Category Archives: Materials


The Incredible (Mr.) Limpet

A study was recently released by the Journal Interface which showed that the teeth of Limpets contained the strongest material yet found in nature.  This material has been measured to have a tensile strength of 3.0 to 6.5 GPa, stronger than spider-silk (the previous champion) and approximately the same strength as the carbon fibers produced by Toray.

6.5 GPa is about 20-25% of the strength needed to build a space elevator, so this is a potentially significant development.

It is speculated that the reason for the strong teeth is that limpets need them to extract nutrients from rocks and evolution has given them the means to do so.  The material in the teeth which provides the strength, nano-fibers of Goethite, are something I’ve never heard of before.  Not being a materials scientist, I’m probably talking through my hat here, but perhaps someone could infuse a substance harder than rock with some of the nutrients needed by limpets, and see if limpets can further evolve to extract it.  Also, there are myriad types of limpets and they exist in both fresh and salt water.  Perhaps some of them have evolved even stronger teeth…

At the very least, it should give real materials scientists something new to think about in their quest to develop stronger and stronger materials.

One final note: one of the authors of the study was none other than our friend Dr. Nicola Pugno.  Nicola has been a long-time researcher in the field of materials development and has authored numerous articles on this subject, including ones in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.


There was another $2 Million targeted towards Carbon Nanotube Research…

Occasionally, FeedDemon provides me with old articles that are very interesting.  Case in point…

Many readers will remember the Space Elevator Games, the 5 year partnership between NASA and The Spaceward Foundation, to further research and development in the fields of power-beaming and strong tethers.  The Power-Beaming games were a spectacular success, resulting in several years of exciting and photogenic competition and culminating in the winning of $900,000 by the good folks at LaserMotive.  The Strong Tether challenge was NOT a success however.  Even the promise of $2 Million in prize money provided by NASA failed to produce any competitors with entries approaching the strength of conventional materials, let alone surpassing them.  Those of us like myself who were involved in those games (and then tried, unsuccessfully to get them restarted under the auspices of ISEC) spent a lot of time theorizing and supposing why this was so.  I think at the end of the day, it was just a much tougher nut than anyone had initially thought.

An article which just popped up in my FeedDemon reader showed that another approach was taken by the sporting goods company Jas. D. Easton, Inc.  In 2009, the same year that LaserMotive won their prize, Jas. D. Easton awarded $2 Million (there’s that number again) to the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science to fund research on advanced carbon materials for sports equipment and aerospace applications.  One of my arguments to support The Space Elevator Games Strong Tether Competition to skeptics was that even if you don’t think a Space Elevator is feasible or a good idea, there certainly would be a myriad of applications for a super-strong material such as carbon nanotubes promise to be – it would be a true game-changer in every sense of the word.

I know that UCLA continues to be a leader in CNT research and a professor from UCLA has presented at the University of Cincinnati’s CNT workshop.  Alas, it doesn’t appear that they have come up with anything revolutionary yet but hope springs eternal…

io9 is skeptical…

Robert Gonzalez from io9 is skeptical about the promotional claim made by Obayashi that they want to build a Space Elevator by 2050.  While I indicated in my own post on the matter that I thought the Obayashi story was “more concept than engineering“, I’m not as skeptical as he is about the final end-product…

Mr. Gonzalez writes that “Getting carbon nanotubes into this ribbon configuration is a significant technical hurdle“.  Actually, the Japanese solved that particular problem a few years ago.  The Japanese entry (from Shizuoka University) in the 2009 Strong Tether competition WAS in a “ribbon configuration”.  In my post on the matter, I noted that the Shizuoka entry looked “like a tape from an old VCR Cassette”.  It wasn’t strong enough, of course, but it was in the ribbon configuration.

CNT TetherBut let’s assume that Mr. Gonzalez was referring to the actual specific strength of the tether, not it’s configuration, and there, surely, we do have a long way to go.  But progress is being made.  At the University of Cincinnati CNT Workshop held in October of last year, I saw, for the first time, a heavy emphasis on the potential specific strength properties of CNTs.  In previous year’s workshops, speakers had talked about using CNTs in electrical devices, or combined with ceramics to make unique materials, or used in medical devices, etc., but very little about making “long, strong tethers”.  This has changed – at least half of the speakers in the 2011 Workshop talked about work they were doing, and problems they were running into, in exploiting the specific strength properties of CNTs.  And, a second possible material has come onto the scene – Boron Nitride nanotubes (BNNTs).  This material, while not naturally occurring in nature, is fairly easily synthesized and it seems to have nearly the same potential specific strength properties that CNTs do.

You know, I really need to put up a post about that workshop – it was very informative and very encouraging…

And finally, lets not forget the fact that this is the Japanese.  Their corporations tend to have a longer-term outlook than many others do.  And Obayashi is a MAJOR company in Japan – lots of bucks, er yen, to potentially put into a project like this.

So, I’m not putting the champagne on ice yet, but I think there is a reasonable chance that this is more than just a pipe-dream.

(Picture thumbnail is of the entry into the 2009 Strong Tether competition from Shizuoka University.  Click on it to see a full-size version of the 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!

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!

Space Elevator Conference All-Star lineup!

In keeping with the International Space Elevator Consortium’s (ISEC) theme of “Longer, stronger tethers – 30MYuri or Bust!“, the Space Elevator Conference has assembled an all-star lineup for its Friday, August 12th program.  This day of the program is dedicated to stronger tethers and the Guest speakers that have been assembled are simply awesome.

From the University of Cincinnati, home of one of the foremost Carbon Nanotube (CNT) labs in the world, the Space Elevator Conference welcomes Dr. Vesselin Shanov.  From Dr. Shanov’s biography:

Dr.Vesselin Shanov is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He received his MS in Electronic Materials from the Technological University of Sofia, Bulgaria in 1970. In 1980, he completed his PhD in Solid State Chemistry at the University of Regensburg, Germany and at the Technological University of Sofia, Bulgaria.

Dr. Shanov has received several prestigious awards, including the Fulbright Award for Research and Teaching in USA, German Academic Foundation (DAAD) Grants, and the Bulgarian Patent Office Award for Distinguished Patent. He is a member of the Materials Research Society and former President of the Bulgarian Fulbright Alumni Association. Dr. Shanov`s recent breakthrough achievement, accomplished with the help of Dr. Schulz of University of Cincinnati, in growing the longest carbon nanotube arrays has attracted the attention of the scientific community.  NSF Special Press Release on this topic.

Dr. Shanov has published 145 papers, 14 patents, 3 books, and has been part of 40 funded proposals including many with NSF, the US NAVY, the US Air Force, and industries. He was selected a “Distinguished Professor” at the Department of CME for the 2006/2007 academic year.

Dr. Shanov co-directs the UC Nanoworld with Dr. Mark Schulz.Nanoworld is a large interdisciplinary teaching and research laboratory located in the College of Engineering.  It has unique facilities enabling synthesis, processing, and device fabrication based on nanostructured materials. Nanoworld carries an important mission helping to recruit, excite, and retain the undergraduate students at the UC College of Engineering.

Also from the University of Cincinnati and presenting at the conference is Mr. Mark Haase, a PhD student at the University.

And the Space Elevator Conference is very pleased to announce that Dr. Boris Yakobson from Rice University will also be attending the conference and presenting a paper on CNT strength.  From Dr. Yakobson’s biography:

Dr. Yakobson received his PhD from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1982.  He is currently the Karl F. Hasselmann Chair in Engineering, a Professor of Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering and a Professor of Chemistry at Rice University.

