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$2 Million NASA Power Beaming Challenge Heating Up

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the when-moving-target-is-not-figurative dept.

Power 98

carstene writes "Qualification rounds for the NASA Centennial Challenge Power beaming contest are underway at the Dryden Flight Research Center. The contest uses a scale model of a space elevator as a race track. Entrants must build a robot to climb a cable, suspended by helicopter, 1 km into the sky without any on board energy storage. The teams are using high power laser beams to transmit power from ground stations to photovoltaic arrays on the robots. If a team can accomplish this at 5 meters per second average speed then they could win up to 2 million dollars. One day this technology could be used to power rovers in shadowed areas of the moon or to recharge electric UAV's in-flight or even a space elevator in the far future. A blog of the event can be found here. Full disclosure: I'm a member of the LaserMotive team that you can follow on twitter, or or via blog."

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sharks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800385)

Can we get a "sharks" tag on this story please?

Space elevator? (2, Informative)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800405)

Last I heard there were bigger problems with space elevators than the energy required to get up there.

A circular geosynchronous orbit in the plane of the Earth's equator has a radius of approximately 42,164 km (from the center of the Earth). A satellite in such an orbit is at an altitude of approximately 35,786 km above mean sea level.

Re:Space elevator? (4, Funny)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800657)

what really sucks is when you're stuck between floors

Re:Space elevator? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801085)

On the bright side, you won't be bothered by bad elevator music [chartattack.com] for the three days it would take to rescue you.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803017)

Oh come on. You just know some bozo will figure out how to modulate the power laser so you can enjoy 101 strings doing songs you used to love until you just fucking jump instead of waiting for the rescue...

Re:Space elevator? (3, Funny)

layer3switch (783864) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801699)

When you get caught in between the Moon and New York City... I know it's crazy, but it's true.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

karlfs99 (991426) | more than 5 years ago | (#28808161)

Thanks a lot!! Now that blasted song is stuck in my head for the rest of the day! I'll have to head for the elevator so another song can dislodge it...

Re:Space elevator? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28809863)

it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small small world

Re:Space elevator? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800663)

That's why I like the idea of a Launch Loop better (not that it doesn't have its issues too). It uses kinetic energy to maintain the structure rather than tension so it could in theory be built with modern materials. It also launches in minutes rather than the days, weeks, or even months that some space elevator designs call for. It would have a much higher launch capacity and is built on the ground rather than having to boost a cable into orbit. It doesn't require an anchor weight in high orbit and since the energy for launch is also transfered mechanically you don't have to worry about beaming power anywhere. Finally, it would act as a huge and efficient energy store, meaning we could, in theory, use 100% solar/wind power and use a launch loop as the worlds biggest battery for night time and cloudy days.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_loop [wikipedia.org]

Re:Space elevator? (1)

ahem (174666) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803821)

So what if the launch loop didn't have the turnarounds at each end? What if the two stations were near one of the poles instead of at the equator? You locate at a latitude just far enough away from the pole to make the circumference of a circular loop equal to 4000km. Then, instead of tossing the cable up in a straight line and have to turn it around at the other end, you toss it in the air, and the earth's rotation carries it around to the other station "halfway around the world", where it's launched up again.

Maybe it wouldn't curve just because the earth is turning underneath it? Maybe it would go in a straight line equal to a great circle headed away from the pole?

Re:Space elevator? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28809511)

perhaps they can use their efforts at a latter date to generate electricity by using the
laser beams to cut the magnetosphere. it sure would put the hover dam to shame.

Re:Space elevator? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800709)

Last I heard there were bigger problems with space elevators than the energy required to get up there.

A circular geosynchronous orbit in the plane of the Earth's equator has a radius of approximately 42,164 km (from the center of the Earth). A satellite in such an orbit is at an altitude of approximately 35,786 km above mean sea level.

Yeah. Attacks by Vermicious Knids

Re:Space elevator? (1)

BoothbyTCD (713107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28810117)

There should be a '+1 Awesome' mod.

Re:Space elevator? (3, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800723)

Well, you know, in a way, the huge distance by itself isn't that big a problem.

