Mr. LaserMotive goes to Washington…

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

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

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

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

Space Elevator Visions

A few days ago, I linked to a YouTube video that featured Frank Chase, an artist out of Hilo, Hawaii.  This video featured Frank and several of the space elevator-related animations and drawings he has created.

I’ve now gotten in touch with Frank and he pointed me to a couple of his websites where more of his work can be seen.  The one which interests me the most, of course, is his “Space Elevator Visions” website – it has some very cool drawings and also some posters for sale – all of very high quality.

He also has another site, The Virtual Nautilus, with drawings “…established to showcase the Nautilus, as described by Jules Verne…”.

Check them out – I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

Announcing the Artsutanov and Pearson awards

The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) today announced the Artsutanov and Pearson awards; prizes intended to foster research into Space Elevator related topics.

The Press Release announcing these awards, sent out today, is copied below, in full:


The International Space Elevator Consortium Announces the Pearson and Artsutanov Space Elevator Prizes

Mountain View, Calif. (March 3, 2010) — The International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), an independent group designed to promote standards and foster research relating to the construction of an Elevator to Space, has announced its first annual set of prizes, named after the co-inventors of the modern-day concept of the Space Elevator, Jerome Pearson and Yuri Artsutanov.

Formed in 2008 by a coalition of leaders in the Space Elevator movement, ISEC has established these prizes to encourage research into Space Elevator related technologies and concepts to help further ISEC’s mission of promoting “the development, construction and operation of a space elevator as a revolutionary and efficient way to space for all humanity“.

Ted Semon, the president of ISEC states; “We are thrilled to be able to offer these awards, named after the co-inventors of the modern-day concept of the Space Elevator.  The Space Elevator, a ‘carbon railway’ to the solar system and beyond, is the right way to open up space to all humanity.  With research into carbon nanotubes proceeding at an ever-accelerating rate, we think that it is only a matter of a few years before the material necessary to build a space elevator will be available.  The time is now to begin serious planning for this most magnificent concept.

Each year, ISEC selects a focal theme for its activities.  For 2010, this theme is “Space Debris Mitigation“.  One of the major hurdles that must be overcome in order to successfully build and operate a Space Elevator is avoiding space debris and satellites in orbit.  While much research has been done on this topic, the goal for most existing research has been mitigating the problem of space debris in relation to satellites, the ISS, the Shuttle, etc.

The Pearson prize will be awarded for that paper which best addresses the topic of Space Debris Mitigation in relation to a Space Elevator and is open to all college undergraduate students currently enrolled in a two or four-year undergraduate curriculum.

The Artsutanov prize will be awarded for the best paper on any other Space Elevator-related topic and is open to everyone.

The winning paper of the Pearson prize will be awarded $1,500 while the winning paper of the Artsutanov prize will be awarded $2,500.  Both winners will be invited to the 2010 Space Elevator conference (held this coming August in Redmond, Washington) to present their papers.  Their papers will also be published in the ISEC Journal.  In addition to awarding the prize money, ISEC will pay for airfare and hotel accommodations for the prize-winners (maximum of one per paper if multiple authors).

Contest details can be found on the ISEC website (

For more details, please contact ISEC President Ted Semon (ted [at], Prize Chair Peter Swan (peter [at] or ISEC Technical Pillar Lead Ben Shelef (ben [at]

Headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., a leading technology center, the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) is a non-profit organization devoted to the research and construction of an Elevator to Space.  Founding members of ISEC include the Spaceward Foundation, the Space Elevator Reference, the Space Elevator Blog, EuroSpaceward and the Japan Space Elevator Association.   For more information please visit

Press Inquiries:

Ted Semon
ted [at]

Belinda Young
byoung [at]


A copy of the Press Release, in PDF format, can be found here.  I encourage all of you to send this to any email lists, websites, news organizations, etc. that you might have contact with.  The more we can spread the news of this competition, the better.

As the Press release states, details and ‘the fine print’ can be found on the ISEC website.  Come one, come all – do your research, send in your papers and maybe win some prize money and a trip to the Space Elevator Conference!

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

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

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

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

Hello Elevator Boys!

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

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


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

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

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

A new Space Elevator traveler…

We now have a new fellow-traveler in Space Elevator-land; Captain Casual.  You can view his adventure (which he labels as Episode 1) below.



I think this has promise, but I’m not sure where the “700 miles of fullerene cable comes in” – a real space elevator would need to be about 60,000 miles long.  Maybe we’ll find out in a future episode.

You know, we need to come up with a moniker for these guys (the ones at Elevator2Space and now Captain Casual).

‘Elevatornauts’ doesn’t roll off the tongue.  Shortening it to ‘Vator-nauts’ sounds better but no one will know what you’re talking about.

‘Cable-nauts’ or ‘tether-nauts’?

As this is all comedy, maybe ‘Comic-nauts’ (like cosmonauts)?

If you have any suggestions, please send them in…

Centennial Challenges gathering…

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


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

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

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

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

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

For additional information about the Centennial Challenges, visit:

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

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

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

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

Lego Space Elevator climbers

There are several videos on YouTube of toy Space Elevator climbers made out of Legos – here are a few of them:







I believe that in an earlier post I had mentioned it was now actually possible to purchase a Space Elevator Lego Kit in Japan.  I wanted to see if I could get some information on them (and, perhaps have ISEC purchase a few so we could sponsor our own Lego competition), but I’ve had no luck.  The Lego corporations in various countries don’t seem to talk to each other and certainly aren’t interested in sharing information with anyone.  If someone who reads Japanese can visit the Japanese Lego site and find an email address for me to contact, I would be most grateful.

I think this catches us up on YouTube videos.  Tomorrow onto something else…

More YouTube videos…

And, continuing on my ‘YouTube theme’ from yesterday, here are a couple of more Space Elevator related videos that have been posted lately…

The first has been out a while, but I’ve searched back through my blog and can’t see where I posted it anywhere.  It shows Michio Kaku and Brad Edwards both talking about the Space Elevator – it’s short on details though, almost like this video is a shortened version of a longer one floating around out there somewhere…



And then we have the latest episode of our four intrepid explorers…



Watch all of their episodes here.

More videos tomorrow…

YouTube videos…

Several new Space-elevator related videos have been posted on YouTube lately.

This first one is pretty cool.  Artist Frank Chase talks about the Space Elevator and shows a number of original (I think) concept drawings – some of them are very cool and very elaborate.  I’ll have to see if this guy is interested in doing a poster for ISEC…



Here is a Japanese animation ‘advertising’ (I think) the concept of a Space Elevator.



And finally, yes, we are a pattern-seeking species, but that can certainly be carried too far – witness Exhibit A…



More tomorrow…

Updates from LaserMotive

LaserMotive has posted several updates at their blog recently and I’ve been remiss in not linking to them.

In this first post, LaserMotive welcomes a new resource, someone actually assigned to update their blog (I’m jealous).  Check out the post and welcome to Brian Beckley!

In the second post (Brian’s first), we get more details about the last-night weight loss that the LaserMotive Climber went through to try and win Level 2 of the Power-Beaming / Climber prize – a cool $1.1 Million.  With at least a portion of the Level 1 prize, $900,000, already assured, team LaserMotive could afford to go for (not) broke and trim everything they could off of their climber.  Read all of the details of the “Otis diet” here

Finally,  we begin to see some of the fruits of the $900,000 won in the competition. Tom Nugent and Dave Bashford have now become full-time employees of LaserMotive.  Read all of the details here.

These guys are bright and they are motivated, and now they are funded.  I’m sure we’re going to see some really good results coming from them soon.

Congratulations again to Team LaserMotive!