Professor Yakobson’s research interests are in theory and modeling of structure, kinetics, and properties of materials, derived from both macroscopic and fundamental molecular interactions. Computational methods and simulation are used to visualize and enhance the understanding of underlying physics and to identify the efficient degrees of freedom in complex systems, especially in connecting different length scales of description. He is an editorial board member of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research and a member of the American Physical Society and the Electrochemical Society.

Also presenting from Rice University is Dr.  Vasilii Artyukhov.

Additional speakers are scheduled for that day including Mr. Karen Ghazaryan, one of last year’s Honorable Mentions for the Artsutanov prize and Dr. Bryan Laubscher.  And, also on Friday is the NASA/Spaceward Strong Tether Challenge – with a prize purse of $2Million!

More details about the Space Elevator Conference can be found on the Conference website, including details for the presentations on Saturday and Sunday (August 13th and 14th).  And, until July 10th, you can reserve a place at the conference at the “Early Bird” special rate, a substantial discount off of the full rate.  But you have to hurry – the 10th is the absolute deadline for this.  After the 10th, you will need to pay the full conference fee.

This is high-powered stuff folks!  To my knowledge, this first day of the Space Elevator Conference is the first time, anywhere in the world, that a portion of a conference has been dedicated solely and only to the strength properties of carbon nanotubes (CNTs).  Without a strong enough material, the entire idea of a Space Elevator is just an intellectual exercise, so we hope this will be the first in a succession of such gatherings.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that the speakers from the University of Cincinnati and Rice University are attending the conference through the courtesy of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).  This is just another way in which we are working to make this dream a reality and shows you what your membership dollars go for.

Only 36 days to go – I hope to see you all at the Conference!

New items from Japan

A couple of new Space Elevator items from Japan are in the news.

First is a pre-announcement of LASER2011, the annual student competition held by the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA).  This is the third (or fourth?) such competition.  No exact date has been set, but JSEA states that it will be at “the end of October”.  Details can be found here (note that this page is in Japanese – you can open the page in Google Chrome and translate it to English).

The second item is a video I found titled “Spinning Carbon Nanotubes for the Space Elevator and Industrial Applications“.  This appears to be narrated by Professor Yoku Inoue – team lead for a competitor in the 2009 Strong Tether Competition (I blogged about his entry here).  Professor Inoue and his team hailed from Shizuoka university in Japan.  Professor Inoue has been invited to compete again this year and I sincerely hope he does.



What’s interesting here (to me anyway) is that the CNT’s are being pulled out/off of the CNT ‘forest’ in a wide array.  It’s nearly transparent as you can see.  When I watched CNT’s being pulled out/off a CNT ‘forest’ at the University of Cincinnati labs, they pulled them off as a very thin thread – traveling from one of the ‘forest’ and back again.  In both cases, it is just the Van der Walls force that is holding the CNTs together…

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!

Dr. Bryan Laubscher to appear on the 9/12/2010 Space Show

Dr. Bryan Laubscher, Physicist, long-time Space Elevator enthusiast and the principle behind Odysseus Technologies, a start-up carbon nanotube spinning company, will appear on Dr. David Livingston’s The Space Show on Sunday, September 12th, from 12:00pm to 1:30pm (US Pacific Daylight time).  From the show intro:

Bryan E. Laubscher received his Ph.D. in physics in 1994 from the University of New Mexico with a concentration in astrophysics. In 2008 Bryan left Los Alamos National Laboratory to pursue new adventures in the Redmond, WA where he and his wife now live. In 2006 Bryan spent a year on Entrepreneurial Leave to Seattle. There he started a company to develop the strongest materials ever created. These materials are based upon carbon nanotubes – the strongest structures known in nature and the first material identified with sufficient strength-to-weight properties to build a space elevator. At LANL he is was a project leader and has worked in various capacities for 17 years. His past projects include LANL’s portion of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey , Magdalena Ridge Observatory and a project developing concepts and technologies for space situational awareness. Over the years Bryan has participated in research in astronomy, lidar, non-linear optics, space mission design, space-borne instrumentation design and construction, spacecraft design, novel electromagnetic detection concepts and technologies, detector/receiver system development, spectrometer development, interferometry and participated in many field experiments. Bryan led space elevator development at LANL until going on entrepreneurial leave in late 2005.

Listeners can talk to Dr. Bryan Laubscher or the host using toll free 1 (866) 687-7223, by sending e-mail during the program using,,, or chatting on AOL/ICQ/CompuServe Chat using the screen name “spaceshowchat.”

Full disclosure – I am investor in Bryan’s start-up, Odysseus Technologies.

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.

CNN Money profiles the Space Elevator Games and teams

This is cool. has posted a 4 part series (Steps toward space) about the teams in the Space Elevator Games.  They have individual profiles of the three qualifiers for the Climber / Power-Beaming Competition, the Kansas City Space Pirates (KCSP), the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team (USST) and LaserMotive.

They also have a profile of DeltaX, a team that entered the previous Strong Tether Competition.  We had every indication and hope that they would have competed in this year’s competition, but they declined. did not do a profile of the Japanese team from Shizuoka University but, as they entered at the very last moment, that’s not surprising.  I didn’t know about them either.

In any case, the four part series is very interesting and contains some excellent team photos.

New Brad Edwards interviews now available

Dr. Brad Edwards, co-author of The Space Elevator and Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator, has appeared in two new interviews.  These interviews discusses the Space Elevator somewhat, but concentrate much more on nanotechnology in general.

In the first interview, Dr. Edwards briefly discusses the Space Elevator before the conversation turns to developments in nanotechnology.  I must disagree with Dr. Edwards on one issue though.  When asked why a Space Elevator hasn’t been built yet, he said that it was because a) society is distracted by other things (swine flu, the war in Afghanistan, etc.) and b) NASA is afraid of failure.  While both of these may or may not be true, IMHO I think the reason a Space Elevator hasn’t been built yet is the fact that carbon nanotubes just aren’t strong enough yet.

In the second interview, Dr. Edwards states that a carbon nanotube “1/8 inch in diameter could hold 20 tons”.  Again, I must disagree with the optimism here.  I don’t think such a tether exists.  Someday it may (and it better if we ever want to build a space elevator), but it’s not here yet.

But the interviews are interesting and a lot of very futuristic nano-technologies are discussed.

GPa (g/cc) / N-Tex / MYuris – Specific strength – How strong does a tether need to be?

Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation (host of the Space Elevator Games) responded to a question about how strong a space elevator tether has to be.  With Ben’s help, I wrote a 3-part series about this earlier (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) and Ben has augmented this by discussing the proper units to use in describing the strength of a Space Elevator tether;

How strong does a Space Elevator tether need to be?  Many numbers are bandied about, and usually with a designation of GPa (Giga-Pascals) as their unit of measure.  However, a GPa figure is meaningless without a density figure to go with it.

The metric at question is GPa/(g/cc), or specific strength – strength-per-density.  The textile industry, which often deals with specific strength of materials, uses the unit of N/Tex.  If you work out the units, a N/Tex turns out to be exactly equivalent to a GPa/(g/cc), a Tex…  We propose to give this unit a proper name – in the metric system, we define 1 Yuri = 1 Pa/(kg/m3), and so a GPa/(g/cc) or a N/tex are equal to 1 MYuri (Mega Yuri).

Why is strength (GPa) not a good unit to evaluate the material with?

Think about it this way – if you pull on a garden hose and it breaks at 100 lb, and if the diameter of the hose is such that its area is 2 square inches, can you say that the rubber failed at 50 PSI?  Of course not – the hose is mostly air, only the wall of the hose is holding the force.  you should use the area of the wall, not the hose.