The big problem is the material science, creating macro-scale nanotubes long enough to be woven into a cable or ribbon, and strong enough to support the ribbon itself plus whatever we want to lift. Last I heard (and I'm admittedly not following it closely at all) they could manufacture single nanotubes a meter long, and had nanotubes less than an order of magnitude from the desired tensile strength. But not at the same time. Still, it's promising, but there's a long way to go.

Once you've solved the material science problem, and hopefully made large-scale manufacturing feasible if not cheap, then it's mostly a matter of motivation. Laying down and occasionally carving paths through the mountains for 75,000km of interstate probably sounded daunting, but it got done because there was a perceived need. Between the military uses and commercial uses, I think it would exist for the space elevator too. But it would probably be the DoD who would have the money to do it. With low cost to orbit, Project Thor would be an economical reality. That's my pitch. I'm sure we could add more. Of course we have time, though, because for now, large-scale manufacturing of carbon nanotube cables is still a dream, and thus so is the elevator. :)

Re:Space elevator? (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800807)

Laying down and occasionally carving paths through the mountains for 75,000km of interstate probably sounded daunting, but it got done because there was a perceived need.

It got done eventually. Meanwhile the finished sections were already usable. A space elevator cable that's 1 km too short is useless.

Re:Space elevator? (2, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800879)

It got done eventually. Meanwhile the finished sections were already usable. A space elevator cable that's 1 km too short is useless.

You can still do the project in stages, just to a lesser degree. First you make a thin cable that is only useful for small payloads, which will include the next section of cable when its ready, and so on until you have your full-strength cable.

Re:Space elevator? (3, Informative)

Engine (86689) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801375)

Most of strength isn't needed for the payload but for the weight of the cable, so you gain very little by making a smaller payload elevator.

Re:Space elevator? (3, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801419)

The point wasn't to reduce the tensile strength required; that material science problem still needs to be solved.

The point was that once you have accomplished that and it's a matter of manufacturing and will, you can make use of smaller cables in stages while waiting for the full construction to finish, much like you could use portions of the interstate system before it was done. But instead of making roads that are full width, but not the full length needed, you're making ribbons that are full length but not full width.

At least one substantial elevator proposal uses this approach.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800823)

Material properties aside, it would be interesting to build a ring around the Earth. The net gravitational force on it would be zero (small variations may have to be accounted for), so it could float above the Earth with zero supports. You could build a series of them, allowing for shorter distances to be travelled at once, which gives you a lot more leeway on power, cable design and weight (mass I guess). Counterbalance the elevator and you won't pull the rings out of the sky.

In the end it stays in the realm of science fiction, but I've always thought it would be cool to see this giant ring above your head that seems to defy gravity. With a space elevator involved it may actually have a use.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 5 years ago | (#28805905)

This configuration is unstable. It would need active station keeping in addition to magic materials.

Or just have a large number of inter meshing satellites with there own station keeping *in* orbit...

Re:Space elevator? (2, Interesting)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800987)

I recall reading, a few years ago, about a craft intended to lift payloads into orbit which operated by firing lasers at its underside which would ignite a fuel. I guess it's basically this [wikipedia.org] .

I'm all for research into all kinds of technologies but to me this almost sounds like a glorified Radio Shack kit; shine a flashlight at a robot to get it to roll around. If it's got photovoltaic cells why even bother with the lasers? Just make the thing solar powered. I suppose this method ensures more power for the robot. To me the aforementioned makes more sense.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801115)

One of the founders of LaserMotive, Jordin Kare [wikipedia.org] is the originator of an idea for laser launch [wikipedia.org] . Its a very cool idea that seems very workable for putting small payloads into orbit by heating H gas in a heat exchanger on a rocket with a ground based laser.

As far as why a laser and not solar? The laser is a lot brighter then the sun over the array of the PV array, and the PV array is allot more efficient at the lasers wavelength (color), so you can have a much more compact system. Besides this way you can send power where the sun don't shine.

Wrong technology (1)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801555)

I can see why they'd want to use lasers - how else are you going to focus the energy sufficiently from a distance of 1 or more kilometres?

But why would they use lasers and PV cells when masers could be used instead? Highly directional radio antennas should be both simpler to build and waaaaayyyy more efficient, IMHO, and masers aren't any less efficient than lasers...