More from the KC Space Pirates…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will update you if things change.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

And that’s where we’re at…

Why the Space Elevator’s Center of Mass is not at GEO

So I’m working on the ISEC Press Kit.  We’re getting ready to announce our Pearson and Artsutanov prizes next week and I’m thinking (hoping) that we’ll get some flurry of activity at the ISEC web site.  We want to have some documents on the website readily available to the Press so that when they report about us, they have a fighting chance to get the basic facts straight.

One of my own misconceptions about the Space Elevator was that center of mass would have to be at Geosynchronous orbit (actually a bit above it as we want to have a net upward force on the ribbon so that attaching an Elevator Car to it would not cause the system to fall down).  However, it appears that we need to have the center of mass of the system above GEO even during deployment because “the increase in gravity for the low mass is greater than the decrease for the high mass“.  When you think about it, that makes perfect sense.

I took this quote from Blaise Gassend’s most excellent summary of this issue which you can find here.

And my thanks to Ben Shelef (CEO of the Spaceward Foundation – organizers of the Space Elevator Games) for pointing out my error and also this website.

Now, if I could just make sense of that pesky Coriolis effect thingy…

Boredom sets in…

I do think our intrepid explorers are getting bored on the elevator, as is seen in the two latest episodes:





Watch all of the episodes here

You know, I wonder when they’re going to get somewhere (like a space station or the end of the tether or something like that)…

Space Debris Mitigation

In the Strategic Plan I presented to the ISEC Board during our January 6th meeting, one of my proposals was to choose a common Space-elevator related theme for all of ISEC’s activities.  Each year we would choose a different theme and revolve the following activities around it;

ISEC Technical Study – Each year ISEC will produce a peer-reviewed paper on the year’s theme.

ISEC Academic Competition – Each year, ISEC will award two academic prizes for student papers created on Space Elevator related subject matter.  Undergraduate paper submissions must be on this year’s theme (and yes, this is an early announcement of our Academic Competition – watch this space for more details – coming very soon).

ISEC Library – Each year, ISEC will populate the Space Elevator Wiki with subject matter on this year’s theme.

ISEC Journal – Each year, ISEC will produce a Journal of Space Elevator related articles, centered around this year’s theme.

The theme we have chosen this year is Space Debris Mitigation – what can we do to guarantee the safety of the Space Elevator despite all the stuff which is now orbiting the earth.  As has been pointed out ad nauseum, everything that is in orbit around the earth will, sooner or later, intersect the path of the Space Elevator.  We must have a solution (probably multiple solutions) to this problem.

The ISEC Technical Study will be on this topic.  The study team is headed up by our own Dr. Peter Swan, Ph.D., a long-time expert in this field.

To be eligible for the ISEC Academic award, papers submitted by undergraduates must be on this topic (graduate student submissions may be on any space-elevator related topic).

We have pulled together a team of four people who are now working on building up a database / library of information / papers on this year’s theme and will be updating the Space Elevator Wiki with it.

Our first ISEC Journal (estimated distribution date of Dec 1) will revolve around this theme, though additional space-elevator related topics will also be considered for inclusion.  Note that if you are a member of ISEC, you will get this Journal for free, as part of your membership benefits.

Finally, we are going to be encouraging additional papers on this theme to be presented at this year’s Space Elevator Conferences in the US, Europe and Japan.

So, stay tuned, join ISEC and help us make the Space Elevator a reality!

(Picture of orbital debris from here)

The latest from the Kansas City Space Pirates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Turner

And we’re back…

After a long hiatus, it’s time to start posting Blog updates again.  We at ISEC have agreed upon our Strategic Plan for 2010 and I will be posting about our projects for this year in the next several days.

But other Space Elevator-related things are now starting to happen, too, and I’ll be blogging about them also…

Stay tuned!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone and yes, there has been a dearth of posts lately.  Nothing’s wrong, nothing’s missing, nothing’s changed – just not a lot going on right now and everyone is busy with the holidays.

2009 was a heck of a year for the Space Elevator effort – highlighted by the fantastic success at the November Space Elevator Games (where $900,000 in NASA Prize money was won by LaserMotive) and ISEC getting it’s ‘sea legs’ and beginning to take an active role in unifying and shaping activities directed towards the development of a Space Elevator.  We also saw another carbon nanotube tether entered in the Spaceward/NASA’s Strong Tether Challenge, two sets of space elevator games run by the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA), conferences in the USA (by SESI & Microsoft), Europe (by EuroSpaceward) and Japan (by JSEA) and the publishing of the latest definitive word on the strength needed in a tether that could actually be used to construct a Space Elevator.

As cool as all that is/was, 2010 is shaping up to be an even more dynamic year for us.  As President of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), I’ve created a strategic plan for our organization and have submitted it to the Board of Directors for review and approval.  Once it is approved, it will be posted on the ISEC website.  We have some really exciting activities planned for this year.  If you aren’t already on the ISEC email list, I strongly encourage you to sign up.  It’s free and will guarantee that you’ll be among the first to know of our planned and happening activities.

And, I would be remiss if I were not to make another pitch for you to join ISEC.  We have lots of things that we want to do – how successful we’ll be will greatly depend on our level of funding.  You can help us help get a Space Elevator built – all of your donations will go directly towards Space Elevator development activities.

Finally, I want to re-post the very, very, very cool video (set to Carmina Burana) that Ben Shelef (CEO of the Spaceward Foundation – organizers of the Space Elevator Games) made summarizing the recently held Climber / Power-Beaming competition.



Stay tuned!

Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 92 birthday…

If he was still with us, Sir Arthur C. Clarke would have been 92 today, December 16th.  I assume that most readers of this blog know who Sir Clarke is, but, if by some chance you’re not, then you’re missing a treat.  Sir Clarke was one of the most prolific and one of the very best SciFi authors we have ever had the good fortune to enjoy.

His novel The Fountains of Paradise was the book that inspired me and many others to dream about a Space Elevator – and now many of us are working towards making that dream a reality through the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).

The Planetary society recently had a program celebrating their own Planetary Radio’s 7th anniversary.  The bulk of the show was replaying a March, 2003 interview they had with Sir Clarke shortly after they began broadcasting.  This is a fascinating interview and well worth your time…  One of the items from the interview that I found very interesting was Sir Clarke’s revelation about how at lunch one day with JR Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame), Mr. Tolkien revealed to him how he came up with the idea of the “Hobbits” – funny stuff…

They also briefly discuss the Space Elevator and The Fountains of Paradise.

Incidentally, the host of the Planetary Society’s Radio Show, Mat Kaplan, shows that he’s always had ‘the touch’ when it comes to conducting interviews – Mat, you’re the best…

This YouTube Video is of Sir Clarke talking about the Space Elevator.

I was just able to locate the vinyl record of “Selected Readings” of The Fountains of Paradise that is shown and referenced in this video.  I’ve been looking for it for over a year – I love ebay…

The three photographs of Sir Clarke I’ve included in this post have been, in previous posts of mine about Sir Clarke, but for new readers they should prove interesting.  The first picture is of Yuri Artsutanov (on the left), one of the modern day ‘fathers’ of the concept of the Space Elevator, and Sir Clarke.  It is undated and I found it online (and, alas, the original location of it no longer exists so I can’t reference it or give credit to anyone for it).  The second is also a picture of Mr. Artsutanov and Sir Clarke from 1980 (the other “modern father” of the Space Elevator, Jerome Pearson, kindly emailed it to me).  The third picture is of Soviet (yes, at the time it was “Soviet”) cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and Sir Clarke at Sir Clarke’s 90th Birthday party.  I found this picture on Thilna Heenatigala’s blog.