In exactly the same way, if 12 inches of the garden hose weighs a pound, can you say that the density of the rubber is 1/24 [lbs/in3] ?  Of course not – only the wall of the hose has weight.

BUT!!!  You can safely say that the *specific strength* of the rubber is 50/(1/24)=1200 PSI/(lb/in3)  and you don’t have to even measure the diameter of the hose – just divide the breaking force (100) by the linear mass density (1/12), and you get the same exact number (1200).  The cross-sectional area canceled out, and the only two things we need to measure is the breaking *force* (in lbs) and the weigh-per-linear-inch.  Hence N/Tex.

So back to Space Elevators:

Computer simulations of CNTs cap the specific strength of individual tubes at between 40 and 50 MYuri.  Practical measurements seem to converge on that number as well.  The density of Carbon Nanotubes is 2.2 g/cc, so using this density the proper strength figure is 88-110 GPa.  Remember though, it’s the 40-50 MYuri figure that’s the deal maker.

We can build a Space Elevator using a 40 MYuri material.  Even 30.  It’s just that the lower the specific strength, the heavier the ribbon, and the more powerful our motors have to be. (How are motors connected to the tether strength? See the discussion about the Space Elevator Feasibility Condition)  If we go below 30 MYuri, the power system starts to look impossible.

There’s a whole discussion about safety margins that needs to factor in here.  If the CNTs are 45 MYuri, and the cable is 40 MYuri, how much can we really load it at?  30 MYuri?  this means we have a safety margin of 10/30, or  33%.  Since the loading of the Space Elevator structure is incredibly predictable (more so than most any other structure ever built) we think this margin is sufficient, but this is a topic for another post.

The document that Ben refers to, the Space Elevator Feasibility Condition, should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand how viable a Space Elevator is.

Thanks Ben…

The Times Online and Cambridge nanotube efforts

EuroSpaceward’s Markus Klettner today sent me a link to a new article about the Space Elevator in the Times Online.  The focus this article is the work being done at Cambridge University by a team headed up with Professor Alan Windle.  From the article:

“The Cambridge team is making about 1 gram of the high-tech material per day, enough to stretch to 18 miles in length. “We have Nasa on the phone asking for 144,000 miles of the stuff, but there is a difference between what can be achieved in a lab and on an industrial level,” says Alan Windle, professor of materials science at Cambridge University, who is anxious not to let the work get ahead of itself.”

I must admit to some scepticism about NASA really making enquiries about this; it’s always been my understanding that they sponsor the Space Elevator Games because of their interest in Power-Beaming and ultra-strong materials, not because they plan on building a Space Elevator.  It’s certainly not on any of NASA’s roadmaps and neither presidential candidate spoke about it – not even to win the Speculist competition! 🙂

I have emailed Professor Windle about this and will post his reply when I receive it.

I also liked the quote from Spaceward’s Ben Shelef;

“We are talking about something totally different from the conventional concept of space travel,” says Ben Shelef, chief executive officer of the Spaceward Foundation, NASA’s partner in the project. “This is not about three astronauts on a special mission, it is about hundreds of tons a day being lifted into orbit. I often say that we shouldn’t be dealing with NASA on this, we should be dealing with the US Department of Transportation.”

It’s an interesting article and worth the read…

(graphic from the Times Online article – click on it (or visit the article) to see a larger version)

More from the EuroSpaceward 2008 Conference

Markus Klettner, Executive Director of EuroSpaceward, has kindly sent me several documents resulting from or relating to the recent EuroSpaceward Conference.

This first document is an interview of Markus by BBC New Journalist Jason Palmer.  Markus hastens to add that the views he expresses in this interview are his own and are not necessarily representative of EuroSpaceward.  This document is in pdf format.

The next document is the Conference presentation by Professor Nicola Pugno entitled “The role of defects in the design of Space Elevator cable” and is in Microsoft Powerpoint format.

Finally, Markus has kindly provided us with 8 other documents/presentations authored or co-authored by the same Professor Pugno relating to his studies of defects in carbon nanotubes.  All of these documents are in pdf format.

So, if you need some reading material – here it is!

These documents are particularly relevant as I have recently presented a series of posts (here, here and here) on Ben Shelef’s (CEO of Spaceward) view of how strong a carbon nanotube ribbon has to be to make a useful Space Elevator.  From my own reading of Prof. Pugno’s papers, it appears that there are some differences of opinion (or at least differences in the way things are stated) between Prof. Pugno and Ben on this issue.  Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, ISEC can explore these differences in more detail.

How strong does the Space Elevator tether need to be?

How strong does a tether really have to be in order to make a working, useful Space Elevator?  This is a question that Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, has been exploring in some detail.

The answer to this question relates to how strong the climber power system is.  The stronger the power system is, the weaker the tether can be (and vice-versa).  There is no absolute minimum number, but there is an equation which Ben has created, The Space Elevator Feasibility Condition, which answers this question.

According to Ben’s calculations, for example, a tether which has a tensile strength of 30 GPa-cc/g would be strong enough to create a useful Space Elevator provided the Climber power system can generate at least 1.5 kWatt/kg.  If the tensile strength of the tether is only 25 GPa-cc/g, the power system needs to generate at least 3.5 kWatt/kg.

How does climber power relate to tether strength?  Ben documents all of this in a new paper; The Space Elevator Feasibility Condition, available (in html and pdf formats) in the Library section of the Spaceward website.

Over the next few days, I’m going to be looking at and writing about this paper in more detail.

This paper is very important for all of us in the Space Elevator community to read and understand.  We need to be able to pose realistic scenarios and give justifiable answers to questions when they are presented to us.  The Space Elevator Feasibility Condition will help us do that.

(Picture of spontaneous formation of Stone-Wales Defect in a nanotube under tension from the Spaceward website – click on it for a slightly larger version)

Japan Space Elevator Conference – day 1

This post courtesy of Stephen Steiner of Team DeltaX:

Carbon Nanotube Filaments Capture Interest of Japanese Industries

Today I participated in the closed-session Carbon Nanotube Filament Seminar intended to promote interest and awareness of carbon nanotubes as a strength material among Japanese industry.  The seminar took place at Nihon University in Tokyo in a large classroom reminiscent of a hall we often take our final exams in at MIT.  The seminar featured simultaneous translation of Japanese to English and vice versa by translators in a soundbooth in the back of the room through pocket multichannel radio receivers.  I was extremely impressed at how fluid and apparently accurate the translations were, which made for seamless conversation between presenters and audience members regardless of communication protocol.

All in all there were about 40 people present at the seminar, with representatives from various companies including Suzuki, Toray (carbon fiber manufacturer), and Toyobo (Zylon manufactuer) to name a few.  I will note that although the commercial nanotube industry is already heavily based in Japan, the companies producing nanotubes here primarily focus on applications for electronics and composites, as opposed to nanotubes for fibers or strength applications.

The first speaker was Mr. Tsuyoshi Hashimoto from Meijo Nanocarbon here in Japan.  Meijo is a producer of single-wall carbon nanotubes produced through the arc-discharge technique.  This technique does not produce long CNTs but instead short, electronics-grade CNTs.  Tsuyoshi presented a number of products his company makes, including highly solubilized CNTs in various solutions, petri dishes lined with SWNTs which supposedly enhance microorganism growth, and a bottle of glassy black strips composed of SWNTs which is apparently the SWNTs as-produced.  Tsuyoshi explained their company’s target markets, which are primarily focused on use of SWNTs as transparent conductive layers for electronics and photovoltaics and SWNTs as fillers for composites with other materials (i.e., plastics and metals).