Re:Wrong technology (1)

Jordin (795817) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802917)

Diffraction. Lasers have a wavelength of around 1 micron; the shortest-wavelength microwaves we can make at high power (using gyrotrons, incidentally; unlike lasers, masers are low power, and are now quite obsolete as microwave amplifiers) are around 2 millimeters, 2000 times longer. The antenna/telescope diameter is proportional to wavelength, and the aperture *area* (which is what costs money) is proportional to the wavelength *squared*.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 5 years ago | (#28807511)

about a craft intended to lift payloads into orbit which operated by firing lasers at its underside

I'm wondering what power could be supplied to the lift-trains (for want of a better description) from orbit. I'd imagine there would be multiple options for powering the cars that are not earth centric.

For example what about lift-trains falling *away* from earth and slowing their velocity beaming that power to trains that are *climbing*. Not all of the power needed to climb but then the climbing (climbers?) lift-trains might be able to secure power from multiple sources.

Re:Space elevator? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28801727)

Actually, the satellite needs to be located nearly twice that distance, to keep the center of mass in geosynchronous orbit.

Re:Space elevator? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#28806541)

The center of mass not only depends on the positions of the parts, but also on, well, their masses. So if you make your satellite heavy enough, it can be even just one meter above the geosynchronous orbit. Of course there's a tradeoff involved: The heavier the satellite gets, the more expensive it gets to put it there. OTOH, having it at greater distance will also increase the cost. I guess there would be an ideal distance where the cost is minimized.

Assuming the whole thing can actually be built, of course.

Heating up? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800409)

Ha ha, I hate puns more than first posts.

Re:Heating up? (1)

Adm.Wiggin (759767) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802067)

My first thought was that if TFS made some corny joke about microwaves from space killing cows on earth, a kitten was going to die. Lucky for us it's about lasers from space instead!

i wish i knew where michael jacksons grave is (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800477)

i need to take a big ol' shit.

That might just be enough to fix this problem... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800487)

I have to say that Firefox is getting a lot worse lately. The user experience is in serious need of improvement and development is the pits. I installed the latest "big deal" Firefox update on June 30th. (For some reason they skipped a full four secondary updates, but whatever.) Upon restarting, which took several minutes, I began using Firefox 3.5 [mozilla.com] .

At first, Firefox seemed strangely familiar. I thought they had changed very little unnecessarily until I visited the Acid3 [acidtests.org] test. Lo and behold, I was still using Firefox 3.0.0.11 [mozilla.com] . What the fuck? I manually invoked Check for Updates and repeated my first attempt only to find, upon restarting, the same thing.

Finally in desperation I downloaded the installer manually from Mozilla [mozilla.com] . The install ran surprisingly quickly and, after a few minutes, I was launched with the new version. I had to check, though, because again I thought it looked like very little had changed.

In fact, did Mozilla bother changing anything beside the JavaScript? The new SpiderMonkey is great and all, but they could have at least made it look like they were working on something else. When the most noticeable improvement is the "Know Your Rights" button (which everyone ignores) one really starts to wonder what the fuss was all about.

Well, after the three tries it took to upgrade, I found my profile wouldn't migrate. This was a mess, but I was able to eventually retrieve my bookmarks from a long, arcane file path in a hidden directory. But then upon visiting my bookmarked sites I found that almost none of my add-ons are compatible with it. Therefore my browser is almost entirely functionless.

The bookmark tool itself could use a polishing. It's a mess and has been since version 1.0. If a browser is meant to render and organize content, Firefox surely falls down in this area. Why does it take me several minutes to slosh through the GUI just to make a new folder and alphabetize some bookmarks in it? Not to mention the damned Bookmarks toolbar, which takes up too much damn space and can't be turned off.

And speaking of the GUI, it's slow as Hell! Get rid of the proprietary XUL [jerf.org] and just hardcode the damned interface already!

I also have to mention memory use. On my system, Firefox was swallowing an incredible 400 MB with only a simple HTML 5 page [webs.com] open. 400 MB?! I blame this on the Firefox team's use of C++, where memory management is about as easy as herding cats. Likewise Firefox is a slow, bloated nightmare. (For a contrast, there's Safari [apple.com] , which is written in Objective C [apple.com] and is very small and efficient.)

Most of the time I have heavy JavaScript sites open. I shudder to think how much Firefox eats then, and I'll be sure to check in the future. No wonder my system tends to slow down when I've left Firefox open for days on end with dynamically updating pages and RSS feeds. Clearly, Firefox leaks memory like a cracked sieve in a waterfall.