Listen to the Planetary radio interview with Sir Clarke, watch the YouTube interview with Sir Clarke and, if you haven’t read The Fountains of Paradise, do yourself a favor and find it and read it – you’ll be glad you did.

Happy birthday Sir Clarke – we miss you and your boundless optimism for the future.  Someday we will make a Space Elevator and, if there’s any justice, it will be named the “Clarke Elevator”…

(Click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture)

My presentation at the 2009 EuroSpaceward Conference

My presentation at the EuroSpaceward conference seemed to be fairly well received (at least I wasn’t booed off the stage).  But then again, everyone was in a hurry to get lunch… 🙂

Anyway, here is a link to my presentation.  It consists of my opinion on the “State of ISEC”.  Part of me is discouraged that we haven’t done more, but the bigger part of me is very happy that we are up and functioning, that we have lasted more than a year, that we have some projects up and running and that we are (slowly) accumulating members.

If you are reading this and wondering what you can do to help the Space Elevator effort, I ask you to join ISEC.  Your membership fees & donations will go DIRECTLY towards space elevator related activities.  Much of the membership fees we collected this past year went to sponsor the Space Elevator Games, the ‘signature event’ in the field.  Our next major goal is to get these academic competitions up and running.  We are very fortunate to have the two modern “fathers” of the Space Elevator, Yuri Artsutanov and Jerome Pearson agree to have our academic prizes named after them.  We have a team of physicists and engineers ready to review the academic submissions.  As President of ISEC I have submitted our first Strategic Plan to the Board of Directors of ISEC and, once it’s approved, I’ll publish here (or on the ISEC website).

What we need now are funds to complete this task.  Please join us and help us make the Space Elevator a reality.

More YouTube videos

This video is from the recently completed Space Elevator Games.  It shows what ‘went wrong’ with a Climber pick-up before the problems were fixed and then it ‘went right’.  Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates, is narrating.



And one more Space Elevator-themed video.  I think I posted an earlier version of this, but this is the ‘final version’…



In general, this video has it’s facts correct with a few exceptions.

The main advantage of a Space Elevator is it’s scalability (i.e. it’s ability to scale up to carry huge amounts of material into space), not it’s relatively lower cost/kilogram to get something into orbit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  With a Space Elevator (and only with a Space Elevator), you can lift the enormous quantities of material you need to colonize the moon or mars or establish a significant amount of space solar power.

Scalability people, think scalability.  The video is correct in comparing the Space Elevator to the intercontinental railway for that’s what a Space Elevator is – a carbon railway to space.

Another mistake in the video is at the end when he is fancifully showing space elevators begin stationed near Spain or Japan.  While it’s possible to build a Space Elevator in those areas, the many problems which will occur (and have been described in the Edwards-Westling book) will almost certainly preclude it.

And finally, I must disagree with a third point of the video – that whoever builds the first Space Elevator will control access to space.  Even if the United States (or Russia or the ESA, etc.) does not build the first one, they have the resources to build one later on.  Certainly whoever builds one first will own a huge commercial advantage, but only until that second elevator is up and running.

It might sound like I’m dissing this video – I’m not.  It’s well done and has most of its facts correct.  But we need to have all of our facts correct if we’re going to convince someone that this is an idea worth doing…

Space Elevator Miscellany…

With the recent effort surrounding the Space Elevator Games and the EuroSpaceward Conference, I’ve neglected some Space Elevator related items which have been piling up in my RSS Reader.  And so…

A YouTube clip from a CNN-Chile newscast states that NASA wants to build a Space Elevator (at least that’s what it says when I plug in the caption into Yahoo Babel Fish).  Also, I clearly hear the announcer say “Microsoft” during her report.  I don’t know if she’s talking about the recent Space Elevator conference at the Microsoft Center or somehow she thinks that Microsoft is going to build a Space Elevator.

(See update at the bottom of this blog post)…



And in this clip (from the Science Channel no less), it says that “NASA is holding a contest to see who can come up with the best plans for building a “space elevator”.  I wish that were true.  The Space Elevator Games piggyback upon NASA’s desire for power-beaming and strong-tethers – they have no avowed interest in building a Space Elevator (though the NASA people who I talked to at Dryden during the recent Space Elevator Games thought it was a cool idea).  The clip also says that the trip to the top will take “3 months”.  I don’t know where they got that figure.  Even a ride to the end of the tether (100,000 km) would, at 200 mph (320 km/hour) take about 13 days.  Add some time in for slowing down during start-up and at the end and maybe a stop/transit at the GEO space station and you still have well less than 1 month to the top.  And, the story says that passengers could be “struck by meteroids”…  Oh my.  They finalize the clip by repeating the lame joke about “Elevator music”.  Oh well, at least it IS the Science Channel…



And then we have a new Space Elevator cartoon – this one from the strange mind of Andy Carolan.  Having LaserMotive win that $900K at the recent Space Elevator Games has given the whole effort a new burst of publicity…

I think it’s “Alien” that’s coming out of the Space Elevator, but I’m not sure… 🙂

I’ve yet to view the new Star Trek adventure, the one with the Space Elevator in it, but thanks to this Spanish language publication talking about Space Elevators in general and the recent Space Elevator Games in particular, now at least I have a ‘screen-shot’ of what it looked like in the movie.  I rented it today from redbox and will watch it tonight (I know, I’m so far behind).

All for now…

(Dec 14, 2009 Update – In the Comments, reader J.D. Muriel provides a translation of the Chilean broadcast.  It’s odd (‘surprising’ in J.D.’s terminology) to say the least…  Microsoft is not sponsoring a Space Elevator, but the Space Elevator conference.  And, as far as I’m aware of, there is no “Japanese-Russian alliance” that is working on this project.  I think they read this article and misinterpreted it.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’d love it if the Japanese and Russians decided to do this.  I’ve heard rumors that the Japanese are supposedly working on some sort of ‘secret’ carbon nanotube initiative and the Russians have as much (maybe more) experience working in space as does US-NASA.  But I just don’t think it’s happening.  Please prove me wrong 🙂

Thanks J.D. Muriel!)

“Humanity is the Spinoff”

If you are like me and believe that humanity MUST get into space; to live, to explore, to declare our right to be an ongoing part of the Universe, then you’ll enjoy this video from Space Task Force.

“Is it me, or does it seem crazy, that even today, we have to justify sending people into space? The so-called “spinoff” argument. As we continue our series, Space 2010, we look at the most important spinoff of all — ourselves.”

As far as I know, it’s not on YouTube, so you’ll have to go to the Space Task Force site (or use my link, above, which does directly link to their video) to view/download it.

Updates from the Kansas City Space Pirates

A few weeks ago, Brian Turner (captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates – KCSP) sent out this email to his mailing list.  This email, detailing “What Went Right”, is a follow-up to his “What Went Wrong” email I posted here.

In my last email I talked about what went wrong. In this one I will cover what went right. The glass is half full point of view. Sorry if I get a bit technical. And I must point out that all numbers are estimates.


Keeping all the power of the laser on target is no small task. We were the only team with a fully functional and automatic tracking system. The performance was spectacular. We were able to keep the laser on target 99.99% of the time for the first 500 meters. That performance dropped to 99.7% or so from 500 to 700 meters. At that point the .3% was driving our motor controller and power tracking nuts. This was markedly better than the manual tracking that the other teams were using. USST’s automated systems were down. Probably because of the same radio interference issues that we were suffering from. LaserMotive was using manual tracking that utilized 2 expert video game players with lots and lots of practice. Some time ago I had estimated that the cable would not be as stable as it was and that manual tracking was at the edges of human ability. So I was wrong in that the cable was really very docile. But I was right in that it is at the edge of human ability as Lasermotive was only able to keep it on target about 93% of the time from what I could see in our tracking camera. We do still have room for improvement here and I already know ways to make it better. I will be talking to National Instruments about a bigger and faster FPGA processor in our Compact Rio so we can improve the tracking even further.