Our second speaker was Dr. Bryan Laubscher who spoke at a high-level about nanotubes as they pertain to the space elevator.  Bryan highlighted the various technological transitions in society which have coincided with the mastery of stronger materials throughout history–the mastery of stone and the populating of every continent except Antarctica, the mastery of bronze and the establishment of city-states, the mastery of iron and the emergence of empires and seafaring civilization, the mastery of steel and the industrial revolution, the discovery of polymers and the space age, and now what he predicted will be an era of CNTs and the space elevator.  Some conversation followed the presentation pointing out the discovery of CNTs was not in fact by Iijima in 1991, who really was responsible for “rediscovering” carbon nanotubes and showing their scientific and technological potential, but rather by Endo in 1975 and perhaps as early as 1955 by a Soviet researcher and shortly thereafter in the late 1950’s by McCartney in the United States.  Bryan also mentioned that he is leading an effort that hopes to compete in the strong tether competition which we look forward to competing against!

Dr. Marcello Motta from Cambridge University then presented work from Prof. Alan Windle’s group on the production of continuous CNT fibers.  The talk was absolutely excellent.  Marcello has been one of the essential players in the development of the Cambridge yarns and provided some very interesting insight into their system, which is a two-story tall vertical furnace.  Their materials are almost exclusively made of fat double-walled carbon nanotubes which collapse into flattened structures (as opposed to staying rigidly cylindrical), giving them much better surface area for contacting other nanotubes.  Their fibers (fibres) are generally in the range of 2.5 GPa reliably, and over mm-lengths somewhere in the range of 10 GPa–this represents the breaking strength of primary fibers which make up the yarn, whereas the lower number represents the slipping strength of the primary fibers.  Marcello also mentioned that Windle’s spin-off company Q-Flo has recently received funding and as a result some of the scale-up efforts could not be discussed in great detail, however the technology is finally transitioning out of the laboratory.  Marcello also showed a picture of a bicycle wheel-based apparatus with a circumference of 2 m designed for making 2-m continuous yarns and stated he intends on attending the 2008 strong tether competition (being held in Florida from Feb-Mar 2009)!  Although Marcello said their materials are not strong enough to win, they wanted to get the experience of going through the competition so that they can work towards winning!  Very exciting that we will have some CNT competition!

I then realized I forgot all of my nanotube samples back at the hotel (I blame jet lag) and Chie Saito of Earth Track Corporation was kind enough to help me navigate the Japan Rail system to go back and get them.  While we were gone everyone else enjoyed bento boxes and green tea.  Akira Tsuchida, the conference organizer, then gave Ben Shelef’s talk about the Tether Strength Competition Centennial Challenge, which I caught the very end of.  Akira did a very good job of representing the Spaceward Foundation and the audience was intrigued.

After Akira’s talk I gave mine about the status of tether development at Nanocomp and MIT.  The first half of the talk was pretty similar to what I gave by telepresentation at the Seattle conference, basically showing how Nanocomp makes their yarns and felts and showing some of the amazing properties they have, for example, having a higher conductivity-to-weight ratio than copper!  Noting that the production of yarns at Nanocomp is very similar to the production at Cambridge, it was interesting to highlight some of the differences and similarities between the two efforts.  I then went into a more academic discussion of the termination mechanisms in nanotube growth to help highlight some of the reasons why nanotubes stop growing and how we can deal with each of these issues.  I also showed some slides about efforts towards multi-centimeter carbon nanotube forests and continuous forest production at MIT and the University of Michigan from my research group, the Nano-engineered Aerospace Structures Consortium (  I also mentioned that we intend on competing in the 2008 competition as well, although we probably won’t win either.  We will, however, demo our a continuous CNT loop which should exhibit significantly improved tensile strength over the tether we had last year.

As a side note I must say I have enjoyed meeting Marcello immensely.  We both have a persistent, fundamental curiosity for understanding why nanotubes start growing, and why they stop.  Very much an academic, Marcello is an excellent scientist and microscopist, which has given Cambridge a real edge in understanding their materials and how they form.  Marcello also expressed his admiration for Nanocomp as an American company, who “knows how to get stuff done”.

Following my talk, Brad Edwards gave his talk about materials requirements for the space elevator.  Brad pitched nanotubes for strength applications as a highly profitable prospect for Japanese firms.  Brad described some of the efforts which he has associated himself with, for example the “supergrowth” group at the University of Cincinnati which produces 18 mm tall multi-wall carbon nanotube forests.  Brad said that “we” have some new technologies and prospects for  commercialization, but did not mention who “we” is.  Brad also showed a slide titled “Toyota Space Elevator”, explaining how an investment of just $5 billion from a company like Toyota, “just 20%” of their revenue, could fund the space elevator and open up new avenues for profit and Japanese domination in the future.

Lastly we heard from Mr. Yahio Kashiyama from Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation about experimental possibilities aboard the Kibo module of the International Space Station (ISS), including the exposure module which will be launching this year that will allow the ISS to do space-exposure studies for materials.  Yahio explained that the science aboard Kibo is already densely planned for the next 3-4 years.  He also proposed that this would be a great opportunity to study the effects of space radiation and vacuum on the longevity of CNT materials, which will be required to understand if a space elevator will survive in space.After the conference, Akira and two of his colleagues, Bryan and his wife, Brad, Marcello, and myself went to see Tokyo Tower (which is bigger than the Eiffel Tower) and then out to dinner and enjoyed a number of Japanese dishes.  We all then went back to the hotel and crashed.  (Yawn!)

More from the conference to come.

(Photos of Marcello Motta and the Tokyo Tower courtesy Stephen Steiner – click on them for a larger version)

More Space Elevator news catch-up…

Continuing from the last post, here are a few more odds ‘n ends relating to the Space Elevator which have occurred lately…

And what is this, you might ask?  It’s how you write “Space Elevator” in Armenian.  At the July Space Elevator conference in Redmond, I had the pleasure to meet Karen Ghazaryan.  He gave a talk on Sunday entitled; “Stability of Superconducting Cable Used for Transportation of Electrical Current from Space“.  In the lunch period afterwards, I chatted with him and took the opportunity to ask him to add Armenian to my Translation Project.  He graciously consented and now we have it.  Oh, by the way, the pronunciation is “Tiyezerakan Verelak”.  Thank you Karen!

The Space Elevator skeptics are having their say…  Recently I linked to an article on Discovery Space from Spaceward‘s Ben Shelef, discussing benefits that a Space Elevator will bring.  Discovery Tech has now posted an ‘opposing viewpoint’ from Italian professor Nicola M. Pugno.  His objection is that inherent defects in carbon nanotubes will prevent it from ever being strong enough to create a Space Elevator tether (he’s weighed in on this before).  But he’s not an opponent of the idea as he says that his team has come up with a plan to build a ‘flaw-tolerant’ tether.  Professor Pugno is my kind of skeptic – find an objection and then find a way to overcome it.

Here is a posting from another skeptic, (‘Space Elevator’ idea almost as stupid as the ISS), in which the author gives no reasons it won’t work – just quotes one of the of the articles which came out of “Japan is building a Space Elevator craze” and says that we need to restart Project Orion if we really want to get to space.  And in the same vein, here’s a skeptic who argued that a Laser powered climber isn’t practical, only to then have a REAL laser expert (Dr. Jordin Kare – a member of the Lasermotive team, among other distinctions) disagree.  Dr. Kare’s money quote: “There are certainly reasons to be skeptical about space elevators, but the laser power transmission system really isn’t one.”  Read the whole exchange and make up your own mind.  I don’t mind skeptics, I just mind those who haven’t bothered to do their homework.

