November 9, 2009--ABC news reported that a Seattle team collected a $900,000 prize in a NASA-backed competition to develop the concept of an elevator to space--an idea spurred by science fiction novels. The team's robotic machine raced up more than 2,950 feet of cable dangling from a helicopter, powered by a ground-based laser pointed up at the robot's photovoltaic cells that converted the light into electricity (see also "NASA hosts 2009 Power-Beaming Challenge on July 14" and "Light-powered elevators race to the sky").
The LaserMotive (Seattle, WA) machine completed one of its climbs in about three minutes and 48 seconds, good for the second-place money. The three-day contest required competitors' vehicles to get to the top, with rewards possible for completing climbs at two levels of speed. LaserMotive could have claimed $2 million if its robot had climbed faster. Thomas Nugent, one of the principals of LaserMotive, said the company believed the contest would demonstrate the concept of "power beaming"--transmitting energy by laser over long distances (see also "High-power diode lasers boost power-beaming competition").
Space elevators are envisioned as a way to reach space without the risk and expense of rockets. Electrically powered vehicles would run up and down a cable anchored to a ground structure and extending thousands of miles up to a mass in geosynchronous orbit--the kind of orbit communications satellites are placed in to stay over a fixed spot on the Earth.
LaserMotive was presented the check by Andy Petro, program manager of NASA's Centennial Challenges, in a ceremony at Dryden Flight Research Facility on Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. The two other teams, KC Space Pirates of Kansas City, MO, and the University of Saskatchewan's Space Design Team, finished out of the money. Neither of their machines made it to the top.
"I think it was an ideal Centennial Challenges competition," Petro said in a telephone interview. "We had students, entrepreneurs and independent inventors. It's a very difficult challenge. It's taken the teams four years for anyone to win."
For the full story, go to http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory?id=9021427.