All three of the top teams did well in creating a competitive optics system. One that could handle the power while directing it quickly and accurately. This was however a major stumbling block for the teams that did not qualify. I would like to thank Thor Labs for providing the bulk of the high quality components needed to pull this off.


Our climber was 1.2 Kg with payload vs 8.8 for USST and 5.4? for Lasermotive. We were less than 1/4 the weight of our nearest competitor. The climber was also simpler. We were the only team willing to run without added structure to save the climber from damage from landing mishaps. I suspect that we will be seeing lighter climbers from the other teams in the next round.

Power Transfer:

We had a peak power transfer of 190 watts. For our lightweight climber that is enough to do 5 m/s. In our field testing we had power conversion of more than 200 watts at the full Km distance. LaserMotive had a peak of 1000 watts in the competition. USST was boasting 1200 watts at 800 meters in their testing. This puts us at just under 1/5 the power levels of our competitors. What is impressive is that we are in the hunt with them using only 1/5th the power. The reason for this disparity is the cost of the solar panels. USST commented that their panel cost $120,000. That exceeds our entire cash budget. We do get over that number counting Sponsors like TRUMPF, but clearly our competitors are much better funded than us. LaserMotive is using experimental cells that have no price on them. I would estimate that they are around $60,000 in value because they are less exotic than USST’s cells. Our cells cost less than $4000 per climber. I think this illustrates that no team does more with a watt or a buck than we do.


Although we can probably eek out a 5 m/s run with our current system we clearly can’t be competitive with the power levels of the other teams using our current PV(solar) panels. We also crossed the finish line running well into the red on our finances. Although I have seen a few ideas that might have potential, I have to assume that there are no silver bullets to give us $75,000 PV panel performance from $4,000 panels.

What’s Next:

I had “The Talk” with my wife and she pointed out that the basement is full of this stuff, either sell it or use it. With the usual provisions about not losing any major items the house or cars. I really love how understanding she is. So now I need to talk with the team and work out details with them. Then I need to switch to fund raiser mode and raise enough to buy and build the PV panel that we need to be competitive.

So if anyone knows a company that would like to sponsor a high profile, underdog, high tech team, be sure and let me know.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

Let’s hope they succeed in their funding efforts.  I expect they will and further expect to see them at the next round of competition (May, 2010) ready and loaded for bear…

Carmina Burana and the Space Elevator

Here is the latest video from Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation – organizers of the Space Elevator Games.

He explains it in his latest post on the official site of the Space Elevator Games.  He says, in part:

The video clip tries to capture the scope of the project, and is dedicated to everyone who helped make it happen.

This clip was officially unveiled at the just-completed EuroSpaceward conference in Luxembourg.


A very special “Elevator to Space”

It’s good to see that our intrepid explorers can talk through these issues and help each other out when the need arises…



I identified with this webisode as I’ve often been the guilty party when my wife has yelled out “Hey, who ate all the ice cream?”  I’ve also tried the Astronaut Ice Cream, having purchased some at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Gift Shop (yes, there really is one there and they have some cool stuff for sale) during the Space Elevator Games tests and competition.  I wasn’t expecting much, but they’re actually edible.  I should have refrigerated them before eating though – then I think they would have tasted more like ice cream.

And I should mention that this episode 19 in the Elevator to Space series.  I’m glad to see that these guys aren’t winding down and continue to entertain us with their humor.

Visit their website to view all of the webisodes – thanks guys – I’m always very happy when my RSS reader tells me you have a new webisode up…


Over the past few months, I have received several emails detailing different ideas for Space Elevators, or Space Elevator translations, or general questions about Space Elevators, etc.

I’m very sorry I haven’t responded to most of them – these last few months have been very busy for me and for ISEC.  Now that the EuroSpaceward conference is completed and another project I’ve been working on will take a break starting next week, I’ll have some time to devote to these emails.

Thanks for understanding, and now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

EuroSpaceward conference comes to an end…

And so the 2009 EuroSpaceward conference comes to an end.  It was very interesting, highly informative and I’m very glad I came.  I learned a lot and, more importantly (IMHO), I was able to spend lots of time with Markus Klettner (heading up EuroSpaceward) and Shuichi Ohno (heading up the Japan Space Elevator Association).

We had several very constructive conversations about how to jointly move forward the international effort to build a Space Elevator.  This goal is the reason why the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) was founded and I think it is fair to say that the ideas we had and agreements the three of us made will significantly move this idea forward.

Over the next few weeks, we will finalize and formalize these agreements and then use them to jointly move forward.  I think it will be exciting times for ISEC and the Space Elevator Community as a whole.

So let me end this post with a plea – if you are interested in helping efforts to build a Space Elevator, please consider joining ISEC.  Now more than ever, we need your donations & membership fees to put the aggressive plans we have made into action.  More than ever, we have an enthusiastic core to push our ideas forward – come join us to help make this exciting project a reality.

We need you – come and join us – the water is fine!

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference – Day 1 (5)

And now for something completely different…

At last year’s EuroSpaceward Conference, Aage-Raymond Riise, ESA-ESOC (Germany) brought a demonstration of a”Longitudinal wave climber”, demonstrating how a climber could be made to go up and down a tether purely through the use of vibrating it at the proper frequency (I had blogged about it here).  At the 2008 Conference, Aage used a belt sander to vibrate the wooden tether to produce the necessary frequency.

He was back at this year’s conference with a new, improved model and I’ve included some photos (and another YouTube video) of the climb.

Rather than use a belt sander to induce the longitudinal waves in the tether (as he did last year), Aage this year used modified speakers.  This first picture shows one of the speakers (there were two), modified with a little tripold that transmitted the vibrations to the tether.

This second picture shows the overall view of the setup.  There were two poles, supported at the floor and ceiling.  The two speakers were mounted on the poles, one above the wooden tether and one below.  The tether was directly attached to the speakers so that when they “played”, the tether would vibrate.  If I understood Aage’s presentation correctly, he said that the speaker on top was controlled so that it was 180 degrees out of phase with the one on the bottom, thus creating a sawtooth wave that could be used to control the climber (if I’ve got this wrong, I’m sure I’ll be corrected and then I’ll update this post).

The last picture shows the ‘climber’ itself, attached to the tether.  The amount of force used to hold this climber to the tether was a very tricky adjustment.  They tried to make it work numerous times, adjusting the screws holding the climber clamps after each run.  They finally did get it to work and this is shown in the YouTube video, below:


2009 EuroSpaceward Conference – Day 1 (4)

At the 2008 Space Elevator Conference, a large contingent from the then newly-formed Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) showed up.  They blew us away with how much they had accomplished in so little time and wowed us with videos, TV-show recordings and Anime from Japan – all showing how well-accepted the idea of a Space Elevator (aka the “Space Train”) is in Japan.

At this year’s EuroSpaceward conference, the Japanese are again here in force and are, again, wowing all of us with how successful they have been.  This past year, they have run two Space Elevator competitions (JSETEC and LASER ’09) and next week will be hosting their second conference (in Japanese only – no translators this year).  Shuichi Ohno, the President of JSEA gave a presentation about what JSEA has been doing this year and brought with him a sample climber made out of LEGO’s.  You can actually buy a Space Elevator LEGO kit in Japan now from JSEA – now THAT’s organized).  I’ll have to see if we can do this in the US too – I can’t think of a better way to get children interested in the concept of a Space Elevator (except, perhaps, to have a Family Guy or South Park episode based on a Space Elevator – actually, that’s not a bad idea…).