Speaking of Dr. Kare, he was recently a speaker at the Space Solar Power conference in Florida.  Some of his remarks were captured (by blogger Transterrestial Musings) along with other, relevant, power-beaming comments.

And for our final “skeptic” note, here’s someone who is not a skeptic that Space Elevator can be built, but is afraid that it won’t be we Americans who do it.  I hope he’s wrong – he might not be.

I’ve already talked about the swell of publicity that surrounded the Online Times story about the Japanese “building a space elevator’, but one more article, this one from the Russian media, is worth noting.  The author, Yuri Zaitsev, talks about the Space Elevator, in general, (and notes that it’s a Russian invention) and he also talks about tether experiments in space – which I found interesting.  I love to hear what the Russians have to say about the Space Elevator.  In some ways, their space program equals or exceeds ours.  They have everything they need to build a Space Elevator (except the tether, of course, which we’re all waiting on).  I’ve previously posted about the ‘Russian perspective’ (here, here and here) which is very valuable, of course, but who can forget the travesty that they visited on Madonna…

And, moving from Madonna to Dr. Bryan Laubscher, Bryan recently gave a talk at the Bellevue Community College about the promise and challenges of building a Space Elevator.  Let’s hope that he has inspired at least one or two people to join this effort.

Finally, here’s an article from the Saskatoon asking the public which of five proposals would they support for a ‘destination center’ (a Canadian euphemism, I think, for ‘tourist stop’).  One of the possibilities is; “Innovation showcase: U of S is interested in partnering with the museum and creativity centre in one connected space. The university is looking at showcasing the innovative projects students create, such as components for the space elevator, for example.”  ‘U of S’ is, I’m sure, the University of Saskatchewan and THAT means the USST team.

And that nearly catches us up.  My next post will have some cool new space-elevator graphics that I’ve found – along with a few other bits and pieces that have showed up in my search engines…

(Picture of Madonna from here.  Picture of Dr. Laubscher from here.  Picture of Professor Pugno from here.  Click on any of them for a larger version.)

If I told you once…

Here is an interesting article, titled “Trillionth Floor Please“, where the author discusses a new method of working with carbon nanotubes discovered by chemistry professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos and can use them, theoretically, to build a Space Elevator.  From the article:

The problem, says Papadimitrakopoulos (he tells people to call him “Papadim”), is that nanotubes have different properties. That’s important because nanotubes bearing the same qualities can interlock with one another. But until now, no one had figured out a way to identify and separate nanotubes according to their properties.

After working on this problem for seven years, Papadimitrakopoulos and his team had a eureka! moment: Molecules from Vitamin B2 can attach themselves to nanotubes in such a way that could distinguish different types of nanotubes. With a way to identify nanotubes, researchers can group them together according to their types.

This may work out – I hope it does, but I do have to take exception to the title of the article.  A trillion floors works out to an elevator that is over two billion miles long (2,272,727,273 miles to be exact) if one assumes a uniform floor height of 12 feet.  A sixty-thousand mile high elevator would have between twenty-six million and twenty-seven million (26,400,000 to be exact) floors, again assuming a uniform floor height of 12 feet.

If I told him once, I told him a TRILLION times; “Don’t exaggerate”… 🙂

2008 Space Elevator Games Updates

Before and during the conference, I learned several bits of new information about the upcoming Space Elevator Games.  Some has been related previously, but I’m going to try and sum it up here.

The Climber-Power/Beaming rules are still the same (the racetrack is a steel rope, 1 kilometer tall), but the device holding the racetrack “up” has changed.  Previously it was going to be a balloon, but this turned out to be impractical and has since been changed to a helicopter (we are all grateful to Tom Nugent of the LaserMotive team for suggesting this idea).  Issues about downdraft, stray Laser rays reaching the helicopter, hover time, etc. all seem to have been worked out.

The time for these Games has been moved to late October.  The exact dates are not yet sure, but it will probably be the weekend of either Oct 18-19 or Oct 25-26.  In response to this, EuroSpaceward has moved their event (originally scheduled at that time) to late December – more about this in a later post.

The Climber/Power-Beaming team from TXL has dropped out and the team from E-T-C is still looking for a sponsor.  I know that LaserMotive and the KC Space Pirates will be there and also the team from USST.  Patrick Allen, President of the USST team was at the conference and confirmed to me that they are competing.  Being the tight-lipped group they are, he wouldn’t confirm anything else about their team but did say that they would “try” to post some more regular updates on their website.

Stephen Steiner from the DeltaX Tether team gave a presentation (via phone) to the conference titled “Production of high strength-to-weight ratio tethers from carbon nanotube yarns and textiles” (a very interesting talk which I will cover later) and, during his presentation, confirmed that they would be competing in this year’s Tether competition with a carbon-nanotube tether.

I also learned that another team is frantically trying to get a carbon-nanotube tether ready for competition too, but can’t say anything more about them now.  It will be very cool if they make it – having carbon nanotube tethers face off against each other would say a whole lot about how this art/manufacturing skill is progressing.

So, that’s the summary – more later – I’m on my way to catch a flight home.

One other quick note: Traffic at my blog has hugely spiked this last day and half – more than 10 times what I normally get.  People are INTERESTED in a Space Elevator – let’s make it happen!

ISDC2008 – Day 1 – Part 2

Stephen Steiner of team DeltaX was here at ISDC2008 today, showcasing and explaining carbon nanotubes to the Exhibit attendees.  Here is a short video of him doing so.  I apologize for the crappy audio.



In Stephen’s hand is a short piece of carbon nanotube ‘tether’.  At the end of the video, I zoom in on a larger piece of carbon nanotube ‘fabric’ that Stephen brought.

Incidentally, I had a very interesting talk with both Stephen and Ben Shelef of Spaceward about the possible health hazards of carbon nanotubes.  I’ll have more to say about this in a near-future post, but just let me say now that I am much reassured…

We’re up to a dozen…

I now have twelve translations of “Space Elevator” on the Translation Project tab at the top of this blog.

One of the latest ones is the Dutch translation (ruimtelift) provided by reader Simon Vanden Bussche.  I’m singling Simon’s contribution out because he wrote an article for ‘Euroavia News’, the newspaper of the European Association of Aerospace Students (Euroavia) and also posted on his blog, discussing the Space Elevator and also talking about the First European Space Elevator Conference held last September in Luxembourg.  At the bottom of his posting, he links to one of the more comprehensive articles I’ve seen about the recent advances in carbon nanotube technology.

Thank you Simon!  And thank you to the many others who have sent me translations – keep them coming!

Nanotube composites

A paper, “The extraordinary reinforcing efficiency of single-walled carbon nanotubes in oriented poly(vinyl alcohol) tapes” recently published has this exciting abstract:

“This paper reports on oriented poly(vinyl alcohol)/single-walled carbon nanotube (PVA/SWNT) tapes that were prepared by a mild processing route, involving the use of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) as a solvent. Composite films with homogeneously dispersed SWNTs were cast from solution and drawn into oriented tapes using solid-state drawing. The obtained tapes showed the extraordinary reinforcing effects of the SWNTs, as the addition of 1.0 wt% SWNTs tripled the tensile strength of the PVA tapes. Micromechanical analysis showed that the nanotube contribution to the composite strength was as high as 88 GPa, which is very high when compared to other data reported in the literature, and for the first time begins to exploit the theoretical strength of nanotubes.”

