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No One Wins NASA Space Elevator Contest

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the get-out-and-push dept.

Space 240

volts writes "According to New Scientist no one was able to grab the two $50,000 top prizes in the recent NASA 'Beam Power Challenge'. The biggest limiting factor seemed to be that no team was able to meet the speed requirement, although a group from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada set the height record at 12 meters. Not quite geosynchronous..."

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Top Speed (1)

misophist (465263) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866570)


They should set a slightly lower speed limit. This would encourage more people to work on the problem.

Re:Top Speed (2, Insightful)

devilsadvoc8 (548238) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866590)

Why too fast?

That's why its a challenge. If the parameters are too easy you don't get great innovation.

If I could change anything I would have allowed the competitors to design, build and provide their own energy source instead of using the NASA provided light. That would have allowed another track of innovation.

Re:Top Speed (5, Informative)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866937)

Your wish has been granted (FTA):
He adds that teams were restricted to using NASA's searchlight as the power source this year, but says they will be able to design their own in 2006. "They can use lasers, microwaves, whatever they like," he says.

Re:Top Speed (4, Informative)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866625)

They should set a slightly lower speed limit. This would encourage more people to work on the problem.

The minimum speed was 1 meter/s = 3.6km/h = 2.2369 miles/h. I can walk faster than that.

Geosynch is 35,786 km above sealeve according to wiki. At 3.6 km/h it would take over a year to get up to geosynch. They really should increase the minimum speed.

Re:Top Speed (5, Informative)

georgewilliamherbert (211790) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866709)

The minimum speed was 1 meter/s = 3.6km/h = 2.2369 miles/h. I can walk faster than that. Geosynch is 35,786 km above sealeve according to wiki. At 3.6 km/h it would take over a year to get up to geosynch. They really should increase the minimum speed.
There were a number of factors arguing for slower speed initial prize goals.

Power source this time was limited to a single high-power searchlight... faster requires a whole lot more power, and it simply wasn't going to be available in time.

Most teams didn't have the chance to test at their own facility with their own searchlight, nor at the competition site. If you can't really test, you shouldn't assume highly efficient operations...

The tether in use wasn't that tall, and accellerating and decellerating a whole lot within the available vertical distance was a nonstarter.

This was a introduction to parts of the problem set, not a realistic attempt to engineer production grade tether climbers. Everyone involved knows that...

Re:Top Speed (4, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866710)

Excellent point! In fact, most Space Elevator proponents seem to miss the fact that the energy for the elevator isn't free. You still have to expend at least the minimum amount of energy required to move an object into LEO. The physics of the situation say there are no shortcuts.

What you DO gain is:

a) Slower ascent
b) Only minor (if not inconseqential) losses from air friction
c) Ability to expend the power over a long period of time vs. in a huge controlled explosion
d) A workable descent mode that doesn't require that the hull handle extremes

I'm all for the space elevator idea. However, a lot of people need to understand that this is NOT existing technology. While it's very much possible for the necessary breakthroughs to be completed in the next few decades, dropping everything and working on a Space Elevator would only mean that we'd lose space access for a very long time. That is why NASA is pursuing the CEV and not the Space Elevator as the next major launch vehicle.

Re:Top Speed (2, Informative)

Judge_Fire (411911) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866795)

e) 'Unlimited' energy that can be created on location or fed from an existing grid, instead of shipping around limited quantities of hazardous chemicals. You'll need to choose between cheap and fast, though.

j.

Re:Top Speed (5, Informative)

Chirs (87576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866807)

You've missed a major point to the space elevator scenario--controlled descent.

In a standard descent, all the excess kinetic energy is wasted as heat. In a space-elevator scenario, you can use the energy of the descending cars to assist in powering the ascending cars. Net overall energy expenditure required is just enough to start the system and overcome the inevitable inefficiencies. Your average energy-per-car can be much lower than the rocket scenario.

Re:Top Speed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866825)

*cough* Point D *cough*

Sorry, had something in my throat. Carry on.

Re:Top Speed (1)

B-a-Z.nl (765901) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866953)

No, not point D, this actually saves a LOT of energy, you can use a counterweight, or convert the falling energy into something usefull. Current plans however don't make use of that since most plans don't really have an elevator, but more a rope-climber approach.