They have also published a Space Elevator introductory pamphlet and Shuichi showed a video made summarizing JSEA and it’s activities and it was marvelously well done.  I’m working on getting permission to upload it to YouTube and then I can share it with all of you.

The first picture is of Shuichi while the second is of the LEGO Climber.

I’m very glad the Japanese are here, but they sure set the bar high…

(Again, click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture)

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference – Day 1 (3)

And, some pictures from the conference.  I’m not going to be posting pictures of everyone who spoke – that will be for later on the Space Elevator Blog photo album.  But there were a couple of note that I want to post now.

The first picture is of Dr. Jordin Kare, co-founder of the LaserMotive team that just won a cool $900K at the recently held Space Elevator Games at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.  He spoke about his team’s experiences in getting ready for the Games and their experience at the Games.  It’s always a pleasure to listen to an expert speak in his/her area of expertise and Jordin is a good guy.

One of the Games anecdotes he related was that, at the end of the first day and their team had just completed two successful climbs, one of the team members (Steve Beland) asked “Test” (Mike Kapitzke at the NASA Control group) if it was “OK to breathe”.  “Test” was in charge of all activities (and did a fantastic job) and so the request to “breathe” was jokingly asked, of course.  Without missing a beat, “Test” responded “Yes, but shallow breaths only”…

And, one other anecdote I want to relate about Jordin (and his wife Mary Kay – aka “Team mom”).  At Domingo’s restaurant where we all gathered Friday night to celebrate (I blogged about this here), I sat across the table from Jordin and Mary Kay.  Mary Kay had a drink waiting for Jordin when he arrived and Jordin looked at her and said “Dear, you are the light of my life“.  I then heard him mutter “Actually, the light of my life is 808 nanometers” (the wavelength of the LaserMotive laser)…

This next picture is of Dr. Martin Lades, team member (albeit long distance as he is now living in his native Germany) of the Kansas City Space Pirates.  Martin gave his perspective on the good and the bad of the KCSP performance and made the interesting comment that the only reason they didn’t climb the full kilometer is that they were not able to fully collimate (dial-in) their beam to that distance because they didn’t have sufficient time to do so (the Laser Clearing House had called a halt to testing the previous day).  If that’s true (and I have no reason to doubt that it is), then KCSP should have even more reason to be optimistic for the next Games – they were pretty close as it was.

This last picture in this post is of Andreas Hein, from the WARR Space Elevator team; out of the Technical University of Munich, Germany.  Andreas has been a regular at the conferences and he’s a typical Engineering guy.  Wednesday evening, several of us were at the bar discussing things in general and I happened to mention reading Michel van Pelt’s new book (I blogged about it here) and the concept of the Aerovator.  Andreas had not heard of this before and, after asking me a couple of questions about it, went silent.  When I looked at him a few minutes later, he was filling up a napkin with equations and “what ifs”, trying to understand how it worked.  I took pity on him and went back to my room and got the book for him.  I just hope he returns it before he leaves 🙂

The WARR team was the winning climber at the recently completed JSETEC games in Japan – they totally blew away the competition having a time which was nearly three times as fast as their nearest competitor.  I blogged about this before – including linking to a YouTube video of one of their climbs.

Andreas talked about this, which was very interesting, but later gave a second presentation which was, to me, even more interesting.  He made a brief financial case of how a Space Elevator could take over the satellite-to-GEO market.  This is exactly the kind of thing I have been looking for and I’m going to put Andreas together with the ISEC Business consultant (Ed Gray – are you listening?) and see if we can turn this into a formal proposal.

Good stuff all around…

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

2009 EuroSpaceward Conference – Day 1 (2)

While setting up this morning for the conference, I happened to walk outside the conference room and noticed that the clock on the wall was acting strange.  This video is not sped up or altered in any way…

When I looked closer, I saw that there was a legend on the bottom of the clock which read “radio controlled”.  Obviously something was FUBAR’d…

I pointed it out to the Hotel personnel helping us set up.  They tried to fix it, but failed and finally just turned off the radio control.  It is now permanently 4 03′ 54″ (am?  pm?) at the conference.

Talking at the beginning of the video is John Winter (from EuroSpaceward) and myself…

EuroSpaceward Conference – Day 1 – and we’re underway

The 3rd annual EuroSpaceward conference is now underway.  I’m fortunate to have wireless access (at USD 30.00 per day!) during the conference so can blog during the conference.

Space Elevators are a key part of this conference but by no means the only topic which will be discussed.

The first picture is of attendees filtering into the conference this morning.  We are in the Louis conference room of the local Novotel hotel.

The second picture is of Markus Klettner, Executive Director of EuroSpaceward, giving the opening Welcome address to the attendees.

My presentation (on ISEC and efforts to unify Space Elevator efforts worldwide) is at 12:30 this afternoon.  It’s just before lunch, so I think people will be hungry and eager to leave – maybe I won’t get too many questions 🙂

Stay tuned…

Holiday time in Luxembourg

Well, I’m finished judging the entries for the drawing contest and have given them to EuroSpaceward to get the certificates printed up and notify the winners.  My disguise is being delivered tomorrow morning – hopefully it will keep me out of trouble.

And, my presentation is actually finished.  Really and truly.  I’ve even been able to have time to send it off the rest of the Board Members of ISEC to get their comments.  Will wonders never cease…

So, I’m in Europe, in Luxembourg, and it’s the holiday season.  I have some free time and am told that the local “Christmas Market” is a great place to do Christmas shopping.  Also, I get a chance to walk around ‘old Europe’ and it’s always been a great pleasure of mine to do so.  I’ve done lots of walking in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Great Britain (England and Scotland) and especially the Netherlands.  I love it – it’s so different than where I live (a suburb of Chicago).  There the streets are straight and wide and (relatively) new.  You have to drive to get anywhere and the attempts to make a ‘town cente’ in the suburbs just don’t cut it.  Old Europe streets are narrow and paved in cobblestones.  You rarely can see what’s 50 yards in front of you as the streets twist in all directions – it makes walking anywhere seem like an adventure.  And town centers are vibrant with life, especially during the holiday season.

I’d been looking forward to walking around in the old part of the city in Luxembourg City and I was not disappointed.  I did get a good chunk of Christmas shopping done but, sadly, did not find anything for my wife.

I have a confession to make – I did not buy my wife a Christmas present last year.  She’s tremendously difficult to buy for and, when pressed as to what she wanted, she finally told me “A condo in Hawaii”.  I wasn’t able to come up with one last year, but did have faint hopes that I might find something while Christmas shopping today that could act as a substitute.  Alas, no…

I’ve included some pictures from today’s walking tour of Place D’Arms (the location of the Christmas market in the Luxembourg City Town Center).

The first picture might take a little explaining.  It’s an outdoor heater.  Several of these were located by the tables located in the middle of the Christmas market – tables where people ate and drank their Glühwein.  They were quite effective – I can attest to that.  Though there was no snow on the ground, it was damp and near freezing – the heaters were definitely welcomed by all who were there.  The third picture is a 4-tiered chocolate fountain – there are chocolate / confectionery stores everywhere.  The rest of the pictures are of the Christmas market.  I particularly like the last one – it really seems to capture the atmosphere I saw and felt tonight.

The conference starts tomorrow.  My internal clock is adjusting well and I should be fully functional, or at least coherent, by tomorrow morning.

Stay tuned!

(Click on any of the picture thumbnails to see a full-size version)

A new Brad Edwards interview

Sander Olson of the Next Big Future kindly emailed me to let me know that his recent interview with Dr. Brad Edwards has now been posted at their website.