The exciting, operative number, of course is “88 GPa”.  Now I know that this doesn’t mean that they’ve created a structure which has a tensile strength of “88 GPa”, but it does show how carbon nanotube developments are proceeding at an ever increasing pace.

You can get the full paper, but you either have to be a member of IOP or pony up $30.00 as a guest to read it. 

An article on talks about this development.  However, I’m not sure where they get the statement; “The work shows for the first time the true reinforcing potential of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) with effective properties of nanotubes in composites, which are close to their theoretical values.”  The theoretical limit of carbon nanotubes is, I believe, ~300GPa, not the 88 GPa discussed in the article.  But never mind all that – this is still a very exciting development.

(Hat tip to reader Yakov for pointing out this development)

More carbon nanotube development from Nanocomp

Nanocomp is the company behind the carbon nanotube tether brought to last year’s Space Elevator Games by Team DeltaX.

While not directly related to creating a tether for a Space Elevator, their latest development shows that this company continues to push the carbon nanotube envelope.  From their website:

CONCORD, N.H.— February 19, 2008 — Nanocomp Technologies, Inc., a developer of next-generation performance materials, today announced it has successfully produced 3-foot by 6-foot sheets of carbon nanotube material. This significant production milestone, the result of the company’s ongoing investment in nanotube growth technology and manufacturing capacity, gives Nanocomp the ability to generate the largest cohesive sheets of nanotube material ever produced.

Estimated strength of these sheets, from this press release, are:

The tensile strength of the mat ranges from 200 to 500 megapascals—a measure of how tough it is to break. A sheet of aluminum of equivalent thickness, for comparison, has a strength of 500 megapascals. If Nanocomp takes further steps to align the nanotubes, the strength jumps to 1,200 megapascals.

I think the significance of this is that companies/manufacturers continue to grow more familiar with this material, and this can only lead to further breakthroughs in this field.

(Picture comparing the nanotube sheet with a human being from the company website.  Click on it or visit the website for a larger version)

(Hat tip to Tom Kastan for this post)

Nanotubes, the environment and human health

Concerns have been raised by many about how safe it would be to release carbon nanotubes into the environment.  Some of this is overblown I think as nanotubes occur in small quantities naturally (as a byproduct of a wood fire, for example).  Nevertheless, I think the concerns are real and I’m glad that research is ongoing on this subject, especially as one sees stories now (like here) about lung problems being perhaps associated with very small particles jettisoned into the air by combustion engines.

One recent studyfrom Stanford shows that nanotubes in the bloodstream can exist safely within the body and are excreted in the “normal way”.  Not only that, but nanotube based delivery systems for medicines hold much promise to treat human health problems.

But I’d still like to see some studies about what happens when nanotubes are inhaled.  I’m sure there are nanotube development researchers who are now unwittingly being guinea pigs in this area as they work to create nanotube-based materials (like tethers).  At some point if/when nanotube strength gets to the point where a Space Elevator is really possible, this is going to be one of the concerns raised.  Of course, this theoretical release of nanotubes into the environment as a potential pollutant will have be balanced against the very real pollution which is a byproduct of today’s rocket programs.

(Hat tip to Andy Price for pointing out the Stanford Article.  Graphic from here.)

Year-end update from the Spaceward Foundation

This morning, I received the following email from Ben Shelef at the Spaceward Foundation, wrapping up 2007 – a great year for the Space Elevator community.  If you want to get on the Spaceward Foundation’s email list, just visit them at their Homepage and sign up.

Spaceward Foundation News Bulletin

Newsletter #4 – December 31, 2007

Hello folks, and Happy New Year!It’s been a while since our last newsletter – seems that whenever something’s going on in Space Elevator land, we’re always too busy to write. 🙂 Two months after the 2007 games, this is a good time to briefly reflect on this past year, and update you on our next steps for ’08 and beyond.In this newsletter:

  • A look back at 2007
  • A preview of our plans for 2008
  • A new partner
  • Carbon Nanotube news

2007:For those who missed the real-time action, the official wrap-up of the 2007 Spaceward Games is posted online at As usual, you can re-live the day-by-day coverage at the archives at Ted Semon’s Space Elevator Blog and Marc Boucher’s Space Elevator Reference.The most significant result of the 2007 games, however, is not measured in units such as kilograms or in meters per second. What we saw in 2007 was a huge leap in the level of technology fielded by the teams. In particular, our two laser-based teams, USST and LaserMotive, designed and built complex advanced systems worthy of an aerospace project, and have acquired a set of capabilities that attracted industry interest to our competition. In terms of fulfilling the charter of the games, we could not have asked for more.Looking back, you may remember that Space Elevator games did not exist before 2005. Unlike our role models – Solar car races and rocketry clubs, we did not have a rich tradition of games spanning tens of years to rely on. We started practically from scratch, and we are immensely proud of how our teams have grown.

Having wrapped up the games, our next order of business was charting the course for 2008. The immediate choices we looked at were keeping the challenge goals the same as in ’07, doubling the speed or height requirements, or doubling both. However, after gathering feedback from existing and potential teams, the Space Elevator community, and relevant industry experts, we decided to go for something a bit more grandiose…

2008:In broad strokes, the goal of the Space Elevator games is to bring the Space Elevator closer to reality. The goal of the power beaming challenge is to promote power beaming technology. We think that the time is ripe now to move the competition to the next level, addressing real-world power beaming scenarios where the minimum requirements for such systems start at the km range and kWatt power levels.For the 2008 power beaming challenge, therefore, we’ve chosen a climb height of 1 km.There’s a drum roll missing here. 1 km is the height a jetliner is at when the cabin crew asks you to put your laptop away… To show what a 1 km tall race track looks like, we’ve posted a preview at the Power Beaming page. (The location shown is hypothetical, of course!) Also note the comparison to the 2007 games – those were held inside the small orange circle just below and to the left of the center-image.

To match the change in scope, we’re also increasing the available prize money. As a matter of fact, we will be making the entire $2,000,000 available this year, depending on the speed of the climb. For 2 m/s, we’ll be offering the originally scheduled $900k prize, but if a team can reach 5 m/s this year, it will receive the entire $2M purse. If not claimed, we’ll keep the prizes and challenge the same for 2009.

The racetrack we’re planning, based on a pyramid-tethered balloon, will be the tallest such pyramid ever flown. We’re working with industry experts to set this up, and will keep you updated. This is very exciting for us, since this architecture is extendable to 10 km as well – almost a percent of a percent of the real Space Elevator…. In all seriousness though, while obviously all Earth-bound Space Elevator models are vastly shorter than the real thing, as far as reproducing the look-and-feel of a Space Elevator, this setup will go a long way towards demonstrating what the SE will be like.

Registration for the 2008 games is now open, and the first teams have already started working on their entries.

TRUMPF, Inc.We are very excited to announce the participation of TRUMPF as a sponsor for competition teams. TRUMPF will provide their top-of-the-line laser to qualifying teams to be used as the beam source, easily enabling 1 km power beaming.

CNTs:Finally, last but definitely not least, we’d like to share this exciting bit of news about Carbon Nanotube tethers: About a month ago, as reported at the Space Elevator conference in Luxembourg, a team from Cambridge University produced the first macroscopic carbon fibers that exhibited the kind of strength we were all expecting so see. These fibers, up to 1 mm long, clocked in at 10 N/tex, or about a fifth of what we need to build the Space Elevator (see here for details) We’re looking forward to seeing this team and other CNT labs entering the tether competition next year.

So with this happy bit of news we’ll sign off for this newsletter.
 Have a happy new year!
   The Spaceward Team.