MagLev (2, Informative)

gatzke (2977) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866855)

I always thought having the energy stored on the ground was a good idea, and just giving the rocket an initial kick to avoid the first stage.

I remember reading about the amount of energy used to get a large rocket moving from 0 to x mph. If the first stage could be provided on the ground in the form of a gun or a mag-lev push, it would shave tons off the system and be reusable. Problem is, the cargo may have to take a lot of G forces, so it may only be good for dead weight cargo.

Just like spaceship one used a mothership to get things rolling, these systems could give the initial push without burdeneng the rocket with the requisite energy storage requirements.

Heinlein's Moon is a Harsh Mistress went into this a good bit, interesting idea.

Re:MagLev (1)

Control Group (105494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866913)

It's reaction mass more than storage.

It seems a shame to waste so much fuel on reaction mass in rocketry when you could possibly use something else (atmosphere, the magnetic field, a giant cable) for the first acceleration.

Losing the fuel for initial acceleration also has mass (and therefore payload) benefits, but the efficiency of using an external reaction mass is, IMHO, the big upsaide.

Re:MagLev (1)

gatzke (2977) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867104)

Maybe just use a nucular rocket engine...

http://www.lascruces.com/~mrpbar/rocket.html [lascruces.com]

I am not sure how you can use the atmosphere to get the first stage going, unless you mean use an airplane to do the first 50,000 feet (~10 mi) and 500 mph.

First stage Saturn V got about 40 miles up at about 5,000 mph carying 130 tons using 2200 tons of propellant.

I have seen suggestions that ~46,000 mph or 13 miles/sec would get you into orbit. At 100Gs for 20 seconds you get up to 64,000 feet /sec and travel 400 miles down range. A 400 mile long vacum sealed mag-lev launcher maybe? Maybe I dropped a OOM (order of magnitude)...

A 50 mile launch may be much more reasonable...

Re:Top Speed (1)

Control Group (105494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866859)

Well, yes, but you're borrowing much of that energy from the momentum of the cable, and you're replacing most of it when you ride the cable back down. You lose due to entropy, of course, but it's orders of magnitude more efficient than a rocket boost up and a free fall down.

The advantages you point out are also real, but they're minor compared to the energy efficiency of it.

Re:Top Speed (1)

Chirs (87576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866894)

Actually, you still need to expend the energy to "climb" the cable up to orbital velocity. However, as I mentioned in another post you get almost as much energy back by generating power on the way down, and you can feed that power to the climbing cars.

Each individual car requires energy to be input to ascend, and feeds energy back on the descent. If you have cars going in matched pairs (one up, one down), then the overall energy consumption of the cable could be relatively low.

Re:Top Speed (1)

terrymr (316118) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866943)

Orbital velocity comes from the rotation of the earth with the space elevator, so there is a whole bunch less power being expended.

Re:Top Speed (2, Informative)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866973)

What you DO gain is:
You missed the most important gain to be had from a climber with a ground-based energy source. Guess what most of the fuel in a rocket is used for. That's right, most fuel is used to haul up the fuel used to haul up the fuel used to boost the rocket up to escape velocity. With a space elevator, all fuel goes towards lifting the actual payload and climber (minus atmospheric losses).

Re:Top Speed (3, Interesting)

Control Group (105494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866839)

The minimum speed was 1 meter/s = 3.6km/h = 2.2369 miles/h. I can walk faster than that
Not straight up, you can't.

Geosynch is 35,786 km above sealeve according to wiki. At 3.6 km/h it would take over a year to get up to geosynch
True, but as gravity decreases, you accelerate faster per unit energy. I can't be arsed to actually do any math, but 1m/s at 1G is going to translate into significantly higher velocity the further out you go. Besides which, if you want to use the elevator primarily for moving materiel rather than personnel, a one-year turnaround might not be too bad; throughput is potentially more important than lag.

Even for personnel, that's on the order of time it took to sail from Europe to America via wind power, and people did that.