Most interesting quote (IMHO) from the interview:

Small quantities of some nanotubes have been made that are sufficiently strong to be used in a space elevator. We would obviously need to produce hundreds of tons of such nanotubes to build a space elevator. With sufficient funding, we could create a nanotube-based material appropriate for a space elevator within a couple of years.

That certainly sounds overly-optimistic to me, but who am I to argue with Dr. Edwards?

Anyway, it’s always interesting to get the current thoughts of Dr. Edwards and I recommend that you check out the interview.

Space Tethers and Space Elevators

On the plane ride over to Luxembourg (I am attending and presenting at the EuroSpaceward Conference this coming weekend), I read Michel van Pelt’s new book; Space Tethers and Space Elevators.  Michel had kindly sent me a copy some months ago, and I had been saving reading it for this trip.  I can’t sleep on airplanes and I knew I would have several uninterrupted hours that I could devote to this much-anticipated treat.

And what a treat it turned out to be.  In this book, Michel explains what the advantages of tethers in space are and the benefits they can provide, including Space debris mitigation and tether propulsion.  He gives the history and results of previous tether experiments in space, some of which I was unaware of.  He talks about the rockets and their alternatives, most especially the Space Elevator:

The space elevator concept has the potential to cause a revolution in human history.  We have been living at the bottom of a gravity well up until now, and we only recently acquired the technology to climb out once in a while at high cost.  A space elevator would provide an easy, regular, and sustainable way out of that well, allowing many people to clamber up and explore, develop, and colonize space ever further.  As will be shown in the next chapters, tether technology is a possible solution for many of the most stringent spaceflight constraints.

Michel briefly but thoroughly discusses the history of how the idea of a Space Elevator came about and how it has gradually permeated popular culture – everything from Arthur C. Clarke’s magnificent book, The Fountains of Paradise to showing up on Star Trek and even the Microsoft Xbox game Halo 3.

Other topics of discussion include problems that will need addressing in the building and operation of a Space Elevator, the current ‘state of affairs’ in Space Elevator development (including a discussion of the Space Elevator Games) and the cost to build one.

When discussing Space Elevators, much of his information is drawn from the Edwards / Westling book The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System but Michel adds updates and new material to this to bring everyone up-to-date.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned much from it. It will be very valuable to anyone who wants to learn about alternatives to using rockets to get into space or space tethers and/or space elevators in general.  Michel van Pelt’s book is a very valuable addition to the ever-growing body of literature on this subject.

Highly recommended.

In Luxembourg…

Well, this was a switch.  The flight from Chicago to Zurich and then the connection between Zurich and Luxembourg were both on time and mostly empty.  I’m used to flying planes in the States – everyone packed in like sardines.  I wondered why the airfares from Chicago to Luxembourg kept getting cheaper and cheaper and now I know why – SwissAir (or whatever they’re called now – why is their airline code “LX”?) was trying to lure some more passengers.  Anyway, it was quite pleasant – well, as pleasant as 9 hours in an airplane can be…

I arrived today at the Luxembourg airport at about 2:20pm, local time.  Markus Klettner from EuroSpaceward kindly met me at the airport and drove me to the Novotel where the conference is being held at and where also I’m staying.  On the way, he gave me a little surprise – I’ve been chosen to judge a coloring contest – “How do you Imagine Life on the Moon?” – an event held as part of the EuroSpaceward conference.  The particulars:

This contest is intended for children attending school in Luxembourg from levels 1st to 9th grade to create awareness of the technological and scientific areas of space study, research and development forty years after the first human steps on the moon.

This challenge is held for the second time in Luxembourg city, encouraged and organized by the European Spaceward Association who is dedicated to the research and development of space related activities in Europe, and sponsored by MUDAM (Musee d’Art Modern) Luxembourg and Skoda, Luxembourg.

Full imagination and artistic sensitivity will be portrayed in each of the children’s drawings containing a message towards life on the moon, beyond borders and differences in their background, cultures and languages.

The Guidelines state that the “Drawings can be submitted in color or pencil” and that “The most original drawings will be considered for winning selection.”


An art critic I’m not, so this should be quite a challenge.  I think building a Space Elevator might be something easier for me to do.   I’ve got about 60 drawings to look at and I have to choose 9 of them as “...the most original...”.  To top it all, I’m the one designated to hand out the prizes, so I will be there, in person, to receive the grief for a job poorly done.

But I guess it goes with the territory.  If I’m going to be the President of such a large and prestigious organization as the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), I have to fulfill my role as a fount of wisdom 🙁

The picture thumbnail shows several of the drawings I have to judge (click on the thumbnail to see a full size version).  I have until Friday, noon, to make my decision.

I’ll let Markus publish the funeral arrangements.  Please don’t send flowers – send donations instead to “The Luxembourg Foundation for Needlessly Pissed-off School-children“.

More tomorrow…

EuroSpaceward Conference – and the future of Space Elevator Development

I leave this evening to fly to Luxembourg.  There I will attend the EuroSpaceward Conference on “Space Elevator, CNT Tether Design & Lunar Industrialization Challenges“.  I’ll also be giving a presentation entitled: Space Elevator Consortium: stimulation and alignment of SE research activities.

Saying all of that is quite a mouthful…

I’m still polishing my presentation (sorry Markus) but will share it with my readers after I give it.  I can give you the abstract however:

In the many years since the concept of a Space Elevator has been popularized and advanced in Science Fiction, the number of people actively supporting this concept has not appreciably increased. In addition, the theoretical and practical boundaries on the strength of carbon nanotubes are beginning to point towards a material weaker than hoped for (but still strong enough to build a Space Elevator, albeit with reduced capacity). Given these facts, how do those of us in the Space Elevator community move this idea forward?

We first need to recognize and acknowledge that the Space Elevator is a “solution in search of a problem”. We then must find the need that a Space Elevator (and only a Space Elevator) can fulfill. The author proposes that the goals of Space Solar Power and the colonization of the Moon and Mars can only be accomplished with a Space Elevator and he further proposes that the Space Elevator community speak with one voice on this topic and work to ally itself with the proponents of Space Solar Power and Moon/Mars colonization.

While the recent successes at the Space Elevator Games certainly has been a ‘shot in the arm’ for the Space Elevator effort, it is no secret that we’re still a small group – and not really growing.  Why is this?  Certainly a major reason is that the long/strong carbon nanotubes needed to build a Space Elevator do not yet exist.  But another reason, I think, is that everyone in the effort has their own ideas on what a Space Elevator can and cannot do and, consequently, their own ideas on how to proceed.  If there were thousands and thousands of us, this would be all well and good.  But with such a small community, these non-unified efforts quickly lead to little or no results.  This has to change.  As the President of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), it’s my job to do this.  I need to get all of us to rally around a common theme, a common goal, a common purpose – and that common purpose has to be more than just “Let’s build a Space Elevator because it’s cool”.  That’s not going to get it done.  As I say in the abstract, we need to find the critical need(s) for which a Space Elevator is the best or only solution and then ally ourselves with people working to satisfy those needs.

I am going to be paying MUCH closer attention than I have in the past to people who want to colonize the Moon and/or Mars as I think the Space Elevator is the only way to go to accomplish these goals.  The more realistic souls among these groups (i.e., those who have come up with some defensible numbers) may indeed be our future ‘best friends’.  In addition, I’m going to take another look at Space Solar Power (though I’m very dubious that this can work on a commercial scale) and finally see if there is any possibility that a Space Elevator can be made economically viable by taking the majority of the commercial satellite launch market.