The Spaceward Foundation is a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit dedicated to furthering Space exploration in educational curriculums and the public mindshare –

New life for NIAC?

I have written several posts (most recently, here and here) about the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) and it’s struggle to stay alive.  At the end of last August, NASA had killed this agency, citing budget issues.

From this posting by Leonard David at LiveScience, it appears that at least some people in the House Appropriations Committee think this may not have been such a good idea.

Quoting Mr. Leonard’s post: “From the report, the committee has expressed concern that NASA has decided to close the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts ‘without a rigorous assessment of the Institute’s merit.'”

I can only say “Amen” to that…  I’m sure that both NASA and the Appropriations Committee have a gazillion special interest groups yammering at them about how “their project” has to be funded.  But NIAC was underwriting, and leveraging, an investment in the future, real “blue-sky” stuff.  Their investment into Dr. Edwards research was a perfect example.  Anyone who attended or paid attention to this year’s Space Elevator Games and saw not only a carbon-nanotube tether, but also multiple laser-powered climbs, knows that this is an idea whose time is rapidly approaching.  And the NIAC grant to Dr. Edwards helped make it happen.

The final NIAC report (available here) makes for very interesting reading.  The NIAC “Funding Tree” (shown as a graphic at the top of this post – click on it for a larger version) shows how NIAC-distributed funds leveraged private-sector funds.  The most successful of these, again according to this graphic, was Dr. Edwards work with the Space Elevator concept.  NIAC summarized it’s funding of Dr. Edward’s research as follows:

“This effort sparked the creation of numerous businesses and attracted funding with a particular emphasis on the development of carbon nanotube materials. Space Elevator has been the focus of numerous prize competitions, including NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. Additional support: at least $8.5 million. Future impact: billions if not trillions of dollars in launch savings relative to current methods. As one NIAC Fellow explained: “The Space Elevator would change everything.”

I love that last line; “The Space Elevator would change everything.”  It would, it certainly would.

If you have a member of the Appropriations Committee from your state (and better yet, from your district), write him/her a letter and let them know what you think.  Compared to the $555 billion dollar appropriations bill which was just signed into law, the total NIAC budget of $5.9 million (over 9 years) is not even a rounding error.

BBC Documentary on Carbon Nanotubes and the Space Elevator

The BBC Documentary series, “Visions of the Future” recently aired an episode talking about Carbon Nanotubes and the Space Elevator.

Courtesy of the magic of YouTube, this video is now online.  You can tell that this video is slightly dated as it discusses the Space Elevator Game prizes of “half a million dollars” (it’s double that now), but it was made just before the last competition; the teams from DeltaX and LaserMotive make a cameo appearance.


Photos from the EuroSpaceward Tether & Climber Workshop

Several days ago, The Space Elevator Reference published a short story about the EuroSpaceward Tether & Climber Workshop which was held in Luxembourg the week before last. 

Markus Klettner has kindly emailed me the links to photographs taken during the Workshop.  The links are here and here.  In this post, I’ve selected 10 of the more than 50 photos from these links.

Brad Edwards




Ben Shelef




Bryan Laubscher




Dr. Georg Treusch




Michel Benoit




CNT array samples from the lab of Dr. Shanov




Prof. Vesselin Shanov




Dr. Marcello Motta




Prof. Vesselin Shanov with USST’s Clayton Ruszkowski




Markus Klettner





“Rather a special sort of smoke…”

This is courtesy of Akira Tsuchida, team leader of E-T-C.

He sent me a link to a BBC video clip, showing the new 20 GPa nanotube fibers being created, an audio clip giving a short explanation of how it’s done and another audio clip explaining why these are suitable for body armor.

All three clips can be found here.

Thank you Akira!

(The picture thumbnail is a snapshot from the BBC Video clip – click on it for a slightly larger version)

04FEB2008 – Correction.  The best fiber strength was measured at 9 GPa, not 20 GPa as I (and others) initially reported.

More on 20 GPa carbon nanotubes…

More from Dr. Edwards about this development:

It has not been released in print yet because it is coming out in Science next week – just verbal so far. I can’t even get a copy of their presentation until next week.

The details are that they are making threads with 20 GPa but not consistently – 25% of the time or about that. It is also part of a very steady, consistent increase that they have had in their material over the last 4 years. Their process is one where the CNTs are grown in a furnace without a substrate and pulled out on a spool from the bottom.

And the MIT-DeltaX team has this to say about it on their blog:

Recently, Dr. Alan Windle at the University of Cambridge announced the development of 20 GPa yarns derived from nanotubes. These materials are produced from nanotube yarns and contain graphitic hyperfilaments composed of nanotubes, which exhibit strengths comparable to an individual nanotube but over macroscopic length scales.

We have been working on the production of these materials for some time now as well. Independently our team had developed the same processing technique Dr. Windle is using, but with our own twist.  But we are not only producing yarns, but also ribbons. More on this soon…

Exciting times, to be sure.

Incidentally, I’ve updated the link to the DeltaX website on this blog’s sidebar…

04FEB2008 – Correction.  The best fiber strength was measured at 9 GPa, not 20 GPa as I (and others) initially reported.

Breaking news…

I have been corresponding with Dr. Brad Edwards who attended the recent EuroSpaceward “Space Elevator Climber and Tether Workshop”.  He sent me the following news (and I quote):

“The conference in Luxembourg went very well – including an announcement by Cambridge of 20 GPa CNT threads.”

This rocks, of course, and I am working on getting additional details.  There is nothing yet about this on the Cambridge website, but I’m assuming there will be soon.

Stay tuned…

04FEB2008 – Correction.  The best fiber strength was measured at 9 GPa, not 20 GPa as I (and others) initially reported.

2007 Space Elevator Games – (Entry 52)

Tether torture…

The Tether competition is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, at 5:00pm.  That time is subject to change (visit for the latest details).  We have only two competitors this year, last year’s champion (Astroaraneae) and a newcomer to this event, MIT (yes, THE MIT).  Astroaranaea is not saying what kind of tether they’re bringing this year, but I’m sure it’s going to be better than last years. And that tether was good enough to beat everyone else who had entered. It was even stronger than the house tether, but it wasn’t 50% stronger (as the rules stipulate), so it wasn’t eligible for the NASA Award.  MIT is said to be bringing a carbon nanotube-based tether.  This will be very interesting to see.  From a very recent article in;

Stephen Steiner, who leads one of the entries, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says he is taking an academic attitude to the games. The MIT tether is the first ever entry to be made entirely of carbon nanotubes — touted as the most promising material to make a rope strong and light enough to reach space. “We know that our materials cannot win this year,” he says, but predicts that by 2010 carbon nanotube fibres will be up to the job.

I hope he’s right.  There are so many companies and governments pouring money into this type of research, one would expect the state of the art to be advancing very rapidly.

The competition will be run similarly to last year.  Two tethers will be mounted on a “tether torture rack”.  Pressure is applied slowly and evenly to each tether.  They are stretched and stretched and stretched until one breaks.  That one is the loser.  The winner goes up against the “house tether”, made from Commercial, Off-The-Shelf (COTS) materials.  The house tether will weigh 50% more than the competition tether (3 grams vs. 2 grams).  Then the same torture test will be applied.  If the house tether breaks first, we have a winner; a winner that will receive $500K from NASA.

Last year’s tether machine was horizontal.  It had some problems (see my post from last year on this subject).  The machine has been redesigned and is now vertical in nature.  The thumbnail on the left shows a front view of the machine while the one on the right shows a side view of the machine.