With Firefox smelling more and more like crapware, I started to dig a little, first on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and then on the Mozilla Development Forums [mozilla.org] . It turns out that my observations are part of a larger pattern of Firefox quality issues and development customs. The Mozilla developers are a bunch of arrogant, abusive shitheads.

For starters, they're still running all tabs in the same process. This is something IE7 and Safari 3 have had right for years. So if a plugin crashes or a page takes forever to finish rendering, everything's stuck. You can't even switch tabs to another page! And Firefox 3.5 is a "milestone" release? Firefox 3.6 and 4 are milestones too, and process-per-tab isn't scheduled for either.

Developer interaction with Firefox users is stilted too. Sometimes Bugzilla [mozilla.org] reports are dismissed out of hand, only to be reopened when something goes terribly wrong later. I also saw instances of reported security flaws sitting years before being patched. In one case, someone released an exploit to point out the deep holes in Firefox before anyone did anything.

One time, a user with some programming experience suggested a bugfix to the wishlist. One programmer, whom I will not publicly name, suggested the user submit patches "once his balls dropped," if he were even male. If this were a real company and not a bunch of arrogant hacker hippies, user antagonism and sexism would never be acceptable. When I read this particular incident I uninstalled Firefox for good.

If anyone else has complaints about Firefox, post them here. For a browser that's taken nearly a third of the market, it's doing so with an incredibly broken development model and backend. Just imagine if the Firefox team actually treated its users right or prioritized projects properly. Maybe then the web would move beyond the mess of incompatibile standards and site hacks it is today.

Until then, Firefox is just another out-of-control Open Source project that needs a good stiff slap in the face [trollaxor.com] .

Microwave instead of visible energy (1)

tetrahedrassface (675645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800497)

Would microwave + rectifier work any better or worse? Just wondering, I seriously don't know.

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (1)

mercosmique (1415693) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800575)

How would that be more fun than powerful laser beams ? Go USST !!!

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (2, Informative)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800883)

The lasers are actually infrared and invisible. Ours is 808nm and is very slightly visible to some as a violet glow. For this use lasers are easier to work with then microwaves as they have a much smaller divergence so the transmitter can be much much smaller. For beaming microwaves over these distance you end up with a transmitter that does a fair imitation of a radio telescope.

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800947)

The lasers are actually infrared and invisible. Ours is 808nm and is very slightly visible to some as a violet glow. For this use lasers are easier to work with then microwaves as they have a much smaller divergence so the transmitter can be much much smaller. For beaming microwaves over these distance you end up with a transmitter that does a fair imitation of a radio telescope.

But at those distances, how can you possibly get the sharks to hold still enough to keep the beam focused?

Moron.

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (1)

DrWho520 (655973) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801193)

Are there other reasons besides beam divergence to use a laser to transmit power? Is the atmospheric transmission better (my guess is no) or energy conversion efficiency better for the laser than a microwave?

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (1)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802071)

Beam divergence is the biggest reason I'm aware of. Another sizable reason is kilowatt for kilowatt an infrared laser is a lot cheaper. Diode lasers (especially infrared ones) have collapsed in price in the last few years.

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801485)

What about masers?

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (3, Informative)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802119)

Turns out that divergence is set by the wavelength, larger the wavelength the bigger the minimal divergence. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffraction-limited_system . Our lasers wavelength is 808 nanometers. Compare that to say 1 centimeter for microwave and you can see that microwaves will always require a much bigger "lens/mirror" to focus them.

Re:Microwave instead of visible energy (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802619)

Ah, gotcha, thanks.

Full Disclosure? (0, Flamebait)

Facegarden (967477) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800505)

Isn't "full disclosure" really just meant to say "Hey, FYI I might be biased"? Not, "Hey, I might be biased, now let me promote myself!".
-Taylor

Re:Full Disclosure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800605)

Yes. Full Disclosure is supposed to involve no pants. We are very happy that the submitter chose to keep his on.

Re:Full Disclosure? (2, Informative)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800659)

Isn't "full disclosure" really just meant to say "Hey, FYI I might be biased"? Not, "Hey, I might be biased, now let me promote myself!".

He was just demonstrating his bias for full disclosure.

