Post-competition analysis from the Kansas City Space Pirates

Brian Turner, captain of the Kansas City Space Pirates, sent out this email to his supporters and ‘inner circle’:

As you may have heard by now we were unsuccessful in our attempt to win prize money in the NASA power beaming challenge. LaserMotive was alone in the 2 meters per second $900,000 prize level. USST was unable to to climb more than a few hundred meters up the cable. The 5 meters per second $1.1 Million prize went unclaimed.

We were challenged with a number of problems in our attempts but I will give you a quick rundown of the biggest failure points for each of our three attempts.

Day 1. Our radio link that tells us the height and speed of the climber was unable to handle the radio environment of the competition. We made it approximately 750 meters up the cable before we guessed wrong on the altitude and speed settings while driving blind and had to descend. We had this same problem in our test in Seattle a month back. I thought that we had the problem solved and could not justify the $1000 plus dollars to change it out to a different frequency that might prove to be even less robust. So Tuesday we ordered the other frequency for first overnight delivery from EagleTree systems. We had it installed and running for our next run the following day.

Day 2. We made it a little above 500 meters when our beacon light decided to turn itself off repeatedly. When we loose that beacon the laser starts wandering around the sky and has to be shut off immediately. We then turn the beacon back on, find the climber again and turn it back on. This takes from 5 to 15 seconds each time it happens and the climber is descending the whole while. When the beacon was shutting off every 25 or so seconds we could not manage to continue climbing. The sun set while we were running and our camera could no longer see the climber. Again, we had very rarely seen the beacon off problem before. We saw it on the battery powered practice climb on Tuesday and even had the software fix programed up and ready to install the day before. However we did not have time to get it in because we were working on the telemetry. We got it installed and running for the next day.

Day 3. We got the last slot of the competition. We loaded up the climber named Maryann with enough payload to take first place. Perhaps we were too greedy as she did not perform well and overheated. With time running out in our window I called for a climber switch and we put on Skipper. Skipper was sitting on the bench waiting to make a shot at the 5 meters per second prize after Maryann was done. Because we were having problems getting the peak power out of the climbers in the dynamic competition conditions we considered Skipper to be a long shot for the 5 meters per second prize but he should be able to cruise into 2nd place for the 2 meters per second prize level easily. He was set up light and fast. Nothing like his namesake. Skipper was performing well with forward motion faster than 5 meters per second when we had all parameters tuned well. However when one of the many parameters fell out of the acceptable range Skipper was shutting down. The capacitor pack that was supposed to prevent this from happening was not performing properly. The climb once again became a thumb wrestling match with dozens of controls in our trailer while Skipper alternated between sliding backward and moving forward. We fell off the 2 meters per second pace in a high intensity balancing act that we were slowly loosing. The time ran out on our turn. But like in football the games is not over until the end of the last play. We decided to push for the top. We were gaining on it when the radio down link cut out for a moment. The camera was far enough out of focus that I could not verify the safety of the helicopter so I called to turn off the laser beam. I turned on Skipper’s brake and hoped he would not slide too far backward while I fixed the focus on the camera and also hoped the radio down link would come back up. The helicopter’s fuel reserve limit came up. So with a dark motionless climber the operations manager understandably called it a day.

This email is far too short to really tell you everything that happened on this roller coaster we call the Space Elevator Games. But I would like to thank everyone that has helped us along the way. We have to wait for things to settle down before I can talk about “What’s next”.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

So, there you have it from ‘the man’.

The picture is of the KCSP team and their climber.  Team members shown are (from left-to-right) Don Stowers, Dan Leafblad, team captain Brian Turner, Frank Smith, Duane Johnson and Ryan Smith.  Not present were Chad Hampy, Jerry Fredrick, Terri Niles, Debbie Leafblad, Rich Brull, Martin Lades, Warren Moore and Ravi Shankar Durgavathi.  In the foreground is Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef and I’m sure you noticed that the KCSP team have their ‘hat headlights’ on…

Though their team didn’t qualify for the prize money this time around, they certainly showed that they are a force to be reckoned with and we know they’re going to be back, aiming for the 5 meter/second prize.

Awards Ceremony

NASA turned the Awards Ceremony into a full-blown presentation, complete with speeches, media coverage and, of course, the awarding of the $900,000 prize to Team LaserMotive.  This ceremony was held in the hanger / machine shop that was the team headquarters throughout the competition (and throughout the testing).

First up to speak was David McBride, acting Center Director for the NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center.  He was only recently (April, 2009) appointed to this position and I have to think he was very pleased by this turn of events – it marks a success for his center and he and his team.

Next up was Andy Petro, Program Executive for the Innovation Incubator – part of the NASA Innovative Partner’s Program.  He spoke about how the Spaceward Foundation’s accomplishment in this just-completed Challenge was exactly what NASA had in mind when they started this program – using prize money to encourage people outside of NASA to think outside the box in developing technologies that NASA believes has a future in space exploration.

Then it was Ben Shelef’s turn.  Ben is the CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, the organizer of this Centennial Challenge (and also the Strong-Tether Challenge).  Ben gave a brief history of this Power-Beaming challenge and then thanked all of the people who helped put on this event (it was a lengthy list).  He then introduced the team captains.

USST’s Patrick Allen spoke about how, though his team was disappointed in the outcome, they were very happy to have been part of this Challenge.  He thanked his University (the University of Saskatchewan) for their support and then thanked all of the USST team members, past and present, for their efforts.

The Kansas City Space Pirate’s Brian Turner was up next.  He gave a short, emotional speech thanking the event organizers, his team sponsors and most of all his team members for their efforts and for ‘believing in him’ even when he doubted himself.  He also talked about how he is a person who is driven to compete and he thanked the other two teams for being worthy competitors and driving KCSP to be the best they could be.

Last up was the LaserMotive Team.  Dr. Jordin Kare (on the right) spoke first and gave a brief history of how he and Tom Nugent started LaserMotive and their evolution to their current success.  He thanked the event organizers, NASA, the team sponsors and team members.  Tom Nugent joined him and echoed Jordin’s thanks to all concerned.

Finally, Andy and Ben took the podium again and presented the $900,000 check to Jordin and Tom from Team LaserMotive.  It was a exciting and very satisfying outcome of this Challenge.

Well done to all!

Official NASA Games release

And here is NASA’s take on the just completed competition.

I’m going to write more about how the NASA people helped us during this competition, but for now I just want to say that they were superb.  They are technically very competent and a real pleasure to work with.  They obviously wanted this competition to succeed and they did everything they could to make it happen.

To the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center personnel, we owe you HUGE thanks…

Time to celebrate!

Last night, we had a celebration party at Domingo’s – a restaurant in nearby Boron that is the place the Shuttle astronauts eat at when they land the Shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base.

We had the entire patio reserved and, outside of being a bit chilly, the atmosphere was superb.

There were at least 60 people in our party.  There were people from NASA, Spaceward, the helicopter crew, TRUMPF and, of course, the three teams.

Good mexican food and beer, lots of camaraderie and a celebration of an event that was extremely successful – what more could you want?

I’ve included a few pictures in this post.  The topmost one is of the outside of Domingo’s – very festive as you can see.

The second is of part of the assembled party-goers.  Truly, everyone had a good time.

And the third shows LaserMotive team member Dave Bashford wearing a sombrero.  It was his birthday yesterday (Quite a birthday, yes? – being part of a team that had just been awarded $900K!) and the restaurant gave him their ‘birthday salute’.  They smeared his face with whipped cream, put the sombrero on his head and sang Happy Birthday to him in Spanish and English (I missed the whipped cream part but was told about it).

Happy Birthday Dave!

The 2009 Space Elevator Games make history!

I’m sorry for the lack of posts today, but this is literally the first free moment I’ve had to blog…

The 2009 Space Elevator Games – Climber / Power-Beaming competition is over and it was a roaring success.