I invite comment and (reasoned) suggestions – it’s time to get serious guys…

And, on a final note, as I AM the Space Elevator Blogger, I’ll be reporting from the conference as often as I can.

LaserMotive talks power-beaming

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

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

Jordin is quoted:

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

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

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

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

Post-competition analysis from LaserMotive

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

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

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

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

Fox News coverage of the Space Elevator Games

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

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

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

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

“This time, it’s personal…”

Or, so that’s what it says over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games.

The Climber / Power-Beaming competition has already been tentatively scheduled for next year, for the week of May 10th.

This is double-plus cool.  LaserMotive has already proved that they’re the real deal.  The Kansas City Space Pirates have built a kick-ass tracking system and now just need to upgrade their climber to complement it.  And, who knows what the USST team is thinking?  They’ve been the best performers for the first three games, the last two just barely missing out on the prize-money.  It must rankle a bit for them to see LaserMotive walk away with a cool $900K…  I’m sure they’re now on a mission to reclaim their glory days…

It’s on! (again)…

And, by the way, if you visit the official site of the Games, you’ll note that the picture gallery (upper left) and movie/video gallery (upper right) have been enhanced and added to.  Lots of new stuff from the just-completed games – check it out!

LaserMotive to appear on XM and Sirius satellite radio on Tuesday

On Tuesday, November 17th, at 4:30pm (Eastern time), members of the 2009 Space Elevator Games prize-winning LaserMotive team will be interviewed on the Jay Thomas radio show.  This will be broadcast both on Sirius radio (channel 108) and XM radio (channel 139).

The show will be replayed at 9:00pm (Eastern time).

If you subscribe (or you can get one of the ‘free trials’), this should be a fun interview to listen to.

Three (more) caballeros…

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the contributions and leadership provided by Ben Shelef, Andy Petro and John Kelly.  Today I’d like to thank the three people who actually made the whole space elevator raceway work.  Readers may remember the problems that previous incarnations of the raceway incurred.  Much of this was caused by the previous helicopter pilot’s inability to maintain position; i.e. keep his helicopter in the ‘safe zone’, away from the people below.  With the finding of pilot Doug Uttecht, this last hurdle was solved and the raceway became a safe, predictable, stable thing of beauty.

There were a trio of people involved with operating the raceway.  First, of course, was the pilot, Doug Uttecht (pictured in the center).  Doug was the guy responsible for picking up the raceway cable, keeping it on station and at correct tension and then bringing it back down when the run was completed.  This guy was amazing.  His control of his MD530FF helicopter was remarkable and brought about the best line I heard at the Games; “If this guy was any better, we almost wouldn’t need a tracking system”.  Truly he could make that helicopter dance.  During the pre-ops briefing held on the final day, Doug actually received a round of applause from everyone else there (50+ people) for the outstanding job he was doing. The guy is money…

The second part of this trio was Keith Mackey (pictured on the right).  He is an aviation safety consultant that Ben Shelef, CEO of Spaceward, found on the Internet!  His list of credentials and long experience is just amazing.  Ben thinks he might be the most credentialed pilot in the world today.  He is licensed to fly just about everything, commercial jets, private aircraft, helicopters, even blimps!  Keith was the person who came up with the GPS system which allowed the helicopter to station-keep with such amazing accuracy.  How this device works is described over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games.  Keith’s ‘job title’ at the Games was ‘helo ground control’.  He interfaced with Doug via the radio, telling him when to ascend and descend and how fast.  As Keith is a helicopter pilot too, he knew exactly what Doug needed to know and just the words to say it in.  The conversations between the two were succinct, with not a word wasted or out of place.  Between Doug and Keith, that raceway was kept a tame beast, waiting to do the competitor’s bidding…

And finally we have Tetherman (aka Michael Keating – pictured on the left).  Michael was the guy who was responsible for the safe ascent and descent of the Climbers themselves.  Before ascent, he would hold the Climber and cable (with his special ‘ring tool’), waiting for Doug to pick up the cable and bring the Climber to it’s starting position.  In descent, he would have to track the cable and Climber down and guide the Climber to a gentle landing.  This was a huge responsibility – these Climbers represent tens of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of man-hours of work – keeping them from plummeting to the desert floor was a good thing.  Tetherman has developed a cult following and I fully expect him to arrive in a cape and special helmet for the next Games.

Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef has created a special video to honor this threesome (I think this is your best effort yet Ben – really well done!).  You only see Tetherman in this picture (until the very end and then Keith makes a brief appearance) but rest assured that Doug and Keith are doing their jobs, too.  All three had to work together as a coordinated team to make this thing work and they did so flawlessly.  Thanks guys – this wouldn’t have worked without you!

(Graphic of the Three Caballeros from here – and truly, if you haven’t seen this Disney classic, you’re missing a treat – the music alone is worth a view.  Click on the picture thumbnail of Michael, Doug and Keith to see a larger version of the picture)

The three caballeros…

Time to start giving thanks where thanks are due.  There were many, many people and organizations who’s help was crucial to the success of the recently completed Space Elevator Games.

Pictured are, from left-to-right, Andy Petro, John Kelly and Ben Shelef.  Andy is from the NASA Centennial Challenges ‘office’ and he was the guy there ensuring that the Challenge was successfully and legally met and also had the happy task of handing the $900,000 check to Team LaserMotive.  Andy was the guy who had to fill the very large shoes of previous Program Manager Ken Davidian, but the shoes certainly seem to be a comfortable fit.  When Andy first took the position, I asked him to say a few words about himself for we in the Space Elevator Games “community” – his response can be found here. Finally, how many people have a “look-a-like” contest named after them?  Andy is such a lucky guy…

The guy in the center is John Kelly.  He was the NASA point man at the Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) and there’s only one word to describe him; awesome.  When Ben first approached Dryden about hosting the Games, it was John Kelly who grabbed this ball and ran with it.  He marshaled more and more forces at DFRC until, it seemed, that he had the entire organization working with us.  Whenever we needed something, he came through for us.  He took very large chunks of the organization process off of Spaceward’s shoulders, allowing Ben Shelef to concentrate on the few critical issues that only he could handle.  He was the middle-man who successfully interfaced the rigid structure of the NASA organization to the loose amalgamation of Spaceward and was absolutely key to making it all work.  On top of it all, he’s just great guy, with a wonderful sense of humor and a real joy to work with.  Plus, and also very important, he knew all of the good restaurants in the area.

Andy and John – we owe you huge thanks – THANK YOU!!!

Finally, the guy on the right is Ben Shelef, the CEO of the Spaceward Foundation.  It was Ben who dreamed up the idea of the Space Elevator Games, creatively and succesfully piggy-backing onto the NASA need for power-beaming and strong-tethers.  This competition has been Ben’s baby since Day 1.  I’ve had the pleasure to work with Ben over the past 3+ years and I know that a) he always finds a way to get something done, even when things look bleak and b) he’s persistent, persistent and persistent.  I know Ben has taken some heat because of previous Games not producing any winners, but he has kept his focus; forcing competitors to continually improve their capabilities and thus advancing the state of the art (which is what NASA wants).  He richly deserves the congratulations that he is now receiving.  Finally, I’ve had some brief chats with him about his future plans and, all I can say is ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…’.

So there you have it – these three guys are the key organizers of all the efforts to have a successful Space Elevator Games and they all deserve our thanks and our gratitude.  THANKS GUYS!!

(Graphic of the Three Caballeros from here – and truly, if you haven’t seen this Disney classic, you’re missing a treat – the music alone is worth a view.  Click on the picture thumbnail of Andy, John and Ben to see a larger version of the picture) 

LaserMotive’s first prize-winning run

As many/most of you know, the recently completed Space Elevator Games were broadcast live on  I hope you were watching and listening.  After a very ragged first day, commentators Bryan Laubscher and myself did OK, I think, in bringing you all of the action.