Re:Top Speed (3, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866928)

Totally unnecessary. If the capsule goes up at 1m/s, it will run 1km in 1000 seconds and 200km in 200,000 seconds, which is about 55.5 hours. At that distance the speed of the capsule can be raised by other means.

Re:Top Speed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13867031)

35,786/3.6=9,940/24=48.16 so... 48.16\356=0.135 of one year.
And these things speed up, the point of a competition is to find which company has what it takes to develop the ideas. Even at this rate, considering the costs involved in putting serious cargo up there now, even if it took 48 days, for many things it would be fast enough.

Re:Top Speed (1)

GoodOmens (904827) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866698)

He adds that teams were restricted to using NASA's searchlight as the power source this year, but says they will be able to design their own in 2006.

"They can use lasers, microwaves, whatever they like," he says.

It will get better next year.

Re:Top Speed (1)

jzeejunk (878194) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866767)

They should set a slightly lower speed limit. This would encourage more people to work on the problem.

I think the idea here is having groundbreaking innovation. Why on earth should they lower the speed limit which is already so darn low. I mean reducing the speed limit won't reduce the physical constraints we face on earth or in space. To encourage more participation they can always increase the prize money.

Re:Top Speed (1)

iocat (572367) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867087)

They did. Next year the prize will be $100K each. -Chris

Re:Top Speed (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866866)

They should set a slightly lower speed limit. This would encourage more people to work on the problem.

Indeed! I would consider launching dwarfs from a Space Step Ladder.

Your's Truly,
C.M.O.T. Dibbler

The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (4, Insightful)

Silverlancer (786390) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866573)

The biggest limiting factor seemed to be that NASA didn't offer enough money to get any remotely reasonable solution to the problem. Fifty thousand dollars is chump change to the kind of money needed to develop any of this technology.

TEH PATENTS!! (1)

LOL PATENTS RULE LOL (903720) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866587)

WON'T somebody think of TEH PATENTS?!?!

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866601)

I was about to say the same thing... on the other hand, they're doubling it for next year. Hopefully they will continue to increase it substantially ever year until there is a winner (or it just isn't worth it anymore).

Starting out low and moving up seems like a good way to ensure you get the best price if you're not in a great hurry. (Isn't that what a Dutch auction is?).

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (1)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866721)

No, starting low and increasing price is a normal english acution, a dutch auction is where the auctioneer begins with a high asking price and continues too lower the price untill somone accepts it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auction

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (5, Informative)

georgewilliamherbert (211790) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866603)

The biggest limiting factor seemed to be that NASA didn't offer enough money to get any remotely reasonable solution to the problem. Fifty thousand dollars is chump change to the kind of money needed to develop any of this technology.
These challenges typically cost more to compete in than you can win. DARPA autonomous vehicles teams typically spent 2-3 times the prize. The X-prize was won by a team spending $26 million on a $10 million prize.

What you "win" is prestige and advancing the state of the art.

Also, at least one elevator climber team was only 3 people part-time. That's not a huge budget...

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (3, Interesting)

Charcharodon (611187) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866817)

Actually what you "win" is licenseable technology that costs you $10 million less to develope and open the door to the posibility of getting the real "prize" which happens to be much larger (Also know as venture capital).

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (4, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866626)

$50K for a design and prototype isn't a lot, but since student labor is basically free most of the money can go towards building the prototype. The biggest problem seems to be that the energy source available seems to be the light energy from a couple hundred watt lamp. Assuming that the bulb is 50% efficient that doesn't leave a lot of energy to move even the motors at the required speed, let alone the entire vehicle.

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866717)

The biggest problem seems to be that the energy source available seems to be the light energy from a couple hundred watt lamp.
That requirement surprised me... given the interesting electrical properties of nanotubes [physicsweb.org] , dare we hope that the line itself can carry the energy?

The length is a problem for power transmission (2, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866874)

Short of a superconductor, practical wired power transmission is measured in hundreds or at best thousands of miles. Tens of thousands would be too much to hope for.