This competition saw several firsts, the most important being:

  • The first laser-powered climb to a kilometer (accomplished by Team LaserMotive 4 times)
  • The first laser-powered climb to exceed 2 meters/second (again, accomplished by Team LaserMotive 4 times)

Team LaserMotive was the only team to climb the full length of the tether.  The Kansas City Space Pirates climbed an appreciable fraction of the tether (> 50%) several times while the USST team frankly struggled a bit.  They were still able to power the climber over short distances with a laser, though.

For their accomplishment, Team LaserMotive won the $900,000 prize for performing a beam-powered climb to a full kilometer at an average speed of 2 meters / second or greater.  Their best showing was nearly 4 meters per second and, for good measure, they accomplished these prize-winning climbs 4 times.  Their system was very, very impressive.

I’ll have much more to blog about this competition over the next several days – and lots of pictures and video to share with you.

The picture thumbnail is of the winning LaserMotive team holding the winning check given to them by Andy Petro, the NASA Centennial Challenges honcho.  LaserMotive team members shown (from left to right) are: Steve Beland, Bill Boyde, Carsten Erickson, Tom Nugent, Nick Burrows, Jordin Kare, Mary Kay Kare, Dave Bashford and Steve Burrows.  Not present were Brent Davis, Don Moore, Jeff Alexander, Joe Grez, Dave Truax and Nick Bratt.

There are so many people to thank and I want to do separate posts on each of them.  But for now, I want to say that the ‘tether trio’ of Doug Uttecht (Helicopter Pilot), Michael Keating (Tetherman) and Keith Mackey (Helicopter ground control) performed magnificently.  Also, we owe enormous thanks to John Kelly and all of the other people at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center where the competition was held.  Their backing was amazing and inspiring – we kept throwing curve balls at them and they kept hitting them out of the park.

Congratulations LaserMotive and all the other competitors at the 2009 Climber / Power-Beaming competition!

Done for the day

USST was unable to climb today.  KCSP, after some delay caused by a higher priority air mission, made multiple runs.

Unfortunately, the KCSP Climber never made it to the top.  They seemed to climb for about 3 minutes and would then just ‘lose it’.  It’s useless for me to speculate as to why, so I won’t try.  I do know that during their first attempt, they experienced a ‘dark climber’ condition (i.e. their laser lost tracking).  I don’t know if that was what happened in subsequent runs.  I’m sure there will be some (more) midnight oil burned by the KCSP team tonight working on this.

So, the summary is this.  LaserMotive is sitting pretty.  They’ve qualified for the $900K prize.

Tomorrow is the third and final round of the Games.  Up first is USST, then the Space Pirates and finally LaserMotive for their third and final Climb window.  If any team passes on their chance tomorrow, they won’t get another one.

First climb window is from 7:00am to 9:00am, second window is from 9:00am to 11:00am and the third and final window is from 9:00am to 1:00pm.

Tune in to to follow all the action LIVE.

USST passes…

USST was originally scheduled to run between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm while the KC Space Pirates were scheduled to run between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

USST has passed on their window.  The KC Space Pirates are doing what they can to speed up their launch window, but they are under no obligation to do so.  If they can launch by 1:00pm or so (which looks very unlikely), then USST will get another chance at around 3:00pm.

If the Space Pirates cannot launch by that time (or shortly thereafter), then I would assume that USST could use that slot if they get ready.

We’ll see…

Calculating scores…

So, if you have climbers of different weights carrying different payloads and having different times to complete the run, how do you come up with a fair way to judge who the winner is?

The way Spaceward has done this is to give preference to climber speed and to payload ratio (the amount of payload vs. the weight of the climber).  In the latest post on the Official Site of the Space Elevator Games, we learn that the formula used to calculate this is:

The speed of the climb (in meters/second) times the payload (in kilograms) divided by the weight of the climber (again, in kilograms).

This formula allows the user to normalize the results; i.e. put them in a format where you can do an ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

Plugging in the numbers for LaserMotive’s best run yesterday, you get a score of .45.  Other teams will try to beat this.

(Update Nov 11 – Reader Joel Polowin points out an obvious mistake I made.  The speed factor is meters/second, NOT total elapsed seconds.  My bad.  I fixed the post.  Thanks Joel…)

Day 2 – Getting ready to go

We’re all here getting ready for Day 2.  First up will be USST as they did not get to go yesterday.  Once they are done, then Round 1 will be completed.

The original plan was to decide the order of future rounds once the preceding round was completed.  However, the teams today wanted to set the order for Round 2 and 3 so that was done.  The order of the rounds are:

Round 1: (Wednesday & Thursday)

  • KCSP (completed)
  • LaserMotive (completed)
  • USST (yet to run)

Round 2 (Thursday)

  • LaserMotive
  • USST
  • KCSP

Round 3 (Friday)

  • USST
  • KCSP
  • LaserMotive

They’re even beginning to make plans for the Prize Ceremony on Friday – this is good.

More later.  Tune in to to watch everything LIVE!

Stay tuned!

uStream – Chat – schedule

I received several complaints today from people who said that they were following our Space Elevator Games broadcast on uStream and were using the uStream Chat feature to ask us questions, but were getting no response.

We’re very sorry about this, but we are unable to log onto the uStream chat server ourselves – I think it’s a firewall issue here at the NASA-Dryden Flight Research center.  We’re working with their network people to resolve the issue, but I’m not optimistic that it will be solved before the Games are over.  Until it is resolved, I’ve disabled the Chat feature for this broadcast so that users will not feel like they’re being ignored by us.

So, if you want to ask us questions, use the Social Stream feature of uStream.  Unfortunately it requires that you have a Twitter account, but it’s the best we’re going to be able to do right now.  We did use this today and I responded to all of the questions that were sent to us.

I freely admit that our broadcasts are not ‘professional’ or of the ‘highest quality’.  We’re all volunteers, we’re all new at this and we’re all doing the best we can.  Bryan Laubscher and myself (who are your hosts for these broadcasts) are monitoring several sources of information simultaneously to try and provide you with the latest updates.  We’re working on limiting the ‘information conflicts’ and also promise to try and refrain from drumming on the table while we’re broadcasting 🙂

Tomorrow, the number of Media personnel here in the ISF (the NASA facility that we are broadcasting from) will also be less and this will also help us try and keep things on a more even keel – we were trying to answer questions from the Press while also trying to follow the NASA radio chatter (of which we could only hear one side) and second-by-second updates provided by Ben Shelef to me via cell-phone.

Also, rather than logging into uStream directly, I would strongly urge you to go to the website.  In addition to being able to watch the live broadcast, you can also view saved video clips and pictures.  You can also chat with us (again, via the Social Streams Twitter function) by clicking on the CHAT link at the bottom of the page.

Finally, I truly do appreciate the comments and (constructive) criticism I’ve received, either via email or as comments sent to my Blog.  It’s helped us spot where the errors are and is being used by us to improve our Broadcast.  But for those very few of you who have decided to make the criticisms personal, please keep your venom to yourself; it is not needed or appreciated and, in the future, will be ignored.

Day 2 of the Space Elevator Games starts in just a few hours.  USST is scheduled to be up first and we’re aiming for their climb window to open up at 7:00am Pacific Time.  Once they’ve had a chance to Climb, the three teams will get together with Ben Shelef and decide on the order for the next set of Climbs.  These should start shortly after the initial USST run.

So, four runs scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday.  Today was great – tomorrow should be even better and more exciting…

Stay tuned!

LaserMotive – one happy bunch…

As I noted in an update to my previous post, LaserMotive’s second climb was 1 second faster than their first one.  So, right now the time to beat is 4 minutes, 1 second.  Over (nominally) 900 meters, that works out to about 3.73 meters/second.

What a great way to finish day 1 of the 2009 Space Elevator Games!

I had a quick chat with some of the Kansas City Space Pirates and they expressed confidence that they have taken care of the problems that plagued them in their first go-round.

And, let’s not forget that USST, the team that has performed the best in all previous competitions, has yet to make a run.

