LaserMotive Qualification attempt

When LaserMotive attempted to qualify on the night of the 18th, they invited me out onto the Launch pad to view and video tape the proceedings.  When all was said and done, however, I couldn’t find the video I had taken of the proceedings.  After some hunting around, I concluded that I had just screwed up somehow and lost the video or had mistakenly hit the “off” switch or something…  However, a couple of days ago, I finished compiling a catalog of all the videos I had taken and, lo and behold, there it was – I had misfiled it into the wrong date subdirectory in my video collection of the Games.

As you all know, two laser-powered teams entered the Games this year, USST and LaserMotive.  The difference between the way the two set up was quite stark.  Bryan Laubscher, safety officer for the Games and all-around Space Elevator guy, put it very well; “USST brought a system.  LaserMotive brought a Lab.”  I’m not knocking or denigrating LaserMotive or their attempt in any way, but they had not spent enough time on the setup and takedown preparation that USST (and others) had done and, in the end, it contributed greatly to their failure to qualify for the prize.

The video I took of their attempt follows.  It shows the scene, at night, inside the LaserMotive “Lab” as they attempted to qualify.  For the 30 or so minutes prior to this, LaserMotive had been setting up their system.  When Jordin Kare, the LaserMotive Laser expert spoke the words “Lasers coming on”, I started taking the video.

There was a “cracking sound” and a cloud of smoke and, well, you can see the rest.



You can clearly see the laser beams as they are projected onto the mirror.

I don’t mind admitting that the smoke and the “cracking” sound scared the crap out of me.  It brought back a very unpleasant memory.  In a previous job, I was in charge of all Software Development at a company called InFlight Phone Corporation.  Saudia Airlines, the national airlines of Saudi Arabia, was a potential client of ours.  I had flown over there, with a couple of other people from our company, to do some flight testing and certification of our equipment on a 747.  There were two groups of us doing this.  This first was Honeywell and the Ball Antenna Group, testing and certifying a satellite antenna.  All went well for them.  The 747 returned to Jeddah airport, did a “touch-and-go” (if you haven’t experienced one of these in a 747, well, there are no words to describe it) and then climbed to 20,000 feet to test our equipment.  When they turned it on, I heard a “cracking noise” and blue smoke quickly filled the cabin.  This is NOT what you want to see in an airplane flying at 20,000 feet.  The pilots got the plane back to the airport and landed as quickly as possible.  Some engineers were waiting and immediately boarded the plane.  After a quick look in the cockpit, they concluded that the previous maintenance crew had left a wire hanging across the main and an auxiliary power bus.  This auxiliary power bus was what powered our equipment.  When they turned it on, it shorted out, causing the noise and smoke.  I knew enough Arabic to know most of the obscenities that the pilot and co-pilot were screaming at the maintenance crew as they left the aircraft.

One more LaserMotive video – this was taken while they were doing an alignment check of their lasers.



The first of the two pictures is of part of their system, indoors, while being worked on.  The second is of the Laser Safety goggles that LaserMotive gave me to wear while recording their work.  I put a 3×5 card behind the lens so that you can clearly see the “spec’s specs” 🙂

Their laser ran a 808 nanometers – you can see that the goggles are rated from between 804 and 830 nanometers and thus appropriate for their system.

As always, click on the thumbnail for a larger version of the pictures.

3 thoughts on “LaserMotive Qualification attempt

  1. Jordin Kare

    Thanks for the writeup. Actually, the crackle and smoke was from exactly the same cause as in your example — we’d left a static-protection shorting jumper on one of the laser assemblies.

    We knew we weren’t ready — our own fault, for failing to stick to our own planned timetable much earlier in the year, but not something we could have fixed any time later than, oh, July. (In our defense, this was our first year, vs. USST’s third) We came anyway, in hopes we could pull enough of the system together to make a run, but it was not to be…

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