take two team members full time. I expect a highly professional, polished system from them in the next round. I always knew that once a team won that they would be more difficult to beat the next time around.

The trip to Photonics West went well but did not yield any leads for new sponsors. That means that it will be back to my private supporters to try and raise the money for this next round. That water well is pretty low after 4 years and no wins.

So where is the good news? I have been spending a lot more time with the family and my regular customers are keeping me as busy as ever with my day job. So I can afford to wait even if it is rather annoying. And we have a list of tests to perform to try and tuneup the performance of our current system.

I will update you if things change.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

And that’s where we’re at…

The latest from the Kansas City Space Pirates

I received this email today from Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates

Well I am off to Photonics West. This is the trade show where just about all of my sponsors have a presence.  I have been invited to do a poster presentation on Tuesday evening. It should be a good opportunity to talk with other people in the profession.

Kind of interesting how this all went from “game” and “hobby” to “profession”.

Anyway. We need to raise about $40,000 to cover all of the expenses for the competition. And if we want to upgrade to premium solar cells we need another $80,000. I am not holding my breath for the $80,000.

The up side is that the competition has established itself as a draw for fans and viewers with over 25,000 surfing to the online video feed. Several dozen articles on numerous web sites and coverage on FOX news as well as other TV stations.

So now we need to connect the sponsors to the audience.

Brian Turner

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…

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…

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.


LaserMotive talks power-beaming

On the LaserMotive Blog, mention is made of a recent article in the SunBreak, a local Seattle newspaper (team LaserMotive is based in Seattle).

It’s a very interesting article and well worth the read.  LaserMotive’s Jordin Kare talks about power-beaming and why that interests LaserMotive (as opposed to a Space Elevator, which they are not interested in).

Jordin is quoted:

“Some of the people who are competing are very much believers in the space elevator–Tom Nugent and I, who started the LaserMotive team, are pretty skeptical,” admitted Kare. “It’s one of these things where it’s a lovely idea, and it may be physically possible–which I wouldn’t have said a decade ago–but it’s a very long jump drawing pretty pictures and writing basic equations to being able to build something a hundred-and-some-odd-thousand kilometers long.”

He’s absolutely correct, of course – right now a Space Elevator IS not much more than ‘pretty pictures’.  As the President of ISEC, it’s my job to change that ‘equation’…

It’s ironic – the team that really is not a fan of the idea of Space Elevator is the team that won the recent Space Elevator Games.  On one of the many news-clips that resulted from the Games, a reporter asked why LaserMotive bothered to compete in the Games if they don’t believe in the concept.  The reply was that they wanted to demonstrate their prowess in power-beaming.  I don’t think the $900,000 hurt anything either…

(Picture of Jordin from here – click on it to see a full-size version)

Post-competition analysis from LaserMotive

And, rounding out the post-competition analyses (KCSP is here and USST is here) , LaserMotive’s Steve Burrows gives us his team’s take on the recently completed competition.

Money quote (which occurred after their prize-winning runs on day 1) #1: ‘Waiting just a moment, Steve Beland requested clearance from Test Operations for the Team to begin breathing again.  Test granted the request, but for “shallow breaths only”.’

Money quote #2: “LaserMotive team members are grateful for the hospitality and safe and smooth operations of our host, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.  We hope they can invite us again to complete the NASA Power Beaming Centenial Challenge — we now have a title to defend!”

Congratulations again to LaserMotive and, indeed, all the teams for providing us with an extremely competitive and enjoyable three days.  Only 169 more days until the 2010 Games!

Fox News coverage of the Space Elevator Games

On the first day of the recently completed Space Elevator Games, there were several reporters and cameras (still and video) at the ISF (the conference center where Bryan and I did the first two days of live coverage of the Games over uStream).

One young lady was from ABC, another from AP and still another from Fox News.  I didn’t see a whole lot of coverage from ABC (but I’m still going through video clips) and the AP reporter somehow carried away the ‘fact’ that there was a team ‘from Alaska’ that was competing (that was funny – after that report went out, I got calls from two local reporters in Alaska wanting to know how to contact the ‘local team’).

However, Fox News did a lot of coverage of this – the reporter, Christina Gonzalez, did the interviews (including one with yours truly) and the best clip I’ve seen so far is the one below.  One reason I like it, of course, is because they actually spelled my name correctly – not something that I’m used to…

It’s so easy to sound stupid on TV.  I’m talking about using a space elevator to “colonize the moon or ‘the’ Mars”… Doh!  I wanted to say ‘the moon or the rest of the solar system’ but tried to change it on the fly to “Mars” and wound up with ‘the Mars’.  Oh well – I think I got the main point across.  A Space Elevator should be built to haul large amounts of stuff into space on an ongoing basis.  It’s a ‘carbon railway’ to outer space and that’s what we need to think of it as…