Tomorrow promises to be an even more exciting day than today.  Please tune in to and watch and hear the action live!

And, a few pictures of the winning team for you.  The first two are of the LaserMotive team (all except Dave Bashford) who was out in the truck watching over their climber) while the third picture is of Dave (on the right) with Ben Shelef (in the middle – CEO of the Spaceward Foundation – host of the Space Elevator Games) and Andy Petro – NASA’s person who is in charge of the NASA Centennial Challenge program.  Andy will be handing out the check(s) during the prize ceremony (date/time yet to be determined).

Those first two pictures show the LaserMotive team being interviewed by Fox News.  ABC, AP and some local press were also present.  Look for LaserMotive to be on the news tonight!

More pictures are on the official site of the Space Elevator Games (  Click on the LIVE COVERAGE button on the top and then click on the LATEST PICS button on the right hand side.

Again, congratulations LaserMotive – you’ve done us all proud!

(Update – I mis-identified Dave Bashford as Carsten Erickson – sorry guys…)

LaserMotive qualifies for NASA Prize Money!

Today history was made.  The Team LaserMotive climber traveled the raceway (approximately 900 meters) in 4 minutes, 2 seconds, about 3.72 meters/second.  This run more than doubles the previous best beam-powered climb (performed by USST in the 2007 competition) of 1.8 meters/second.

While this run does not qualify for the 5 meters/second prize, it easily qualifies for the 2 meter/second prize – a cool $900,000…

Their performance was very impressive.  On their first run, their climber would not move at all.  They brought the climber down and did ‘something’ to it (I’ll find out what it was and report back – and I’m sure it will be on their blog, too).  They then ran the course in the aforementioned 4 minutes and 2 seconds.  For good measure, they did it again, in approximately the same time.

And this is just their first shot.  They’ll have another chance tomorrow (and, perhaps, Friday) to better their time.

Pictures and more info will be up soon.

In the meantime, congratulations to LaserMotive!

(Correction: Their second run was completed in 4 minutes and 1 second; 1 second faster than their first run – Well Done!)

Quick status update

KCSP made several attempts this morning.  While they were able to climb under laser power, they did not make it to the top.  I’m sure they’re working this issue now.

Next up is LaserMotive.

Watch us live at

We’re also taking questions and will try to answer them.  We unfortunately are unable to use the uStream chat service – we can’t log into their chat server.  I suspect this is a firewall issue and that’s for NASA to decide whether or not we can access that.  In the meantime, we’re using the ‘Social Service’ feature of uStream.  It works, but you must have a Twitter account to use it.  If you care to, you can chat with us there.  Just click the “CHAT” link at the lower, left-hand corner of the site. 

Today is THE DAY!

Today is the first day of the 2009 Space Elevator Games – Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

We’re not sure of the starting time – always last minute details to work out, but we do know the order of the teams taking a crack at it:

First up – Kansas City Space Pirates
Next up – Laser Motive
Last up – USST

Depending on the results of the first set of runs, then the order of second and subsequent runs will be set.

Log onto to follow all the competition LIVE!  You can also Tweet me questions (use the CHAT button at the bottom of the web page) which I’ll try to answer for you.

Good luck to everyone!

Re-installing rotor blades on a helicopter

The helicopter used for the Space Elevator Games, a McDonnell Douglas MD530FF, was trucked in from its base in Washington.  The rotor blades were taken off for transport and consequently had to be re-installed when it got to NASA-Dryden.

This occurred on Monday morning and I filmed part of it.  During filming, I misspoke and said that the mechanics were reassembling ‘the rotor’ – of course I meant the rotor blades.



Piece of cake…

Dry run; so far, so good

Some wind issues cropped up during the first helicopter flight necessitating a ‘re-thinking’ of some of the flight procedures.  Once those were ironed out, the helicopter ascended again and we were able to see a battery-powered climb (using the KC Space Pirates) climber all the way to the top, and with a successful descent and recovery.

The helicopter was getting a bit low on fuel, so it is being refueled and will then bring the cable aloft again.  LaserMotive is next up to do a battery powered climb and then USST.

If you go to, you can watch the action live.  You can also log into the chat (if you have a Twitter account) and ask questions – I’ll be moderating this.  I also have a mike and will try some commentary too.

Finally, you can get up-to-the minute status comments at

I don’t want to jinx anything, but all is looking very good!

Status – doing a dry run…

I’m sorry for the lack of posts in the past couple of days.  Lots of work trying to get the official site of the Space Elevator Games updated, plus getting uStream to work with us, plus getting the media center ready, etc…

The status right now (9:20am, Pacific time), is that they’re getting ready to do a ‘dry run’.  There was an all-hands meeting this morning where all the procedures were gone over.  A few holes were found, but nothing major.  The crew and teams are out on the lakebed getting ready to try everything out so that when the competition starts (tomorrow), hopefully most of the bugs will be out of the system.

If you go to the official site of the Games, and click on the Live Coverage button at the top, you’ll see the Twitter feeds, more photos from the Games and, hopefully, Live TV via uStream.

Right now, the official Games site is tuned different uStream channel so if you want to watch the Dry Run activities today, go to URL  At the moment there is video only, but we should have commentary going out on it to today (certainly by tomorrow).

A couple of blog photos for you.  The first is moonrise over the desert – the picture doesn’t capture how beautiful it was.  The vehicles / trailers in the foreground, under the moon, is the operations center out on the lakebed.

The second photo is of Doug Uttecht, our helicopter pilot.  A lot is riding on his competence and from everything we’ve seen, the confidence in him is well placed.

The Games are still scheduled to start tomorrow morning at 7:00am, Pacific time.  Stay tuned!


So, one of the criteria for winning, assuming that a Climber can make the ascent in the required minimum time, is how much payload the climber carries – it figures into the prize-winning calculation.

Given that we have three teams here, and that the rules for payload are very lax (basically, nothing that has or has had a heartbeat), it is to be expected that each team will be a bit creative in deciding what they will use for payload.

The Kansas City Space Pirates are using BB’s – weighed into bags.  The picture shows KCSP team member Frank Smith weighing the BB’s – different bags for different weights.  Rumor has it that they also maybe using Susan B. Anthony Dollars too, if they get very confident…

Team LaserMotive is using Poker Chips.  As a big fan of Texas Hold’em (yes, I admit it, I watch them play cards on TV), I am particularly fond of this solution.  And as team member Jordin Kare (shown holding the Poker chips) said to me; “If we don’t win the prize money in the climb, perhaps we can win it playing cards“.

Finally there is USST.  They are as usual, very tight-lipped about this.  They tell me that they haven’t worried about carrying payload, just about making 5 meters/second.  Yeah, right, sure…  This picture shows some of their team members looking around for something – perhaps it’s their payload…

Happy Halloween

Halloween in Mojave – and a full moon tonight.  One of the waitresses at the local Denny’s was in full regalia this morning, dressed up as how a Native American woman  might appear in an old Western movie.  All she needed was a papoose…

Oh Gods of Weather, oh rulers of the fates, please, please, PLEASE keep the weather here JUST LIKE THIS for the next several days!

It’s 60-65 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, no wind to speak of – it’s absolutely beautiful.  If we have weather like this during the Competition, it would be WONDERFUL!

I thought the Broomstick graphic was appropriate.  It kind of looks like the Competition racecourse – the tripod at the bottom linked to the cable heading up into the sky.  No?

The picture is of the local train station, closed as you can see, but the trains keep rolling through.  I can hear them from my room as I sit here and work with my computer.  I’m sure they came through last night, but I slept so soundly, they didn’t wake me.  You can see a bunch of windmills in the far background of the picture – they’re everywhere around here…

Things get started in earnest here tomorrow morning.  We’re supposed to be at the Edwards Air Force Base at 8:00am to get badged.  TRUMPF will be there to start setting up their laser.  USST is supposed to arrive at 9:00am.  I’m not sure when the other two teams are coming in.  USST has set up their own Twitter account – you can access it here.  Their latest entry (from several hours ago) is that they made it through US Customs in ‘record time’.