To be serious though, he is providing relevent and interesting information. We wouldn't have much news if you can't tell anyone what you are doing for fear of seeming self-absorbed.

Re:Full Disclosure? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801097)

Isn't "full disclosure" really just meant to say "Hey, FYI I might be biased"? Not, "Hey, I might be biased, now let me promote myself!".

No. In fact, your point is self contradictory. If it means the former, it necessarily includes the latter. It's not possible for the first thing you said it meant to be true while the second is false. Rather like it's impossible for a basket that contains five apples to not contain three apples. Just because you include more than the first thing doesn't mean you no longer include the first thing. If "full disclosure" means including a notice of how you might be biased, including that notice and saying something else as well does not mean you failed to include the notice, so it's still "full disclosure".

Re:Full Disclosure? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801271)

Exactly, Knowing someone is biased doesn't give you any information into how he might be biased. It's important because instead of reading everything as a skeptic, you could now just be skeptical about his team rocking while the others suxors.

Here is a better example, A judge could potentially be biased because he has met the defendant before. Disclosing this isn't an automatic requirement for a recusal (judicial disqualification) because the disclosure could be that he saw the defendant at a charity dinner where he sat two tables away some 20 years ago. But if the disclosure would state he was a business partner and stood to lose a deal of money if the defendant lost, it would be. SO knowing the why or the how of the disclosure is just as important as the disclosure in most cases.

Re:Full Disclosure? (1)

Facegarden (967477) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801305)

Isn't "full disclosure" really just meant to say "Hey, FYI I might be biased"? Not, "Hey, I might be biased, now let me promote myself!".

No. In fact, your point is self contradictory. If it means the former, it necessarily includes the latter. It's not possible for the first thing you said it meant to be true while the second is false. Rather like it's impossible for a basket that contains five apples to not contain three apples. Just because you include more than the first thing doesn't mean you no longer include the first thing. If "full disclosure" means including a notice of how you might be biased, including that notice and saying something else as well does not mean you failed to include the notice, so it's still "full disclosure".

First of all, holy crap could you make that any more confusing? And thanks for explaining to me that a basket with 5 apples can't not have 3 apples in it - when you think someone is that wrong, maybe you should consider the possibility that you misunderstood them? People are rarely that dim.

And it doesn't matter anyway, you completely missed my point. I never said what he did wasn't full disclosure, i was just suggesting that that the self promotion was unnecessary.

-Taylor

Why have the energy source on the ground? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800661)

If you have a cable>space portion of the space elevator working, why not put solar panels at the space end and beam the energy down (microwave?) to the ground instead of the other way around? When there is no elevator car traffic, you could use the beamed energy for other purposes, and when it is time for a trip just put the elevator car energy collector in the path of the beam and away you go?

Re:Why have the energy source on the ground? (1)

mercosmique (1415693) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800737)

Kool idea but I would imagine that unless those solar panels could travel down the tether they would be rather expensive to repair and maintain. Being attached to the climber they could easily be maintained when it returns to Earth.

Re:Why have the energy source on the ground? (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800863)

How often do the solar panels get changed on current satellites?

If you have a cable already going from the ground to space, why beam the power down? Run a cable along side the existing cable to get the power down.

Then again, 45K of wire per strand is going to use a lot of copper or any other material.

Re:Why have the energy source on the ground? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801103)

You can't run the power down a wire until you have true room temperature superconductors. Even they do not have unlimited current carrying capacity...

Re:Why have the energy source on the ground? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#28806643)

Indeed, it's time that someone invents the carbon nanotube unlimited current room temperature superconductor, so that we can have cables carrying electricity from space without loss, and without collapsing under their own weight.

Re:Why have the energy source on the ground? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801259)

Don't forget how much resistance 35,000 odd kilometers of copper wire would have, and its weight.

Re:Why have the energy source on the ground? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801697)

Solar panels are currently under 20% efficient with the most efficient cells ever produced being around 40%, so let's use that as an estimate. Each square metre of solar panel therefore gives you 400W of power. The amount of energy you need to lift the climber is the potential energy gain: mhg. If we divide both sides of this by time, we get that the power is the mass multiplied by g, multiplied by the vertical speed. We'll use g at the surface, which is around 9.8m/s/s (round it to 10 to make the calculations easier), for the worst case, so the mass multiplied by the vertical speed is 40. For the 5 metres per second that they want, you can only lift 8Kg with the most efficient solar cells that currently exist, in perfect sunlight. Note that this mass includes the solar cells themselves; that doesn't leave much for the climbing motors and the payload.