Re:The length is a problem for power transmission (3, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866972)

Short of a superconductor, practical wired power transmission is measured in hundreds or at best thousands of miles. Tens of thousands would be too much to hope for.
Are you sure? Quoting the article I linked:
"On the fundamental side, a perfect metallic nanotube should be a ballistic conductor: in other words, every electron injected into the nanotube at one end should come out the other end. Although a ballistic conductor does have some resistance, this resistance is independent of its length, which means that Ohm's law does not apply. Indeed, only a superconductor (which has no electrical resistance whatsoever) is a better conductor."

Re:The length is a problem for power transmission (1)

TopSpin (753) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867092)

this resistance is independent of its length, which means that Ohm's law does not apply

What does Omn's Law have to do with length? While the resistance of a "ballistic" conductor may be constant regardless of length, it's still not zero... Omn's Law would still be applicable.

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866878)

dare we hope that the line itself can carry the energy?

my hopes as well. Considerign the masive static charge built up in rotor blades, you would think that if you could keep the space elevator like from being grounded it would generate one hell of a static charge.

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (4, Interesting)

po8 (187055) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867059)

"$50K for a design and prototype isn't a lot, but since student labor is basically free most of the money can go towards building the prototype."

As a research professor with students who could have tried to build this thing, take my word for it that it's not enough money. I refuse to have my students doing someone else's research for free; I want to be able to pay them at least $10/hour + tuition remission. For an undergraduate at my fairly inexpensive institution, that's about $7K per quarter, and I'd need three of these. Add a $20K equipment budget and $5K for my time and we are at $46K.

So the budget is $50K. What's the problem? Just the obvious one that my chance of winning is quite difficult to estimate, but certainly way less than 100%. I'd put my expected return at around $5K. There may be institutions and individuals who can afford to expect to lose $41K for the prestige of doing good research and the prospect of future funding. I'm not one, so I'm out.

It doesn't appear that I am unique in these calculations.

By contrast, I just finished a NASA Phase I SBIR. $68,000 over 6 months, guaranteed. If I wanted to do space elevator research, I'd be way better off submitting an SBIR proposal than entering the contest: small up-front risk, higher expected return, better prospects of future funding.

Contests are run because there are often folks who overvalue them, so they are sometimes a cheap way to get things done at the expense of others.

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (2, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866662)

The point of the exercise is not to win $50,000. The idea is to give people an idea of what particular technologies NASA is looking to invest in.

NASA and other government agencies regularly offer research grants to develop the technology they want. This is just a way to do the same thing on the cheap. Rather than offering several different parties hundred thousand dollar research grants, you offer a prize to the winner of a contest, and hype up the contest. That way, people get fame as well as the possibility of millions of dollars in government contracts if they win.

Re:The biggest limiting factor seemed to be... (2)

igny (716218) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866820)

The biggest limiting factor was that NASA will offer $100k for the same contest next year. Whether it will offer $200k a year after that will decide the fate of the next contest.

OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866580)

LOL!!! So, who exactly is surprised by this bit of "news"? Space elevators are for chump VCs and Slashfags that can't quite grasp that DS9 isn't really real.

But, this setback won't stop these space elevator losers. Prepare for a long list of posts following this one that exalt at what a great accomplishment the 12 meter list is. 12 meters! LOL!!!

Ok, show of hands. Who here, above the age of 21, thinks that a space elevator has ANY chance of EVER working? LOL!!!

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (3, Funny)

jferris (908786) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866598)

I think it has more of a chance of working than you. How's the view from the family basement, junior? The thing that people fail to realize is that even if a project never reaches its goal, it has the potential to spawn innovation that can be applied to other problems. There is a quite a list of things that are NASA castoffs that are used in everyday life.

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (1)

camusflage (65105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866700)

There is a quite a list of things that are NASA castoffs that are used in everyday life

Those pressurized pens that write underwater and upside down are cool. That and I don't think you'll hear anyone deny Tang is pretty sweet!

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (1)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866751)

Those pressurized pens that write underwater and upside down are cool.

Whilst the Americans were developing this space pen, the Russians just used a pencil.

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (1)

jferris (908786) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866777)

NASA didn't invent Tang, and the Fisher Space pen is a well travelled myth. NASA did not solicit the pen to be created, nor did they pay Fisher to design it. Both the US and Russia used pencils until Fisher solicited the pens. Then both the US and Russia used them.

http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp [snopes.com]

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (1)

bot (235273) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866821)

That is a myth [snopes.com] . The space program was responsible for a lot more [nasa.gov] than Tang and 'space pens'. Then again, there are things that you can't put a price on, such as the need for mankind to go to space.