Tonight we switch from Daylight Savings time back to ‘normal’ time.  Everyone has been reminded but I’ll lay cash on the proposition that someone will forget…

Only 3 more days!

03NOV09 – Update – Alan Brown of NASA informs me that the picture is NOT of an abandoned train station but rather an abandoned gasoline service station (he thinks it used to be an ARCO station).  Alan tells me that the ‘old train station’ (which was some blocks away) was torn down ‘several years ago’.  Thanks Alan!

Mojave – pop. 2,763

At least that’s what the sign said when I drove into town this afternoon.  I did a little bit of touring around town this evening before grabbing a bite to eat and I think the population might be less than that – I saw a lot of what appeared to be abandoned homes.

There was a high school football game being played under the lights tonight, so Americana is still live and well here.  Lots of liquor stores and gas stations and churches, a McDonalds, a KFC, a Denny’s, a Carl’s Jr (which Ben keeps trying to get me go to) and a couple of Mexican food joints.  One bar with live music tomorrow night – maybe I’ll visit it and see what kind of ‘live music’ one can find in a small town like this.

The sign on one of the liquor stores read “ICE / AMMO”.  Truly, I love this country…   I mean where else can you go and get the tools necessary to ice the bad guys and your drinks all at the same time?  I was going to see what they charged for the 9mm Home Defense specials, but I have no way of transporting the stuff back to Illinois.

There’s also a bunch of what looks like retired commercial airliners on a field just a few blocks away – this might be one of those places in the desert where old planes just go to die.  Oh, and trains…  Trains, trains, trains.  The tracks run right through town and they always seem to be busy.

Ben and Vern arrive tomorrow.  On Sunday the teams arrive and we also go get to see TRUMPF begin to set up their laser.

Only 4 more days!

Only 5 more days…

I leave for California tomorrow.  I’ll be spending much of Friday evening and most of Saturday in my hotel room in the jumping town of Mojave, California – a perfect chance to finally organize all of my videos and photos from past competitions and upload them for viewing.  I know if I stay home and try to do this before I go, something else will get in the way – it always does.  This way, as long as I can avoid the bars in Mojave, I should get a bunch done…

This, of course, assumes that I actually get all of this data loaded onto my laptop.  It should have been straightforward, copying them from my desktop box to my laptop, but for some reason I can’t get my laptop to be recognized on my network.  I fought with it for about 3 hours and then gave up.  It was weird, I could ping my laptop, but Windows couldn’t ‘see’ it from any other machine.  I tried all of the usual tricks except for the crossover cable.  That I don’t have and now maybe I have a reason to go out and buy one.  But that’s for next time…  Now I’m copying chunks of data at a time onto a USB drive and transferring them that way – hope I don’t forget anything.  Movie files take up a LOT of room…

Over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games, the CrazyEddieblogger (aka Ben Shelef) has put up three more posts for our reading pleasure.

In his first post, Ben refers to his document The Space Elevator Feasibility Condition (again, a must-read for anyone who is serious about the subject of Space Elevators).  He uses it to contrast what the teams will be entering into next week’s competition vs. what we will need for a real Space Elevator climber.

In his second post, Ben talks about the status of carbon nanotubes and the ‘other Space Elevator Games’ – the strong tether competition.  It is hoped that next year this competition will begin to show the same advances in technology that have become the hallmark of the Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

And, in his third post, Ben shares with us yet another video with the Mission Impossible theme song.

More from Mojave tomorrow…

Games updates

Over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games, Ben Shelef (aka the CrazyEddieBlogger) has put up a couple of new posts.

In the first, appropriately titled “Are you sure it’s going to work?“, Ben talks about how he thinks everything is ready to go from the Host side – the new raceway design has performed flawlessly in all of its tests.  Lets hope that it continues to do so during the competition.

In the second post, we learn that the team from the National Space Society (NSS) will, alas, not be competing – done in by money problems.  This is very sad; though they were ‘late to the party’ in terms of getting things ready, they appeared to have finally overcome all of their technical hurdles (as chronicled here and at the official site of the Space Elevator Games over the past couple of weeks).  And I hope they’re not counting on competing next year – I think we have an excellent chance of awarding all of the prize money in this year’s competition.

So we’re down to three teams; the Kansas City Space Pirates, Team LaserMotive and USST.  In his latest post, Ben describes them as the “robotic club hobbyists”, the ‘industry team’ and the ‘university student team’ respectively.  There’s nothing amateurish about any of them – they’re all highly skilled, very motivated and very ready.  Barring unforeseen weirdness, we should see numerous prize-winning capable runs.  Ben’s take on each of these teams is highly interesting reading – be sure to check it out.

Only 7 more days!

It’s a boy!!!

My first grandchild, Karl Thomas Wallbruch, was born yesterday at 5:27 pm, Central time, at Central DuPage Hospital.  He weighed 7 pounds, 14 ounces and was 21&1/4 inches long.  Fortunately he takes after me and is thus a very handsome fellow…

Mother and son are now both doing fine.  Karl was fine upon delivery, but my daughter began to lose blood about a half-hour after giving birth.  She spent several hours in surgery and then recovery and is now finally back ‘among the living’.  She lost over 4 units of blood.  All I can say is “Modern medicine rocks!” – these are the kinds of childbirth that in earlier times usually resulted in unhappy outcomes…

We are all happy and breathing easier now and I’m thrilled and proud to have a grandson.  I turned 60 a couple of months ago and now I have a grand-child.  I guess this makes it official – I’m getting old…

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

(Click on the thumbnail of Me, Karl & Chris to see a full-size version of the picture)

Pre-competition update from the Kansas City Space Pirates

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

We have a date. The competition is set for the week of Nov 2nd. We are cutting it close in a race against the winter.

But in other news we went to Seattle to do some testing few weeks back and the helicopter system now has the bugs worked out and is ready for the competition.

We got a chance to get on the cable and test our climber. It did not go well. The way that it reminded me of our 2007 performance was spooky.

We had problems with our radio links to the climber. This was odd because we have tested that extensively to ranges well past 1000 meters. We were having problems at 100 meters. This caused me to drive the climber incorrectly and melt the wheels. The wheels then stuck together and caused the motor to burn up. I had spare wheels in the suitcase but not spare motors. In hindsight a spare motor would have been easy to take, but I had to pack quickly as Spaceward was only able to schedule the test a few days ahead of time. It’s that racing against the winter thing.

So in the past few weeks we have gone in depth learning about radio links and interference. I have talked to the other teams to make sure we are all on different channels. We have purchased and learned how to use the tools to identify and correct interference. There was even a backup radio link in our plans several months back but the system was doing so well that I was trying to avoid spending the money for it.

Looks like we may have to dust the cobwebs off of plan B on this one. We are also giving the wheels a thorough review and have found a few points to improve them and insure that they don’t suffer such a failure again.

The test showed us possible failure modes ahead of time so from that point of view it was a success. We will have finished addressing those failure modes before the competition. Another round of testing would sure be nice, but there is not time or money.

This just in! We found a defective wire on the test climber that caused the bulk of our radio problems. It has no outward signs of damage but you can just touch it a watch the status light blink off and on.

This is exactly the smoking gun we were looking for.

We tested last weekend with an aircraft carrying the test climber we call Lovey. All systems were go at a range of a mile high. We can clearly pick out our radio signal on the new spectrum analyzer. We were able to track Lovey on the aircraft with our optics system. This is a much more difficult target than we are expecting for the competition and we really benefited from the practice.

Today we are working on wheels. We are struggling to get clean data from our tests but it is looking like we have a design with better durability, efficiency and traction. We built another treadmill for the climber to practice climbing on and found a higher tree. I think we now have the data that we missed out on getting in the helicopter tests back in June, July and just recently in the Seattle tests.