Note that these current designs are, effectively, using solar cells. They're just using ones tuned to specific frequencies and powering them with lasers, rather than sunlight. Even then, it's difficult to get a good enough power to mass ratio.

Why lasers? (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#28805217)

For this test, a big freakin' light source (at the solar cells peak absorption wavelength) and an array of lenses to focus the light on the robots solar cells should do the trick ...

Helicopter Pilot (5, Funny)

CompressedAir (682597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800699)

NASA: "We'd like you to hover for a few hours dangling a cable."

Pilot: "Boring!"

NASA: "Oh, and several teams will be shooting lasers in your direction."

Pilot: "Now you're talking!"

Re:Helicopter Pilot (4, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801539)

This is actually a pretty dangerous job for a helicopter pilot. If his engine fails (which does happen from time to time), he'll be unable to autorotate and will crash fatally. Just like fixed-wing airplanes, helicopters require forward motion to be able to recover from engine failures by gliding to the ground. For this reason, helicopter pilots generally try to avoid hovering unless they're just above the ground; takeoffs and landings are done with forward motion as much as possible.

Re:Helicopter Pilot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28801855)

Not so much of a problem. Its quite possible to autorotate to a safe landing from a Hover at that altitude. I'd be more worried about the 1k long cable near the rotors.

The scariest thing about this... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28802453)

The scariest thing about this is being on the ground, next to the cable, hooking up a climber with a big Sikorsky S-58 above you. Ever see what happens when a cable under 800lbs of tension snaps? Think Amusement park nightmare.

Re:Helicopter Pilot (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802569)

Helicopters don't require forward motion to auto-rotate.

Re:Helicopter Pilot (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28802705)

"Hovering at 20 to 50 feet puts you in the "deadman's curve" - it's a combination or airspeed (0 knots) and altitude (20 to 50 feet) at which a safe autorotation is not possible. So if the engine quits, you're dead."

http://www.marialanger.com/2008/04/27/the-deadmans-curve/

Re:Helicopter Pilot (2, Interesting)

Joren (312641) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803599)

"Hovering at 20 to 50 feet puts you in the "deadman's curve" - it's a combination or airspeed (0 knots) and altitude (20 to 50 feet) at which a safe autorotation is not possible. So if the engine quits, you're dead."

http://www.marialanger.com/2008/04/27/the-deadmans-curve/

...but we are talking about hovering at 1 km...

Re:Helicopter Pilot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28802827)

Parent is correct. Close to the ground forward motion might be required in order to have enough kinetic energy to keep the rotors spinning fast enough for a safe auto-rotation to the ground. At higher altitude, the potential energy of a hovering helicopter is high enough to perform a safe auto-rotation. This video demonstrates that it is possible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH03stFao4k.

Re:Helicopter Pilot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28802919)

Incorrect, you can transition into a autorotate from a hover, it just means you have to loose more height before you can autorotate, close to the ground this can be a problem, at 1000m, not so much.

Re:Helicopter Pilot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28803239)

You can auto-rotate from hover, it just requires more height. A R22 can auto-rotate from hover at 200ft, 1km will not be a problem.

Pilots avoid hovering to avoid settling with power (Vortex Ring State). Hell, one of the ways to leave settling with power is to start a auto-rotation. Settling with power can be dangerous when hovering at low altitudes (Below the height you can safely enter and complete an auto-rotation).

Re:Helicopter Pilot (2, Insightful)

f0dder (570496) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801709)

Wouldn't it be more cost effective to use a balloon for this sort of stuff?

Full disclosure? (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800703)

That "full disclosure" sure is a sneaky way to promote yourself in the article!

I'd like to know (4, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800707)

what brave soul wants to pilot the test helicopter anchoring the top of the beanstalk, while engineers of varying degrees of competence are aiming powerful directed energy beams at an object suspended a short distance below them.

"Do not glance outside of cockpit with remaining eye."