"Spin-offs" are mostly myth (2, Interesting)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866769)

"There is a quite a list of things that are NASA castoffs that are used in everyday life."

That's what I thought. I was wrong. [netalive.org]

Teflon: Teflon was invented by DuPont in 1938, well before the space program existed.

Personal Computers: Missile guidance systems were pushing for smaller and smaller digital systems, and would have lead to advanced circuitry without the Apollo missions.

The transistor itself had been invented at Bell Labs, independent of a space program, in 1947.

The actual personal computer was invented, not just in the private sector, but by a ragtag outfit of hippies in Northern California (which later became Apple Computer). Many of the participants in this computer club were Berkeley and Stanford students, which I mention to emphasize the importance of secondary education in scientific research and technological advancement. I could also mention Xerox PARC, Bell Labs, and other such private (or in the case of Bell Labs, semiprivate), research enclaves as being centers of innovation. Sure, they receive government grants and contracts, but they are not government owned or operated.

Tang and velcro weren't developed by NASA either, just popularized by it. Even a technology like solar cells, used to power satellites, originated outside of NASA.

The argument is reduced to spending for the sake of NASA jobs. Communism.

Re:"Spin-offs" are mostly myth (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866848)

Wow, I've never heard anyone claim that any of those, apart from Tang, were by-products of the space program.
Sounds to me like someone build a straw-man. Note that others have posted links to actual products that resulted from the space program.

Re:Ignore the poster argument is completely wrong (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866941)

Teflon: Teflon was invented by DuPont in 1938, well before the space program existed.
NASA makes no claim to ever inventing teflon and anyone who tells you other wise is an idiot. What they do claim to have spun off is a material that contains teflon. Two completely differnt concepts.

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (0, Offtopic)

jferris (908786) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866823)

For whoever modded this as flamebait, in the future I'll make sure to bold all of the facts so you can find them. I can imagine that it must have been hard to find the second half of my post, being immediately following the first half.

YHBT YHL HAND..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866988)

Plz stick your penis into the ass of the nearest mac-user and thank GOD for aids!

Re:OMFG ROFLMAO!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866627)

"Who here, above the age of 21, thinks that a space elevator has ANY chance of EVER working? LOL!!!"

I find it interesting that you appear to have excluded yourself from voting. I'm not sure if that's very wise or just very stupid.

Funny. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866811)

While your post is written in a rather inflammatory way, I don't think it deserves the troll moderation. In fact, I'm forced to agree with you. I am quite annoyed that NASA would even risk $50,000 of mine and other tax payer's money on such a preposterous game.

For those unfortunate ones that have difficulty seeing the folly of a "space elevator" perhaps you should speak with some people who have years of experience with elevators. Talk to someone at Otis [otis.com] They will be able to better explain to you that raising any amount of weight 12 or even 61 meters at 1 meter per second is trivial. However they will also be able to tell you that there is no way that you could do it for 300 or more kilometers. They will explain to you that even with the tremendous relative strength of carbon nano tubes, you would require not a tape but instead a pillar over a kilometer in diameter to support the elevator for such a distance. They would explain to you that the swaying of such a contraption would be for many kilometers in all directions and would tear it apart. They would explain that environmental factors such as heat, cold, wind, rain and more cannot be overcome, let alone dismissed. They will explain to you that for a simple building of 300 meters, it requires a minimum of three elevators with maximum runs of 100 meters each.

Space elevators are wonderful for flights of fancy but, they go no further. The really humorous part of it all is that NASA sponsored this challenge. The same NASA that can't keep the space shuttle in flight. The same NASA that is reverting to Apollo type vehicles for space flight. The same NASA that hasn't been to the moon in over thirty years. Yet, they entertain thoughts of space elevators. That is laughable.

Re:Funny. (1)

adam1234 (696497) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867013)

You've managed to lambaste NASA for the space shuttle, for returning to Apollo-style launches, -and- for pursuing the space elevator. What's your alternative technology? The warp drive?

