Interview with Ben Shelef

Recently, I had an (email) conversation with Ben Shelef, co-founder of Spaceward and CEO of Elevator2010.  We discussed the recently completed Space Elevator Games and the ones scheduled for next year.

Q. In your opinion, what was the most significant accomplishment of the 2006 Games?

The most significant accomplishment was the scale of what happened – this was the first “real”, or full-form competition, and we had 12 teams arriving with real hardware, 2 from Europe, 3 from Canada, 7 from the US – we’ve got ourselves a Space Elevator competition now!  A few more teams were registered and couldn’t produce hardware in time – all in all we had 20 teams that tried.  This is a good base to building the 2007 games from.  Obviously this year USST was head and shoulders above everyone else, with their 2-seconds-too-slow climb, but I’m betting in 2007 we will see plenty of climbers zooming up at over 2 m/s.

Q. The biggest mistake made by entrants in the 2006 Tether competition, was, in hindsight, fairly obvious; trying to push the 2 meter minimum length requirement too far.  What, in your opinion, was the biggest mistake made by entrants in the 2006 Climber competition?

That would be maturity.  Several of the climbers had it in them to go 1m/s, but they were just not fully prepared, were debugging the system on the pad – one of our strongest pushes this year is to whip the teams into starting early, and keeping a constant pace.  We will require video evidence of a complete working system 1 month before the competition so they can spend the next remaining time fine-tuning and putting a nice paint job on the climber. This is a concept we came up with this year, but were too late to enforce properly.  This year, it will be very high on our radar screen.

Q. What was your biggest regret about the 2006 Games?

None really.  All you have to do is step outside of the day-to-day activities and look back – we’ve covered a huge amount of ground, and have a path forward that is both exciting and feasible – We couldn’t have asked for more.

Q. What are your thoughts on how well the “Games partnership” worked with XPrizeCup this year?

It was a good call for both of us to do this together.  We complement each other, and it worked out fine for both of us.

Q. I know it’s early, but do you have any preferences on working with XPrizeCup for the 2007 games?

We’re already talking about this, but won’t know for sure for a couple of months.

Q. What are the most significant changes in this year’s Climber (Power Beaming) competition rules?

Other than the increased difficulty, it’s mostly about instilling process in both the teams (see the list of deliverables) and pad operations. We need to increase the level of technical maturity of the climbers, since it is clear now that plenty of people have ideas about how to build the power beaming part, but are failing at the nuts-and-bolts level.  We also have to build a more complicated anchor point to deal with the effects of wind on the climbers.  In space, there is no wind, so we have to provide a more protective environment for the climbers.

Q. What are the most significant changes in this year’s Tether competition rules?

Very little, actually.  We have a slightly more clever way of rating a tether’s performance (best of its losing point and all of its winning points) and so now can have 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.

Q. How did the idea for a Climber “newbie” event come about?

We actually had “limited” registration this year.  Experience obviously counts, and the 2006 format seems feasible as a first shot (e.g. TurboCrawler, MClimber, and of course – Kansas City).

Q. With the Prize money now up to $500,000 for a single winner, do you expect to see more significant corporate sponsorship in the 2007 Games?

We’d better….   we’re working on it.

Q. Do you think we have a realistic chance of seeing any entrants in the 2007 Tether competition that employ carbon nanotubes in their tethers?

Yes, and you can quote me on that.

Thank you Ben.

One other note; Elevator2010 is publishing the comments submitted to them on the 2007 Rulebooks and their response.  You can find that here.

7 thoughts on “Interview with Ben Shelef

  1. Jasper Bouwmeester

    One of the most important changes that should be implemented are (extra) rules for the power source. Using Hollywood spotlights of 30kW to power a climber with 300W of mechanical power, in a range of 50m, isn´t any significant innovation at all. Microwaves, although nice to see, are impractical for a full scale SE, because of the low efficiency, environmental issues and the gigantic antenna sizes.
    What you should see is a laser which tracks the climber autonomously.

    My advice:
    either a minum wall-plug efficiency of for instance 5%
    or implementing the wall plug efficiency in the rating
    and giving credits for level of autonomy.

    If these kind of rules are not implemented, the competition next year will be; who brings the most powerful spotlights?

    The SE games of this year were picked up by the media as a farce. I´ll leave it open if that was due to organisational flaws or immature designs, but it damaged the believe in the space elevator concept. The organisation now has a great opportunity to make the SE2007 games a proffesional one!

  2. Tony Rusi

    I didn’t have the money to travel to New Mexico so I watched it on the Internet. I hope next year you schedule the tether competition early enough to be on TV. The coverage also seemed to be skewed to US teams with High Schoolers on them. Next year I hope you cover everyone, even if they are from Canada!

  3. Ted Semon

    Jasper, I must disagree with your assessment “The SE games of this year were picked up by the media as a farce.” I think I’ve read all of the coverage and, while there were a couple of articles critical of certain aspects, no one called them a farce.

    Tony – I think it depends on which news outlets. Yes the American ones (myself excepted) tended to emphasize the American entries. The Canadian outlets emphasized the Canadian entries. I tried to cover everyone and think (hope) I succeeded.

  4. Ted Semon

    One correction I should make to my comment, I should have said “I’ve read all of the English coverage I could find on the Internet, and couldn’t find any articles that called these games a farce.” If there were some such articles in Dutch or Spanish or Chinese, etc., I’m sure I missed them…

  5. Jasper

    >Jasper, I must disagree with your assessment “The SE games >of this year were picked up by the media as a farce.” I think I’ve >read all of the coverage and, while there were a couple of >articles critical of certain aspects, no one called them a farce.

    Ted, I must disagree with you. I was talking about the rules, and jus left a side note about the media. Strange that nobody talks about the power source but me. From my point of view, my criticism is of a constructional type, since I tried to give sollutions and advice how to do it better next year. Maybe the word ‘farce’ is a little bit strong, but I’d rather see some discussion on the rules than symantics.

  6. James

    Jasper: as an “almost” competitor, I had intended to use an infrared laser with automatic focusing and automated tracking. I could not come close to getting it ready in time (everything is still in parts bins.) Spaceward has always intended that lasers would be used but correctly predicted that it would take a few years before the competitors could have them functional. The USST team did have a laser for the competition but it was not working as desired – so they ended up using all available spot lights.

    There are two problems with incorporated beam efficiency. One problem is that the teams already have quite a few hurdles to contend with. Adding a tough efficiency requirement could knock everyone out at the beginning of the competition. If the teams improve considerably, Spaceward could add such a requirement for future games. The second problem is one of verification. Spaceward already has a lot to contend with in judging the entrants. How can they reliably determine the beam efficiency? Teams might try to “cheat” any measurement system and other teams could complain about the calculations. The best approach is to omit contentious topics that don’t prove or disprove the elevator concept. (Although an efficiient elevator IS everyone’s goal.)

    With the increased height of next year’s climb, it seems unlikely that anyone will have success with spotlights. It is also likely that most competitors will have to have automated tracking systems.

    Overall, I think that the stepwise approach that Spaceward is pursuing is working out well. The first games got some media coverage that attracted some more teams. This year’s media coverage will likely draw in more teams – with more funding(?)

    As to the “farce” comment – I understand what you meant. Some of the media coverage painted a picture of a disorganized confused bunch of geeks. (I should have been there!) I was a little troubled by some of the things I read. After taking time to let things sort out, I can see that things are not so bad after all. As Ben mentioned, the teams were mostly rushing to try out their machines – and they were not really polished versions. Also, there are several rule changes for next year that address most of the issues from this year.

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