Re:I'd like to know (1)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800961)

I tend to think of the pilot as pretty brave too, but the contest organizers and NASA have gone to great lengths to make it as safe as possible. For example the helicopter actually hovers at about 1.3km and the lasers all aim in a direction where the helicopter should not be "illuminated". Furthermore while the lasers transmit many kilowatts of power, they are actually fairly spread out, over a square meter or so. They are an eye hazard, but there is no danger of cutting a hole in anything Goldfinger style.

Re:I'd like to know (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801559)

That still doesn't account for the danger of an engine failure. If that happened, the pilot would not be able to recover as he has no forward motion.

Re:I'd like to know (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28803213)

sure he could

Re:I'd like to know (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#28808177)

Well, sure, the chopper would probably* autorotate down. And it will probably do so in some direction other than straight down. But if it did fall (relatively slowly) straight down, you can add the insult (or injury) of being painted by a high-energy laser ("AAAH, MY EYES! THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING!") to the injury (or severe injury) of a crash-landing.

*There are a few catastrophic failure modes, such as spontaneous rotor system failure, in which autorotation isn't available. OTOH, in those failure modes, laser beams are the least of your problem.

5 meters per second (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800725)

I'm confident I can get much higher speeds than that out of a laser...

Well c isn't even a letter (1)

Goateee (1415809) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801711)

Well c isn't even a letter, so it can't be that fast can it?

What a waste of taxpayer money (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28800763)

/little Rush Limbaugh mode on

You silly libs. How dare you waste taxpayer money on your silly "science" and "technology". Rovers on the moon? Recharging little planes? Space elevators? This is just your classical dem tax-and-spend porkbarrel earmark-pal'ing-around-with-terrorist-ism.

The government can't do anything right. Let private industry handle this research! Clearly, the free market will dump loads of money in technology which doesn't have an immediate payoff! /little Rush Limbaugh mode off

I apologize about the flamebait. It really was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. At any rate, I think everyone should be happy with this. We get new science technology, the military will get a new toy to power their next generation weapons, and defense contractors will eventually have things to build. I say, the government needs to dedicate MORE money to projects like this. At least there's the possibility of a tangible reward at the end.

Re:What a waste of taxpayer money (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801313)

er, it IS private industry doing the research..... NASA is merely offering a prize that is frankly hellishly little money considering what they are asking.

awesome (1)

teamsleep (903456) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800831)

This is pretty cool, as much as I don't know anything about it.

My mind: "Oh pretty lazer shooting!" *gaze* "Wait, it's powering that robot? What the hell...?"
My mind: "Pretty... pretty lazer!" *gazes for hours*

Oh well, though. It seems cool and space elevators are awesome. To think we may use those to get to space is mind boggling.

Orbital Strike (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28800849)

Could this be used in a surface to orbit strike cannon?

We could use a defense from an alien armada, or a death star-esqe laser that we could use on other planets.

Re:Orbital Strike (1)

mercosmique (1415693) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801021)

Surely you mean orbit-to-surface ?

Re:Orbital Strike (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801783)

No, a surface to orbit cannon aims from the planet outward.

Re:Orbital Strike (1)

mercosmique (1415693) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802265)

My apologies, I was utterly confused there. I thought you were talking about putting this cannon on the end of a tether, thereby making it orbit to surface. I know realise that you were probably refering to the implications of the lasers, and not the tethering part, and that I am an idiot.

Re:Orbital Strike (1)

drukawski (1083675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801321)

Yes, because in case you didn't already know... aliens having all the technological capability of being able to travel the mind bogglingly vast distances between stars, AND the ability to do so in short enough order to get here before we blow ourselves up, actually haven't yet invented mirrors. It's almost ironic that simply shining a glorified flashlight at them and yelling "get off our lawn" is all thats needed to scare them off.

Re:Orbital Strike (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#28806833)

Well, the true reason why aliens are scared is that lasers rays of exactly that type are a side effect of their most effective weapon: The blackhole gun. It works by producing black holes, which then are fired onto the enemy ship. The production process causes laser light to be emitted in some direction; usually that laser is directed into space, exactly to scare the enemy away (actually using that weapon is very expensive, therefore it's a big advantage if the enemy just goes away in fear). Well, actually they have lost the knowledge how to make true blackhole guns long ago, but that's kept top secret, so every alien war party expects that the other party has the real thing, which is why the laser trick works.

