The return of MClimber

The University of Michigan’s MClimber, an entrant into the 2006 Space Elevator Games – Power Beaming competition, had the distinction of being the first entrant to make it all the way to the top of the ~50m ribbon.  They were not able to do so in a prize-winning time, but it was an impressive showing nonetheless.  They intended to compete in the 2007 Games but due to various internal issues they could just not get ready in time.

However, they are raring to go in this year’s Games.  I asked their team captain, Andrew Lyjak, for his thoughts on the upcoming Games and received this reply:

Space Elevator Blog [SEB] What factors will be most important to you and the M Climber Team in deciding what power source you’ll be using in this year’s Games?
[MClimber] The MClimber team went through a very rigorous analysis of whether we wanted to proceed with a Microwave or a Laser power beaming system. As you may know, our initial plan was to go with a Microwave system, but due to a variety of factors we have instead proceeded with development of a Laser system. Some of the considerations that lead us to reach this decision were:

1)Team experience with Photovoltaic cells. While we have been using photovoltaic cells to power our climber for the past couple years, Microwave rectenna design was a new field to us. The price of development for similar rectenna and photovoltaic systems was calculated out to be a lot closer than we had originally anticipated and so we chose to stick with what we know, choosing a photovoltaic receiver array over development of a rectenna receiver.

2) Safety considerations: We are a student project, and so when our occupational safety department advised us to stay away from developing a microwave power beaming system, we listened. Lasers are not new to the U of M campus, which made it a lot easier for us to get the go ahead from the safety department for a laser system.

3) Cost: Originally we believed that a laser capable of producing the power that we needed was way beyond our budget, but now we believe that the cost of a laser system is something that we can afford, albeit with a lot of work. Subsequently we now have a full time business team to work with the engineering community and get our name out, and get some sponsors. Our business plan is modeled after the highly successful U of M solarcar team.

[SEB] Will the M Climber Team be attending the Photonics West show and will you be “interviewing” with TRUMPF for possible use of their equipment?
[MClimber] MClimber would like to attend the Photonics West show but does not have the budget at this time to afford the trip. Currently we have plans to talk to TRUMPF in a Detroit location.

[SEB] What are the M Climber Team’s goals for this year’s competition?
[MClimber] MClimber will be demonstrating a rugged climber system in 2008, capable of ascending and descending the 1km tether many times without risk of failure, and will be testing controls systems for the climber. We plan competing in 2009.

[SEB] And one more question.  After M Climber’s great showing in the 2006 competition, we missed you, very much, in the 2007 competition.  What happened – what caused you not to compete last year?
[MClimber] MClimber ran into prototyping issues in the summer, that spiraled out of our control and resulted in us losing too much time to consider competing in October.

Thanks Ted!

Andrew Lyjak
andrew.lyjak [at]
MClimber team lead

I look forward to their entry this year.  Their 2006 entry was compact, elegant and well-built.  I expect nothing less from this year.  And, as they’ve been down this road before (i.e., they are an experienced team), they will be someone to reckon with in the competition (either this year or next).