Sunday, October 22, 2006

Space Elevator Challenge Results

The Second Annual X Prize Cup was held in Las Cruces New Mexico this weekend. 4 events related to space development were scheduled: the Space Elevator challenge in two parts (a climber competition and a tether competition); a lander challenge to develop a rocket-propelled autonomous vehicle that can take off, hover, then land again; and an exhibition for the Rocket Racing League. The engine for the Racing Rocket wasn't ready, so the craft was unveiled but not flown. I didn't find any reports on the Lunar Lander challenge; I assume no one won the competition. All the preliminary reports described mishaps of various sorts.

The most exciting competition was the climbing challenge. Competitors had to build a climber that could scale a specified ribbon at a speed of at least 10 meters per second and then descend. Power had to be beamed to the climbers from the ground. Winds were much higher than expected in Las Cruces, and as a result, the competition tether swung back and forth, moving many climbers in and out of their power beams. Two of the teams that tried to qualify used microwaves to beam power to their climbers; the Airport announced on the day of competition that they wouldn't allow microwave-based systems. A Spanish team shipped its climber by UPS, but it was lost en route. Three other teams were scheduled to compete, but various mechanical problems and mishaps got in their way. That leaves 6 teams that managed to qualify:

Climber Qualifiers

  • USST (University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team) climbed in 58 seconds. They didn't manage to descend in the alloted time, and there was some question as to the actual height of the climb. If it was 50 meters, they didn't reach the speed required to win the challenge purse of $200K, while if it was 60 meters, they would have been fast enough.
  • LiteWon from Westmont High School in Campbell, California first climbed the tether in 5:31, and in a repeat attempt managed to improve that to 2:02. Their (controlled!) descent was very fast at about 10 seconds.
  • TurboCrawler from Germany had problems with their controller in the final climb, then managed the climb in 3:27. They used two spotlights totaling 30 kilowatts to power their climber.
  • Climber 1 from the University of Michigan ascended in 6:40; they were fast enough when the climber was illuminated, but the wind kept moving the climber out of the beam.
  • Kansas City Space Pirates climbed more than half way, but couldn't complete the climb due to the winds.
  • Snowstar from the University of British Columbia couldn't get a grip on the tether during the competition.

tether qualifiers

Four teams entered the tether competition. They were required to submit a 2 meter tether that couldn't weigh more than two grams. They would then compete in pairs to see which could hold a heavier weight. The four qualifiers were Astroaraneae, UBC, Centaurus Aerospace and Bryan Laubscher. All the competitors met the weight limit, but only Astroaraneae met the 2 meter minimum length, so the others were all disqualified.

In a series of friendly competitions, UBC outlasted Bryan's submission at 531 pounds; UBC broke at 880 pounds while Centaurus Aerospace survived that weight. Astroaraneae held until 1335.9 pounds against the house entry. The house tether was allowed to weigh three grams and was the target to beat in order to win the $200k in prize money. The organizers then attempted to break the house tether (in order to provide a benchmark for next year's competition), but the pulling machine jammed.

The space elevator blog had play-by-play on the competitions. The Space Elevator Reference also had coverage that's worth looking at. has quite a few videos (mostly promos). YouTube has videos of some of the qualifying runs. I didn't find any of the actual competition runs. They also have other videos related to the x-prize events. personalspaceflight has more blogging, focusing on the rocketry side.

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