These past few months remind me of the movie Rocky and others like it where after a defeat (The helicopter test failure) you go back to the gym and work out real hard to get back in winning shape. I am envious of how easy they make that look in the movies and also reminded that winning shape is something that has to be maintained, not just achieved.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

The ‘defective wire’ thingy is scary – so much work, so much preparation, so much money, so much testing, all can be undone by this one little thing.  I’m very glad they found this before the competition and I’m sure some new testing regimens have been developed because of this.

You can never guarantee success – all you can do is increase the odds in your favor.

Regarding “…cutting it close in a race against the winter…”, data from the Mojave weather station indicates that the average max temperature in Mojave in November is 65.7 degrees Farenheit, while the average min temperature is 39.1 degreees.  Average rainfall for the month is .43 inches.  The ‘heavy rains’ (1 inch plus per month) don’t kick in until January – February.  Of course these are averages and our mileage this year may vary, but the odds are in our favor.  And, it’s going to be MUCH more pleasant holding this competition in November than it would have been in August.

Just 12 more days!

More views of the NSS Testing…

Over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games, Ben Shelef has posted his video / picture ‘montage’ of the NSS climber ‘melt test’.  Very cool post, but I deny that the ‘maniacal laughter’ that Ben attributes to me on a previous post of mine was caused by me.  While I was recording the test, I just heard this spooky laughter and my video camera picked it up.  Really.  Truly.  I swear…

And I have one more video I’d like to share with you.  The laser was not aimed directly at the bottom of the climber but rather at the NSS mirror which reflected the beam upwards to the bottom of the climber.  By standing directly behind the laser beam source and looking into the mirror, I was able to make this video.  You can clearly see the solar cells being illuminated by the Climber as well as the acetone boiling.  And, if you look at the plastic bags, you can see them flexing as the acetone vapor ascends into the bag and then condenses.

Yes, I was being illuminated by the reflection of the laser and, of course I (and everyone else) was wearing safety glasses.  I did get a bit warm after a while and had to move back a bit, but was in no real danger as long as I kept my safety glasses on.


Between a rock and a climber…

You’ve heard the expression “Between a rock and hard place”, I’m sure, but have you ever heard of being “Between a rock and a Climber”?  No?  Well, neither had I until a saw this post on the LaserMotive blog.

It seems that the LaserMotive team was able to work with a local Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) store to do some additional testing on their climber; i.e. having their climber ascend along the REI Climbing wall.  An interesting post, complete with pictures.

Also,  LaserMotive tells us about another sponsor of theirs, Silver Spring Organics.  Not only did this company provide space for long range laser tests, they were the enlightened souls who provided the venue for the recent, successful tests of the new Space Elevator Games ‘raceway’.  Thank you Silver Springs Organics!

There is cool and then there is Über-cool…

Here are some videos I took of the NSS qualification tests on the first day of testing (this past Monday).

This first video is just an intro shot of where we are and what is going to be happening.



This second video is of the first test – the Reflectivity test.  You can see Ben Shelef (CEO of Spaceward – organizer of the Games) and John Piatt (NASA) checking the reflections.  A 4kw laser beam has been pointed straight up into the bottom of the Climber.  Ben and John are measuring the reflections downward from the Climber.  You can clearly see the laser beam as it is illuminating the bottom of the Climber.



These next two videos show the Climber’s cooling system in action during the second test, the “Climber melt test”.  This test pours full power into the Climber for a time period equal to or exceeding the expected length of a climb to ensure that it can handle the load.  I misspoke on the first video, stating that the acetone was stored inside ‘plastic bags’ that were attached to the topside of the Climber.  Actually, there is a reservoir on top of the cells where the acetone sits.  When it heats and boils, the vapor forces itself upward into one of five plastic bags open at the bottom to the reservoir.  The acetone cools and then drips down to the reservoir to begin the cycle again.  You can clearly see the acetone boiling in both videos, especially around the edges of the cells.  In the first video, you can see the acetone condensing and running down the side of one of the outside bags.




And in this final video, the NSS team is running the  “Optics melt test” and burning through some gypsum boards acting as a beam dump.  Jolly good fun!


NSS testing at TRUMPF – Day 2

All in all, another pretty good day for NSS and the Space Elevator Games…

As I mentioned in the previous post, the first goal of this second day of testing was to rerun the “Optics melt test”.  TRUMPF personnel performed trouble-shooting on their system and concluded that one of the laser feed heads (unfortunately, the one we were using) was not functioning correctly and they replaced it.  The NSS optics had been left in place from the day before so they were able to quickly set up to run another test.  This time, the results were mixed.  While the beam heading into the lens was still wider than NSS had anticipated, the laser seemed to run flawlessly.  The full power (4kw) test was run for 11 minutes plus before it was halted – the laser ran without problems.

The modified Optics system ran fine, too, and was able to burn through several more gypsum boards.  NSS team members will continue to investigate why the beam was wider than their calculations indicated it should be, but they are confident that the system as-is (i.e., with a little bit better baffle than the temporary copper sheeting put into place) will perform well enough to compete.  Both Ben Shelef and John Piatt concurred.  The NSS Optics and Climber still has to be tested at 8kw (there was only a 4kw beam available at the TRUMPF site), but this will be done during the setup and testing days at the Games.

The next and final test was the tracking test, this to ensure that NSS had a way to detect and track their laser beam during a climb.  The test was originally scheduled to be held at a local airport but for a reason that I neglected to ascertain, this venue fell through.  NSS Team Member Robert then used Google Maps to locate an alternative spot, a long, flat dirt road located several miles out of town.

Here the NSS team set up their optics, tracking system and ‘device-to-be-tracked’, i.e. a pickup truck with reflective strips taped to the tailgate.  It took some time to set all this up, but by 2:00pm or so, everything was ready.  The NSS team worked as quickly as they could as they were under a bit of a time constraint as John Piatt had to head back to NASA and, besides, it was bloody cold out there.

Multiple tracking ‘runs’ were performed while Ben and John were in attendance, observing.  While it was clear that the NSS team members needed some more practice in handling their tracking device and software, it did seem that their equipment could do the job.

Based on these and the previous day’s results, Ben and John have provisionally cleared NSS to become the fourth team in the competition.  There are still a couple of hurdles they have to clear, but it is expected they will do so and, once they have done so, they will be allowed to compete for the NASA-sponsored two million dollar prize – welcome NSS!

I have added a link to the NSS team site on my blog’s sidebar under the Space Elevator Games / Teams for 2009 category.

I’ve included a few additional photos with this post, too.

Picture thumbnail #1 (topmost) is the front of the TRUMPF facility in Plymouth, Michigan where most of these tests were held.  We can never say too many times how much we appreciate TRUMPF’s stepping-up with their sponsorship of these Games.  This is a big-time (i.e. expensive) laser they have made available, along with their facilities and their personnel.  Plus, these guys are just fun to work with; competent, courteous and really wanting this whole thing to work.  Thanks again TRUMPF!

Thumbnail #2 is of the ‘brain-trust’ at the beginning of the second day of tests.  From left-to right; Ben Shelef (CEO of Spaceward – driving force behind these Games), NSS Team Member Matt Abrams, John Piatt from NASA, NSS Team member Tom (he’s from Moscow Mills Manufacturing – the suppliers, I believe, of the NSS mirror & mounts), NSS Team member Robert Windsor and Dave Marcotte from TRUMPF.

Thumbnail #3 is of NSS Team Member Robert updating his Facebook page dialing in his software.  Despite this picture’s appearances, he’s not shy, really he’s not…

Thumbnail #4 locates where NSS was running their Tracking test while Thumbnail #5 shows a view of the entire test track.  We truly did get some very strange looks from people driving by.  I’m just glad the local police either didn’t know about our testing or didn’t take an interest in it.  I can imagine the conversation now;

Officer: “And just what do you think you people are doing?”

NSS: “We’re testing how well we can track our laser.”

Officer: “You’re doing what?”

NSS: “We’re testing how well we can track our laser.  We’re going to be shooting it at this truck and if it works like we want it, we’ll be using these to power a space elevator.”