For the competition next year (plans already in the works), we’ll be doing this again and hopefully, even better than this time around.

One of the neat things you can do with is record what you watch.  Marc Boucher from did just that with LaserMotive’s first prize-winning run and it is now available on YouTube.  You can watch the run in all it’s glory and listen to Bryan and I (in all our “unglory”) as we call the action.  Thanks Marc!


Post-competition analysis from USST

Mark Boots, one of the captains of the USST team, sent out this wrap-up of their team’s performance at the just-completed Space Elevator Games:

The X-15 rocket plane is one of the most famous test aircraft ever flown at the Dryden Flight Research Center. Flying higher and faster than anything before, it explored boundaries that made possible the design of winged spacecraft like the Shuttle. The project manager and chief test pilot once said: “The purpose of test is to separate the imagined problems from the real, and to seek out the unimagined or unexpected problems.”

That statement sums up this past week for the U of S Space Design Team. We left Saskatoon with a world-class design, and our strongest effort to be prepared. From the time we arrived, we faced a set of unexpected problems that we’d never seen in our testing at home. Despite an all-out problem-solving effort by everyone on the team, we didn’t get past all of those problems in time. The final results: Our congratulations go to LaserMotive, a corporate team that succeeded in beating the 2m/s prize criteria and winning $900,000. Neither us nor the Kansas City Space Pirates (Yarr….) were able to make it all the way to the top, and no one took the 5m/s prize.

“What happened?” is the big question that everyone is asking. There were two major problems that we faced: During testing the day of the competition dry-runs, we broke the shaft connecting our main drive motor. Our backup motor had unexpected problems with its controller, and Shea spent an epically stressful day and night trying to get that motor running, while Matt and the mechanical team worked with the machinists in the NASA Dryden fabrication shop to repair the shaft on the original motor. (These guys were awesome, and we owe them huge thanks.) Unfortunately the motor problems caused us to miss the first two of our three 45-minute competition windows.

The other critical issue was with our GPS-based tracking system: We had tested it as much as we could in Saskatoon on cranes, and even chased motorbikes at 1km. This week, we watched it track our climber flawlessly as the helicopter pulled it up from the ground to the starting position at 100m. However, every time we reached the starting position, a strange source of interference hit the receiver on the climber and caused it to continuously lose its lock on the GPS satellites. We had never seen this before in all of our testing, and we’re still mystified by what could have been causing this. We put our manual tracking system into use, and although Ariq did an amazing job at the controls, we didn’t have enough time in our final 45-minute competition window to perfect the switch-over between manual and GPS tracking, or adjust the climber programming to let it be more tolerant of losing the beam.

We’re all hugely disappointed, especially because we know how close we came. The fact that no team took the 1st place prize reminds us that this is a really difficult challenge, and when you’re pushing the boundaries of what’s technologically possible, things can go wrong.

We really want to thank all of our families, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, and everyone from the University that has supported us so much, sacrificed for us, and enabled this crazy opportunity. We’re really sorry we couldn’t bring back the prize, and we tried so hard to represent Saskatchewan as world-leading innovators and respectful professionals.

To our list of thank-you’s, we need to add a special shout-out to the machine shop staff: both Keith and the guys in the UofS Engineering Shops, and the NASA Dryden people, for the outstanding work they did for us. We’re also hugely grateful to the Dryden team: John Kelly (for running the show, kindness, and wisdom), Mike Kapitzke (for running very smooth, tight operations and keeping everyone safe), Elizabeth (for getting us where we needed to go, and being our cheerleader, even at 5 in the morning — you’re awesome!), Freddy (the coolest van driver ever), and John Piatt (who handled the challenge of laser safety on the lakebed in a keenly responsible, always critical, yet flexible and understanding way.)

Last but first, we thank all of our donors and sponsors; the critical link that made this opportunity possible. We especially want to thank the TRUMPF team: Dave Marcotte for having the business guts and the “more power — let’s do it!” race-car driver attitude to make this project possible, and the one-and-only Ivan, who kept an 8kW laser system running in the middle of the desert, without a single issue! We’re sorry we couldn’t do the same on our end.

Another huge shout-out goes to the helicopter team that supported the vertical cable: “Foxtrot” (Doug, the excellent heli pilot — If he was any better, we almost wouldn’t even need a tracking system!), “HeloGround” Keith Mackey (for keeping Foxtrot on target despite our very confusing directions, and his helpful advice), and “Tetherman” Michael Keating (for his hustle and tireless dedication to running around the desert floor catching climbers all day). We should also probably thank Ben Shelef, the competition organizer and head of the Spaceward Foundation (even if you did make us pay for the whole thing ; ) We recognize how hard it is to single-handedly organize all of this, and seriously: nice work.

Even in this huge disappointment, we’re really proud of our team. Ben refers to us as the “many-headed hydra”, and we take this as a huge compliment. It recognizes that everyone on the team had a crucial part — everyone individually has something that they are the best at. Every day we saw new problems, and every night someone came up with a creative solution. Unfortunately, we just never got to the end of all those problems in time.

It’s hard to imagine the level of dedication that causes someone to stay up for three nights in a row, and still be coming up with solutions on the last one, until they fall asleep standing up during a NASA tour on the last day. (John M., you’re a hero.) This level of dedication is there for everyone on the team, and we really gave it our all. After doing this for a year and a half, it’s so disappointing to end up here.

We are looking for the positives. This was a learning experience for everyone that surpassed anything in our official curriculum — both technically, and in what we learned about leadership, teamwork, and project planning. We, as undergraduate students and recent graduates, developed technologies and a core design that were (and still are) superior to anything in the world. This is shown from the reactions of people such as Lawrence Davis, head of NASA Test Pilot School; NASA personnel; and even our competitors. On the way back, we had a chance to tour the SpaceX facility in Los Angeles, where they are designing and assembling the Falcon 9 spacecraft which will replace the Shuttle for trips to the International Space Station in 2011. It was reassuring that we could pick out similarities in almost all aspects of their work and what we have done on this project. Some of the team members are already talking about what’s next: there’s still a $1.1 million prize out there for 5m/s, and we have a design that’s easily capable of achieving that — we just need to get it all working at once. It is great to see that the team is not discouraged by the outcome, but sees it more as a challenge and lesson to move on and and keep going.

From here on, it’s about talking about lessons learned, catching up on schoolwork, deciding what comes next, and figuring out other ways on how we can give back to the University community, even if we don’t have that $2 million prize money.

All of us were surprised, frankly, that USST didn’t run more successfully.  In every previous competition, they have had the best performance.  But no one who knows anything about this team doubts their ability and their desire to win. I’m very sure there will be another competition next year (after all, there is still more than a million US Dollars in the prize pool waiting to be claimed) and USST will be back, even more determined to show that they are a force to be reckoned with…

The photo, of course, is of the USST team.  Those pictured are, starting from the front and going left to right; Ben Shelef (Spaceward Foundation), John Steeves, Andrew Williams, Ariq Chowdhury, Dave Williams and Shea Pederson. Back row: Nathan Windels, Jordan Gareau, Clayton Ruszkowski, Mark Boots, Dawson James, Matt Evans, John McClean, Rylan Grant, Patrick Allen, Justin Equina, Doug Grant, Kevin Krieger and Bethany Murray.

Finally, if you were listening to the broadcast (and you should have been) on Friday during the USST run, team member Nathan Windle was providing commentary about their team efforts.  Thanks again Nathan – you did a great job!