Re:Funny. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13867097)

Bullshit.

They will explain to you that for a simple building of 300 meters, it requires a minimum of three elevators with maximum runs of 100 meters each.
Last I checked, the Sears Tower's Skydeck is right around 400 meters (quarter mile) off the ground. And they run one single elevator from bottom to top.

This has nothing to do with Otis or any other traditional elevator companies. You obviously do not understand the concept very well to compare the "space elevator" to a traditional elevator. The design philosophy is completely different. The only reason people call it a space elevator is that it lifts crew/cargo from one point to another following a path that is, for the lack of a better term, in the general direction of straight up.

Otis does not build elevators with fixed tethers. Throughout history, elevators have always been built as a big box hung on steel cables with a counter-weight on the other end. The cables get pulled by a motor, and transfers that motion to the big box.

If anything, the space elevator is envisioned to be more like a monorail: a fixed track and the box climbing along it.

Re:Funny. (1)

hjo3 (890059) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867115)

Comparing the space elevator to the lifts in multi-story buildings is just stupid. Beyond the fact that both involve cables of some sort and are meant to raise and lower things, there's very little similarity. And to think that an Otis employee would have anything useful to contribute because of his/her job is laughable.

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866586)

Been done before [skepdic.com] , except with more monkey.

rtfa (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866588)

if you rtfa you'd know what it said

easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866593)

stack a million and your there

Too bad (2, Insightful)

PresidentEnder (849024) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866594)

I'm reminded of DARPA Grand Challenge 1. This, though, seems quite a bit easier than autonomous vehicles- perhaps not the tether, but the climbers seem straighforeward. Are solar panels really that heavy? Are they that inefficient? The article says there was only a six-month time period between the contest announcement and the contest, but there isn't much in the way of new technology needed here. What gives?

Re:Too bad (5, Informative)

qbwiz (87077) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866647)

The problem was apparently that the spotlight they were using had too diffuse of a beam. Next year, when the teams provide their own beaming systems, it might turn out better.

success by failure. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866602)

No one ever said it would be feasible or easy.

Just as the first rockets blew up in the inventors faces, and many many failed, the work on them progressed until now we can mass manufacture them with very high success rates.

Have to start somewhere.. and from what i've seen.. this is a good start.

I look forward to seeing the progress for next years competition.

I can hear it now... (3, Funny)

Surazal (729) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866609)

"Quick guys, we gotta find a way to spin the Earth up really fast so we can call our elevator geosyncronous. There's $50,000 at stake, people!"

Yeah, right... (-1, Flamebait)

Sirch (82595) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866617)

a group from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada set the height record at 12 metres

I knew it was too good to be true! Saskatchewan doesn't even exist! Nice try, New Scientist!

Re:Yeah, right... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866674)

Re:Yeah, right... (2, Informative)

lyedee (674198) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866697)

Yeah, I'm going there for school next year. I can only imagine what potential (non-Canadian) employers will think when they see I have a degree from the University of Saskatchewan. It even sounds funny to me, and I've been here my whole life.

Geosynchronous (5, Informative)

ornil (33732) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866629)

Not quite geosynchronous...

Oh, it's quite geosynchronous (i.e. above the same point on the Earth surface). It's just not in orbit.

New idea. (1)

The Shrewd Dude (880136) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866630)

...a group from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada set the height record at 12 meters. New idea - take an elevator to the top of a skyscaper. That'd top 12 meters!

Re:New idea. (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866705)

Wonderful idea! Now all we have to do is build a skyscraper that's 22,240 miles tall, and we can use these babies to get into orbit.

Re:New idea. (1)

tbischel (862773) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867109)

Don't you read your bible [wikipedia.org] ? It will just piss off God.

Not quite geosynchronous... (5, Funny)

aengblom (123492) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866639)

Not quite geosynchronous...


We didn't have enough money to put a man in a track suit up a ladder! I mean, I would've been there,

"Go man, go!" "

I'm going, I'm going! 'Ang on!"

"Just hang on to the ladder!"

"Hello, Swindon, I am here. Swindon, can you hear me?"