Officer (slowly moving away and speaking into his radio): “I need backup and I need it now!”

Thumbnail #6 shows NSS Team members Robert and Tim (foreground) explaining to NASA’s John Piatt what they were going to be doing and how they were going to be doing it while Ben and Matt look on.

Thumbnail #7 shows the reflective tape on the back of the target pickup while thumbnail #8 shows the laser dot on the target while it was driving down the road.

As always, you can click on any of these thumbnails to see a larger version of the picture.

One more note: NSS now has a blog which you can subscribe too.  They have a very cool photo on there of one of their team members in a canoe while wearing a vest illuminated with a laser.  Now that’s dedication!

More tomorrow including videos.  I do have some truly cool video and can’t wait to post them.

Stay tuned!

NSS Testing at TRUMPF – Day 1

All in all, a pretty good day, I think.  The NSS team came here to qualify their optical system and Climber with a TRUMPF laser.  Three tests were run today.  There were two successes and one “I don’t know yet” results.

Several members of the NSS team were here, along with Ben Shelef (CEO of Spaceward, the organizer of the Games), John Piatt (from NASA – making sure that the equipment met not only Spaceward’s standards, but NASAs too.  John gets ‘special points’ – a government employee coming here on a Federal holiday – thanks John!), Nic DeGrazia (chief filmographer from Chicago video production company Bitter Jester Creative Inc., the team filming the entire Space Elevator Games story) and yours truly.

Some members of the NSS team left yesterday and are being replaced with others today.

The first test was a reflectivity test, making sure that the Climber did not reflect any of the laser beam back in a dangerous or uncontrolled manner.  The climber was mounted on an aluminum rack, held aloft by a forklift truck.  The TRUMPF laser was directed onto a mirror and then onto the bottom side of the climber.  Both Ben and John then examined the results to ensure that no untoward reflections were being created and, I’m happy to say, no issues were uncovered.  Test 1 – Pass.

The second test was much more fun and consisted of trying to melt the Climber – i.e., this was a test which directed the full power of the laser at the bottom of the climber in order to determine if it could really handle the expected load over the expected run time of a competition climb.  NSS uses a very novel heat dissipation system – a liquid cooled one.  Over the top of the solar cells, they have created a (mostly) liquid-tight reservoir which holds several ounces of Acetone.  The top of the reservoir opens up into 5 plastic bags.  The theory behind this design is that the heat from the laser would boil the acetone, turning it into vapor.  This vapor would then ascend upwards to the top of the plastic bags, cool, condense, and then run back down into the reservoir so the cycle could restart.

Now my background is software, not hardware and I was a bit dubious that this would all work.  The NSS team was confident, of course, as was Ben.  For me, it was a case of ‘wait and see’.  I’m happy to say that, outside of a small leak, the system performed flawlessly and, as a bonus, produced some of the coolest images I’ve seen.  I’ve got video showing the acetone merrily boiling away, doing its thing and I’ll be posting these videos soon.  So Test 2 – pass.

The third and final test scheduled for the day was the one where we tried to melt the Optics; i.e. making sure that the NSS Optical system could also handle the full power load expected during the climb.  The results here were much more ambiguous.  When the system was turned on, about a minute or so into the test, the NSS team became a bit worried about the smell they detected, coming from their optics, and they had TRUMPF shut down the laser.  They quickly determined that the laser beam entering their lens was wider than expected was and was spilling over onto (and melting) the ‘bumpers’ that were holding their lens in place.  Discussions with TRUMPF personnel then ensued.  It was quickly determined that instead of handing a 200 micron-sized beam to  the NSS optics (which NSS was expecting), TRUMPF was sending them a 600 micro-sized beam.  NSS believed that this might have been the source of the problem.  TRUMPF didn’t believe so, but did change their side of the system so that they were sending out a 200 micron beam.  The test was repeated but the results were the same; i.e. the beam was wider at the lens than expected.

Then the real trouble-shooting started – lots of fun discussions about what possibly might have been the cause.  I got involved in these discussions, even though I know squat about lasers, because I do understand debugging and troubleshooting.  It seemed to me that there should be some easy way to ‘qualify’ the beam; i.e. to make sure that it was the size and power that TRUMPF team said that the beam was generating could be independently verified.  A test like this would quickly determine whether the source of the problem was on the TRUMPF side or the NSS side.  Alas, there doesn’t seem to be any such device.  However, I gave the idea of this device to TRUMPF and claim patent rights when they finally build one.

Lacking a way to quickly determine where the souce of the problem was, and still wanting to be able to qualify their optics, NSS built a temporary baffle so that they constrict the beam into the diameter size that their lens was ‘expecting’.  The test was then repeated.  All seemed to work well for the first several minutes and, as a bonus, resulted in more uber-cool photos and videos.  About 6-7 minutes into the test, however, the TRUMPF system reset, killing the laser beam.  More discussions and trouble-shooting ensued and the upshot was that the TRUMPF system was recycled and the test was repeated.  The results were the same; i.e. several minutes into the test the TRUMPF system was reset, killing the laser.  A fault / error-message was detected in the laser feed driving the test.  TRUMPF then loosed their more senior technical personnel onto the laser.  We won’t know until Tuesday morning what they found and corrected, but they did say, preliminarily, that perhaps their laser WAS generating a beam that was out of specifications.

Assuming the TRUMFP personnel can fix their laser feed, we’ll rerun the test on Tuesday morning.  The NSS optics have already performed at an acceptable level for a time period longer than a 5 meter/second run will take and have now been provisionally been qualified for the competition.  However, no one, not NSS, not Ben or John and certainly not TRUMPF are happy with the situation and want to rerun everything with a correctly functioning laser-feed.  This test will be rerun as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, then, the schedule is to first try and rerun the “Optics melt test” to everyone’s satisfaction.  Once that is completed (or is determined to be not possible at this time), then the Tracking test will be run.  We’ll all head out to a location that TRUMPF has set up and we’ll see how well the NSS Manual tracking system performs.

Stay tuned – follow us on Twitter today for up-to-the-minute updates at

I’ve posted some photos here too, for everyone’s viewing.  The first (topmost) photo is of the bottom of the NSS Climber.  This climber is easily the smallest of the Climbers in this competition and is on order of the same weight as the Kansas City Space Pirates Climber.

The second photo is an ants view of the bottom of the climber – the climber (mounted on the aluminum rack) being held aloft by the forklift.  I had to lie down on the floor to get this shot – the things I do for this blog 🙂

The third photo shows NSS Team member Aaron holding a shot glass used for measuring the amount of acetone injected into their Climber’s cooling system.  I can assure everyone that the shotglass was used only for acetone and not anything else (at least while they were onsite)…

Photo #4 shows the NSS Mirror with the cover removed.

Photo #5 shows Aaron injecting the acetone into the NSS Climber’s cooling system.  They need to do this just before the runs because the acetone does soak into / eat into some of the cooling system material.

Photo #6  shows a side view of the NSS Climber.  The cooling system bags are held in place by an aluminum frame, as you can see.  I still can’t get over how well it all seems to work…

Photo#7 is the target’s view of the business end of the NSS Optical system.

Photo #8 is a gypsum board after being scorched by the TRUMPF laser and NSS Optics.  Kind of looks like Don King with bangs, no?

And finally, photo #9 shows a top view of the NSS optics while the full-power test was taking place.  You can clearly see the laser reflecting off the temporary baffle that the NSS Team members put into place to constrict the beam.  With this camera, the laser-reflections are blue.  In my video camera, the laser reflections are orange.

I’ll be posting more photos and videos soon.

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

(In my original post, I mis-identified NSS Team Member “Aaron” as “Eric” – sorry Aaron!)

It’s On!

As noted over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games, the Climber / Power-Beaming competition for this year has been set for the week of November 2nd.

On Monday and Tuesday (the 2nd and 3rd) there will be setup and testing.  The competition will begin on Wednesday, the 4th, and run for three days.