Very Cool! (1)

Raptor851 (1557585) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801017)

I didn't see on the site though, what day is the competition itself? I'd like to go out and watch it. (I work in a building right down from DFRC, on main base)

Re:Very Cool! (1)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801161)

August 5-7th. All the action will be out on the lakebed in the "compass rose". Besides the web site you can also follow it on NASA tv.

brain fart (1)

jasno (124830) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801327)

Is there anything like a mechanical diode - like shark skin.. something that would ratchet the platform upwards in response to vibration in the cable?

What about blimps? Vacuum filled(oxymoron alert) carbon nanotube spheres? What about something like aerogel but with a closed-cell structure that lacks air?

 

Re:brain fart (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801477)

I think vacuum-filled tube spheres are a great idea. Get on that and report back how it goes.

Re:brain fart (1)

7Prime (871679) | more than 5 years ago | (#28803535)

Ummm, unfortunately, that only works for a few miles. Think about it for a second... why do we not send balloons into geosynchronous orbit?

Might work on Venus though.

Sterling Engine (1)

laughingskeptic (1004414) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801405)

Wouldn't a two piston Sterling Engline designed such that it flipped itself over on each cycle be a much better energy down converter than solar cells? Even if your laser is tuned to the solar cell band gap, the amount of energy that you put into the power transfer is a fraction of what you would get as useful energy to the crawler. With a Sterling Engine you could just use mirrors to focus sunlight to power the device.

Re:Sterling Engine (3, Informative)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28801481)

While the efficiency of a heat engine is great, the power to weight ratio is awful. So much in fact that it is really hard to build one that can lift itself.

A laser that is matched to the bad gap of a pv cell can be over 50% efficient. So it is not too bad on that front and a lot less weight then a heat engine.

By the way, a Sterling Engine is an engine made of silver, a Stirling Engine is a heat engine.

Re:Sterling Engine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28801665)

Ah but yes what about a Sterling Stirling Engine, that polishes itself and does nothing else?

Re:Sterling Engine (1)

laughingskeptic (1004414) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802193)

I've seen some pretty flimsy Stirling Engine implementations. Some even have foam pistons, but you are probably still right about the P/W ratio. I've never seen the flimsy ones do much more than turn. Attaining 5m/sec = 300m/min with an engine capable of turning at 1200 rpm would mean that the engine would have to be capable of lifting itself .25m =~ 8 inches per turn. This does not seem like an impossible number, but it doesn't sound easy either. It would probably be necessary to put it into motion at the start, but that does not seem unreasonable to me as clearly there is power available at the launch site.

The laser light that hits the solar cell may be converted at 50%, but you also waste a lot of energy in producing the laser beam.

Re:Sterling Engine (1)

carstene (267166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28809759)

A diode laser, like we are using is also about 50% efficient in turning electrons into photons, so under ideal conditions you get around 25% of the electricity out the other end that you put in. I will point out that you still have to heat the Stirling engine with something like a laser so it has exactly the same lose on that end as beaming to a PV does.

Re:Sterling Engine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28802263)

I'd mod you up, but I have no points at the moment.

Bottom up? Top down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28801827)

Wouldn't it be easier to have all that solar energy reflected from the top down? At least we wouldn't have to consume Earthly resources to energize the lift.

Re:Bottom up? Top down. (1)

Tacvek (948259) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802271)

No! Don't do that! The laser would be applying a pressure in the wrong direction. If you must, reflect it on a mirror on earth so the light can bounce back up to the craft. (In all actuality, the force from the light pressure is probably insignificant.)

Blue Shark ... (1)

Wolfjjj (72509) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802073)

Step 1 - Find Blue Shark (Reliablely recorded at speed is 24.5 miles (39.4 kilometres or 11.1m/s) per hour over long period of time)
Step 2 - Attach laser
Step 3 - ???
Step 4 - Profit .....

Mwahahaaha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28803959)

What a clever joke.

I'll supply 1+ kW DC power, you supply the robot (2, Interesting)

n6gn (851311) | more than 5 years ago | (#28802415)

I'll supply the power over a single conductive cable 1 km long if you'll supply the robot to climb it. We can share the prize. I'm ready to demonstrate. To see how I do it see http://www.corridor.biz/FullArticle.pdf [corridor.biz] n6gn
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