This thumbnail demonstrates a kind of “macro-view” of what a carbon nanotube tether could look like.  The individual fibers would be held together by some sort of adhesive horizontal band.  For a real tether, of course, the fibers would be bound (or woven, or perhaps both) tightly together.




This thumbnail is of a sign that is posted at the tether exhibit, hosted in the middle of “Climber Row” (Building 2).  Other items in this exhibit include the “tether torture rack”, the demonstration ribbon and some other tethe-related items.




(As always, click on the thumbnails to view a larger version of the picture)

Another way to skin the cat?

In last year’s Space Elevator Games Climber / Power-Beaming event, the University of Michigan’s MClimber achieved the distinction of being the first Climber to make it to the top of a competition ribbon.  They are entered again this year, but have been very quiet about what they are going to do (psst – there are no Climbers entered from Appalachian State, so it’s safe 🙂 )

In this article, Engineers from the University of Michigan have come up with this “By mimicking a brick-and-mortar molecular structure found in seashells, University of Michigan researchers created a composite plastic that’s as strong as steel but lighter and transparent.”

The traditional understanding of how carbon nanotubes will be used to construct the Elevator is by weaving or bonding ultra-long fibers together (at least that’s my understanding).  This approach from the U of M is different and may present an alternative way of creating a tether.  Yes, I know, there are issues with doing it this way.  But this is “rev 1” of this approach and it may turn out to have some promise.

And if it does, next year we may see a University of Michigan entrant into both the Climber / Power Beaming event and the Tether event.  Here’s hoping…

Space Elevator video as news item

I found this on the RooTV Australia website.  It’s a short clip discussing the concept of a Space Elevator.  It’s undated, but recent I think.  The most interesting item on the clip was the mention of creating carbon nanotube fibers “just over 3 miles long”.

And sorry, but you have to view the Levitra commercial up front – fortunately, the fast forward button lets you get through it quickly 🙂

Close(r), but no cigar…

When I first read this article, my thoughts were “Wow!  Has the ribbon problem finally been solved?”  The specific line that made me think this was;

“Now, a research team from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has assembled particles of graphene oxide, a form of graphite and a cousin of diamonds, into very thin sheets that ARE EVEN STRONGER THAN THOSE OF THE [CARBON] NANOTUBES.”  (emphasis mine)

But wait, how can this be?  I thought carbon nanotubes were theoretically the strongest material possible.

Then the article said;

“Laboratory tests showed that the grapheme paper was as strong as that made from carbon nanotubes…”

Wait.  First its “even stronger”, then its “as strong as”.  ???  I guess they’re picking and choosing what kind of carbon nanotubes to compare it with (and then changing that on the fly).

The accompanying abstract gave some real numbers to look at; the strength of this new graphene oxide paper is given as 32 GPa.  Very strong indeed, nearly 8 times as strong as steel, but, alas, not strong enough for an earth-based Space Elevator (130 GPa needed for a factor of two safety margin – Edwards).

Still, a very impressive accomplishment indeed.  If/once the water solubility issue is solved, this stuff will be used in all sorts of applications.  They could even make mail envelopes out of it; lets see the post office try and mangle those…

(Photo credit: Northwestern University.  Click on it or visit the articles to view a larger version)

Update July 29th – I’ve heard from a couple of people that not all GPa’s are the same, and that this stuff isn’t that strong at all.  Please note Tom Nugent’s comment on this post…

RussiaToday looks at Space Elevators

The first half of this 25 minute long YouTube video (originally from RussiaToday) is devoted to nanotechnology and Russia’s move into this field of research.  Just after the video’s 10 minute mark, the narrator talks about how carbon nanotubes might be used to build an earth-based Space Elevator.  He theorizes that the climbers might be powered via Solar Energy (rather than ground-based lasers) or that the cable itself might be able to conduct power for the climbers.


“Average Human Height now less than 100 Nanotubes”

A catchy blog posting title.  The author, Ravi Krishnamurthy, notes that since carbon nanotubes nearly two centimeters long can now be grown, stacking 100 of these would be taller than the average human height.  I guess that’s one way to measure progress.

Ravi’s blog posting is here and the original press release is here.

(Click on the thumbnail for a slightly larger version of the picture.  Photo credit: V. Shanov, M. Schulz, University of Cincinnati)

Newton and Van Der Waals force

I received this from Andy Price.  That Newton guy was one smart fellow…

“Jim Dempsey sends along this fabulous quote, which I have to share with you all:

‘I was looking at my old college physics  textbook, Alonso-Finn Fundamental University Physics Copyright 1967, I  Mechanics, and came across a quote, which when placed in today’s context of  Carbon Nanotubes in regards to Van Der Waals force is somewhat spooky.  Insight  from 300 years ago.’

The Parts of all homogeneal hard  Bodies which fully touch one another, stick together very strongly.  And for  explaining how this may be, some have invented hooked  Atoms….

I had rather infer from their  Cohesion, that their Particles attract one another by some Force, which in  immediate Contact is exceedingly strong, and reaches not far from the Particles  with any sensible Effect…. There are therefore Agents in Nature able to make  the Particles of Bodies stick together by very strong Attractions.  And it is the  business of experimental Philosophy to find them  out.

         Optiks, Book 3, Query 31 (1703),  Sir Isaac Newton”

Thanks Andy…

And, from several sources (including reader Eric Jaderlund), I received this related “good news” story about developments in the field of Carbon Nanotubes.

Thanks Eric…

Nanotechnology in Aerospace

Over at the Space Elevator Reference, Marc Boucher tells us about the Ninth Nanoforum Report on Nanotechnology in Aerospace, recently released by Nanoforum, a European nanotechnology network.

In chapter 4 of this extensive (150+ pages) of this report (chapter 4.7.1 to be exact), there is a brief mention of the concept of a Space Elevator, Dr. Bradley Edwards and the Space Elevator games.

This report can be downloaded for free once you register (again, for free) at the site.  You can download the entire report (which is interesting reading) or just chapter 4 if the Space Elevator mention is all you’re interested in.

Self-healing carbon nanotubes

This rocks!  According to this article, carbon nanotubes may have the capability to spontaneously repair themselves.

One of the major concerns about a carbon-nanotube space-elevator ribbon is, of course, the damage it will receive when deployed.  Meteors, atomic oxygen, radiation, salt water (at spaceport level), etc., all have the capability to wreak havoc with such a structure.

This article seems to indicate that there are some inherent properties of the material itself which would offset/mitigate these problems.

Carbon Nanotubes

Regular readers of this blog know that I have limited my postings (with very few exceptions) to those items which are directly related to the concept of a Space Elevator.  There are already enough other excellent blogs out there which touch on other “space-related issues” – we don’t need another one…

However, I’m going to branch out a bit, though, and begin covering carbon-nanotube news items that are, IMHO, space-elevator related.  I don’t think it’s a stretch; we’re not going to have a Space Elevator until carbon-nanotube technology gets to the point where we can build one.  News in this area is relevant to all of us who believe that a space elevator is a much more sane way to get out of earth’s gravity well.  LiftPort continues to tease us with their nanotube factory; the Federal government continues to fund Nanotube technology (more on this later) and nanotechnology, in general, shows up more and more in both news items and in actual applications.

I’m not going to post about nanotube or nanotechnology as it relates to medicine or global warming or anything that cannot be conceivably related to the development of a Space Elevator, unless, of course, I think it’s monumentally cool…

So, to begin with, here’s a site that has absolutely nothing directly to do with building a space elevator, but is monumentally cool and is worth a look by space elevator aficianados, nonetheless…