The raceway is set, the teams (except for NSS – hopefully they’ll qualify tomorrow and Tuesday) are set, the location and logistics are set.

More details soon – It’s On!

Squares are evil, but SpongeBob SquarePants isn’t…

These are cool…  I stumbled across some pictures posted on Flickr that are artists conception of moving skyscrapers that travel up and down multiple Space Elevators.  I followed the Flickr link back to the website and discovered “Squares are evil“…

It looks like these pictures / drawings were entered in a 2007 Housing Architectural competition.

The level of detail in this work reminds me of the Base Station designs I posted about earlier.  At some point, I need to get someone to start finding these online designs and building an entry about them at the Space Elevator Wiki.  This type of forward-thinking will be very helpful in the eventual real design of a Space Elevator.

Any takers for this project out there?  If so, please contact me at ted [at]

And here is a picture of SpongeBob SquarePants taking a trip to the moon in (I think) a Space Elevator.  Not as much detail as the artist drawings, but you got to love it all the same…

(Drawing picture thumbnail taken from the Squares are Evil website.  Click on the thumbnail for a larger version or visit their website to see this and many other conceptual drawings they have created.)

(SpongeBob SquarePants picture thumbnail taken from Flickr.  Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.)

NSS Follow-up

Over at, the official site of the Space Elevator Games, Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef updates us on the attempt by NSS to become a fourth team in the Climber / Power-Beaming competition.

As Ben writes, both Nic DeGrazia and I will be joining him in driving up to the TRUMPF facility in Michigan.  It’s about a 5 hour drive from the western Chicago suburbs where I reside, so we’ll have lots of time to do some male bonding…

(cartoon from here – click on it for a full size version)

Another possible contender emerges…

It appears that I was wrong (or at least premature) when I wrote back on August 6th “Please note that only 3 teams. USST, KCSP and LaserMotive, have qualified at this point to compete for the NASA-sponsored prize money.  I do not believe that any other teams will be added to this mix in the future as the qualification window for the Climber / Power-Beaming competition is now closed.”  During this time period where changes were being made to the raceway, the team from the National Space Society (NSS) has been furiously working on their climber, hoping against hope that they could somehow qualify in time for the competition.

It appears that this may now be a possibility.  Next Monday and Tuesday, October 12th and 13th, the team from NSS will be at the TRUMPF facility in Plymouth, Michigan, testing and validating their Climber and power-control system. Personnel from both Spaceward and NASA-Dryden will be there too, along with yours truly.

I haven’t been able to make either of the previous two new raceway tests and that was a major bummer for me, so I’m really glad to be able to make this set of testing.

If NSS passes this set of tests, they will be fully qualified to compete.  And, regarding the actual competition itself, the actual date for this will be announced very soon (really, truly, trust me) and the competition will be soon, too.  The raceway is all ready – now it’s just a matter of scheduling the logistics of NASA, Dryden and TRUMPF.  The three (or maybe now four) teams are also ready.

I’ll be blogging and Tweeting from the TRUMPF facility and will post a wrap-up afterwards.  Also, I’m sure Ben will be updating us on events over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games.

Stay tuned!


On the website of the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA), I noticed a mention of LASER ’09 – a competition scheduled for later this year in Japan.

I emailed Shuichi Ohno, President of the JSEA, and asked him for more information about this competition.  Mr. Hideyuki Natsume, the Director of LASER ’09, kindly responded with these details:

LASER’09 (LEGO bricks Activity and Space Elevator Race 2009)

  • Date: November 3rd, 10:00am-16:00pm
  • Place: Tokyo International Exchange Center, Japan (
  • Contents: LEGO-climber race, LEGO-SE design contest, Exhibition, and more.
  • Host: Japan Space Elevator Association <JSEA>( and Nihon University


The Space Elevator (SE) has become a hot topic recently to those who are interested in Space Travel and Exploration. But it is difficult for children to know about the mechanism of the Space Elevator. LASER will sponsor the opportunity for the young people “to know about SE”, “interest to science”, and “pleasure to make” using the LEGO bricks loved by children. The participation of about 30 teams which consisted of school students is scheduled for this event.

About LEGO-Climber race

  • Each team will produce a Climber made of LEGO bricks.
  • Participants will compete to see whose remote controlled Climber is the fastest to ascend the 25mm wide, 5m long polyester-tether which is hung from ceiling.

Contact information: For additional details, please contact executive committee of LASER (Team LASER at

30 teams?  Wow – that will be quite the competition.  I look forward to a report and pictures from the event.

(The picture thumbnails are of two LEGO Climbers – click on them for a (slightly) larger version. “LEGO is a trademark of the LEGO Group and hereby used with special permission. ©The LEGO Group.”)

The Space Elevators…

I guess it had to happen sometime – there is a (new, I think) music group out now called “The Space Elevators“.  They have released several songs on their MySpace website and also now have a video out on YouTube:



Their music is entirely without vocals – it’s all instrumental.

Now, understand that I’m a baby-boomer.  I grew up in the drug-culture of the 60’s (for which I’m eternally grateful).  Much of this group’s music reminds me of the electronic experimentation I heard during that time.  There was this group called “The Corporation” and they were, I think, out of Milwaukee.  The music out of these guys reminds me very much of that group…

I’m sure it’s not everyone’s “cup of tea”, but if you’re into electronic music, you might enjoy their offerings very much.

Check out their “MySpace” page.

The ‘official word’

Over at, the official website of the Space Elevator Games, Spaceward Foundation CEO Ben Shelef gives us his take on the just completed testing, complete with a short video of part of the testing.

The raceway is READY – now it’s just down to scheduling.  When can we get the venue, when can TRUMPF bring their laser and when can the teams finalize their schedule so that this can all happen?

It shouldn’t be long – we’re hoping for the competition to occur in October.

And, in case the Two Million Dollar Grand Prize goes unclaimed this time ’round again (though many of us will be surprised if that happens), the raceway and requirements for the 2010 Space Elevator Games would remain unchanged; i.e. an average speed of 5km over the full kilometer climb.  This means that if Spaceward and NASA do have to schedule another set of Games next year, there will be no change to the raceway – it’s ready to go…

Stay tuned!

Desperately seeking amusement…

And now we see our intrepid explorers playing a fun game of “Marco Polo”.



I had no idea what “fish out of water” meant until I read the official Wikipedia entry on ‘Marco Polo’ – I guess I must have had a deprived childhood…

See all of our explorer’s activities on their official website.

New USST Video on YouTube

Anne-Marie Cey, the Communications and and Public Relations Strategist for the University of Saskatchewan (home of the USST team), sent me an email to let me know that a new video, touting the USST team, has been posted on YouTube.  I watched it – it’s pretty neat and am including it in this post.

The video was created by a Saskatoon based company, Juxtapose Productions.  Thanks for the tip Anne-Marie!



With all due respect to Mark Boots, who is quoted as saying that the chief advantage of the Space Elevator is that it “…would make access to space way more inexpensive and way more affordable…“, I believe that the chief advantage is that a Space Elevator is scalable.  You can build one that can lift many tons to space EVERY DAY.  This is the way that you colonize space – having a carbon railway to the stars.

Anyway, enjoy the video – I certainly did!

Everything is looking good…

This past weekend, the second test of the new, improved Climber / Power-Beaming raceway was held.  As with the first test, everything went really well.  Here is the update from Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation and organizer of the Space Elevator Games:

Hi folks.

I wanted to update you on the results of the second test in Olympia this past weekend.

As you recall, we made several changes after the tests at Dryden – we changed the helicopter vendor, we mandated use of the GPS hover-aid, and we swapped out the winch with the Virtual Bob (R) motion-arrestor system. We tested everything for the first time with a 1000′ cable two weeks ago, and everything worked very well.

This second test was a general rehearsal for the games – we used the full length cable (total of 4300′ above ground level) and had a battery-powered climber run up to the the top while we checked that tracking was feasible within the parameters we’ve set – not exceeding a 15 degree half angle cone, and not coming too close to the helicopter.  We were able to do all of this successfully.   We also practiced pull-up and set-down of the system several times, and really, there’s nothing much to it anymore.

This is the place to give Keith Mackey his due credit, since without him this would never have come to fruition, to NW Helicopters who have been more than tremendously helpful, and to Doug Uttecht who flew the helicopter for us oh so beautifully.

I’ll be blogging about the details in the next couple of days,


I’ve included some photos that Nic DeGrazia (from the Chicago video production company Bitter Jester Creative, Inc.) sent me.  The topmost one is unbelievably cool (IMHO) – it shows the Kansas City Space Pirates climber ascending the ribbon.  This picture is the closest thing we have yet to being able to show what a real Space Elevator is going to look like.  I don’t know if Nic composed the shot to show the sunshine spilling into the right half of the picture or not, but it’s a really cool effect.

The second picture is also of the KCSP Climber, this time not too far above the top of the Pyramid.

The third picture is of the pyramid itself while the fourth picture shows the Pyramid, too, this time with some of the base being lifted up by the helicopter.  As Nic mentioned in his email to me that accompanied this picture, “The base of The Pyramid (this was the helicopter’s anchor … you see it here doing it’s job – it plopped back down a moment later)“.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, with the “Pyramid” and all, check out the official website of the Space Elevator Games for the details.

Thanks for the pictures Nic!

The Lasermotive Blog and Tweet log also has some information sent out during the testing.

So, now all we need is a date for the competition.  It certainly looks like it will be sooner rather than later.  Stay tuned to this blog or the official site of the Space Elevator Games for the latest updates.

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

Next Space Elevator Games testing coming up

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

We are off to Seattle to do some testing with the new helicopter and cable arrangement this weekend.

The new helicopter is about 3 to 4 times smaller and more precise than the old one. I am quite happy about that. The preliminary tests that Spaceward ran 2 weeks ago were a roaring success.

One of the downsides is that after rethinking the cable system we have had to eliminate the part where we walk up and attach the climber to the bottom of the cable while the helicopter holds it up.  That means that we have to come up with a system that lets the little, fragile climber get picked up off of the ground and set back down by the helicopter while we stand a safe distance away.

I like the safe distance part. The old system had us attaching the climber to a cable that might move up or down suddenly with enough force to take off a finger. Or if was locked in position so it can’t move up and down might snap and hit us in the head. Probably not, but this is better. However the climber gets a much more harrowing ride.  So we are going to test that and a bunch of other stuff.

As some of you may remember. At the last competition the ribbon snapped several times. One of those times was as we were walking up to attach the climber. If that had happened about 30 seconds later it could have gotten my fingers. So perhaps I am a little too focused on that particular scenario.

If these tests are successful, then a date for the competition can be set. It could be as early as a few weeks if the rest of the details fall into place.

Wish us luck, and I really hope it goes well because this is starting to feel like a pregnancy that has gone well past term. Even for an elephant we are past due.

Brian Turner
KC Space Pirates

We’re getting close, really we are…

(Picture from here)

“Who is screwing around with my head?!?”

For yesterday’s post, I attempted to find non-US Space Elevator related videos – and was notably  unsuccessful.  But then I remembered – Gundam!  This cartoon/anime series is always good for some Space Elevator ‘video’.  Lot’s of shoot-em-up action…



On a related note, the ‘Gundam Big Expo 2009’  just recently finished.

And if I’m looking a little desperate for Space Elevator material to post, well, you’re correct.  I’m in the middle of my yearly pilgrimmage to Arkansas and am a little out of touch…

More YouTube videos

So, based on the ‘discovery’ I made several days ago (i.e., putting in translations of the phrase ‘space elevator’ into the YouTube Search engine and coming up with interesting stuff), I decided to see what I could find in some other languages.

First of all, in Russian (??????????? ????)



This is pretty recent (August, 2009) and the beginning kind of reminds me of the Space Elevator toy that the Japanese Team (E-T-C) brought to the 2007 Games:



I would have liked the Russian video better had it been accompanied by some Russian heavy metal, or maybe someone like the Leningrad Cowboys…



Hmmm, no other worthy Russian Space Elevator videos.  Let’s try French (Ascenseur Spatial).  Nothing much there either.  Ok, Spanish (Ascensor Espacial).  Geez, nothing new there either.  Dutch?  Nope.  German?  No, just the one I posted plus some old Turbo-Crawler videos.  Swedish?  No.  Hindi?  No.  Finnish?  No…

Sigh.  Come on you non-USA types.  Let’s get creative!

“Dynon Avionics Stabilizes a Space Elevator”

One of the many challenges in the Climber / Power-Beaming event of the Space Elevator Games is keeping the helicopter that holds up the steel cable raceway in the proper position.  Keith Mackey, the aviation consultant that Ben hired to assist in all-matters related to the aircraft had devised a GPS-based system to be used by the helicopter pilot for this purpose.  Sadly, the original pilot hired by Spaceward proved unwilling to use this system and this contributed greatly to the failure of the initial testing.

On a more happy note, the pilot now contracted by Spaceward was ready and willing to use this system and it has proved to be a great success, as noted on the post at the Space Elevator Games website.

The equipment that is performing this very necessary task has been provided by the Dynon Avionics Corporation and they now have a post about it on their company blog – it makes for very interesting reading.

Thanks Dynon!

More updates from the official website of the Space Elevator Games

Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation and driving force behind the Space Elevator Games, has posted some additional information about the latest round of testing.

Truly, it went very, very well.  The system was stable and predictable and performed exactly as hoped.  Ben’s posts discuss several aspects of the new setup and gives you insight as to what the plan is now.

Additionally, Ben lets us know about a possible new (old) entrant into the Climber / Power-Beaming Competition in his latest post.

Visit his official site of the Games and check out the posts…

Space Elevator Games – testing updates

Over at the official site of the Space Elevator Games, Spaceward Foundation CEO Ben Shelef fills us in on problems that occurred during the first sets of tests, changes that have been made and where we are now.

His first post is Return to Blogging (welcome back!) while his second, Old Wrap-up and New Plan, is the definitive word on “what went wrong” and what has been done to fix the problem issues…

Quick update – 2

Yesterday I wrote about how the preliminary test of the new Climber / Power-Beaming ‘raceway’ was quite a success.  Here is the email that Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation, sent to the “inner circle” earlier today:

Hi folks.

A quick happy update.

We were talking with a new helicopter operator (in Washington state) who is not currently occupied by fire fighting when we realized (last Friday) that we have an opportunity to fly this past weekend.  We did a quick turnaround, got everything shipped out to them, and on Thursday Keith and myself arrived at their site. We put together the hardware on Friday (the tether setup and the helicopter instrumentation) and on Saturday morning met with the Washington Area volunteers (Dave Horn, Tony Rusi) and LM at the flight site.

Keith spent the first half hour with the pilot teaching him to fly the GPS system, (which worked perfectly) and then flew over to meet us at the site. We already had the tether setup (new and improved) ready, limited to 900′ AGL on this test, and they picked it up and flew it just perfectly.  The cable was rock solid, position keeping was perfect, tension was perfect – nothing to it. Did it several times with various settings too, until we basically exhausted this test setup – next step is a full altitude test.

So we’re a happy bunch of guys right now, and planning to fly the high-altitude test asap, so we can get these games done already!

Hope you are having as good a weekend as we are,

More soon – Ben.

The ‘Keith’ that Ben refers to is Keith Mackey, the aviation consultant Spaceward hired for the Games.  Dave Horn works at Microsoft and was the chief organizer of the just-finished Space Elevator Conference.  And the LM Ben refers to is LaserMotive, one of the Climber / Power-Beaming entrants.  They, too, are located in Washington and some of their team members attended the test to watch and to help out.  Over at the LaserMotive blog, they’ve posted their own summary and some pictures.  Make sure you check it out…