"Swindon here, we are monitoring you on our instruments at the moment, we've got you on a tuba." "There should be a bigger laugh for that joke, I think."

"Yeah, I can't quite understand it; I thought it was really funny. Swindon, a knackered, kind of Fresno town."

"They don't seem to be going for it."

"They're obviously bastards."

"Anyway, Swindon, I'm nearly at the Moon... actually, that's a bit of an understatement, that one.

Have you got another big ladder, another bit of ladder? I don't think we're quite at the Moon yet, but I can see right over the top of the houses! Fantastic!"

ahem... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13867089)

You dropped this:

this Karma courtesy of Eddie Izzard, Dress To Kill (1999)

Here's an idea (5, Funny)

eyal (774028) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866640)

...although a group from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada set the height record at 12 meters

Maybe if we stacked them...

Re:Here's an idea (1)

saskboy (600063) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866793)

It figures that Saskatchewan [usask.ca] would set the HEIGHT record.

*People uneducated about SK's geography will get the joke, since most people think SK is completely flat when it is not.

On a side note, the UofS is also on the forefront of science with regard to Synchrotrons [usask.ca] .

If we stack anything... (1)

TheIndifferentiate (914096) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866875)

it's gotta be turtles [wikipedia.org] -All the way up! Where's my $50K?

Forget solar panels. (4, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866659)

Go back to steam engines, stirling engines? If your power source is light, why bother with electrical engines? Use some liquid gas as fuel in a tank, use the projected light as a heat source, let the gas heat up in a combustion chamber (a piston?) and drive the whole thing up as a locomotive :)

Re:Forget solar panels. (3, Insightful)

devilsadvoc8 (548238) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866678)

Problem with that is that you need to raise not only your payload but the fuel. This is why they are trying to utilize solar panels and an external light source.

Re:Forget solar panels. (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866702)

A stirling engine wouldn't require fuel. Besides, temperature differences allow for condensation which can be used to generate steam ;)

In any case, I think going with the most obvious solution - solar panels - is not what is going to win the prize in the next year's competition.

Re:Forget solar panels. (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866738)

By the way, a Stirling engine does not really burn the gas in a tank, it lets the gas cool off and then uses some heat source to heat the gas again thus producing an engine cycle.

Re:Forget solar panels. (1)

TheGavster (774657) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866938)

He's talking about a closed loop system. The light from the ground is providing your heat source; the relative cold of the other side of the climber provides the heat sink.

Re:Forget solar panels. (2, Interesting)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866723)

Stirling Engine. Definately. That way, you don't have to carry extra 'fuel'.

I can see this working. A stirling engine, with the 'heating' chamber on the outside. Target it with a laser (not allowed this year, but will be next), and you'll have a very efficent climber.

You do need to track the machine with the laser (it might help to shoot straight up), and dissipating the heat would be a problem for a 'real' application (heat doesn't dissipate as easy in a vacum), but that wouldn't be a problem for the heights we are talking about here.

I bet we could build one for less than $50 grand...

Re:Forget solar panels. (3, Interesting)

Chirs (87576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866916)

One of the big points about the space elevator scenario is that descending cars can generate electricity. Ideally, you would want to use this to help power the ascending cars to minimize wasted energy. If you're feeding ascending cars electricity anyway, you may as well convert all incoming energy into that form.

Re:Forget solar panels. (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867023)

I say use the best tool for the job. If the best tool for lifting an elevator up is a steam engine or a Stirling engine then use that. But it doesn't mean electricity should not be used at all. There can be 2 engines on an elevator that goes that high up. Even if only for redundancy.

the tensile strength (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866673)

what is that for y material
then altitude: pounds per si ..at x length how many meters? I imagine that depends on what reinforces a moveable unit tethered to another?

The quarter and the lamppost (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866708)

I didn't think of that as the really hard part in the space elevator problem. I'm sure somebody will figure out how to build a climber. I would have thought that the hard part is figuring out how to build a cable that the climber could climb, which seems to involve scaling up the best known materials by 10 orders of magnitude.

It reminds me of the old joke about the drunk looking under the lamppost for the quarter he dropped in the alley, because that's where the light is better.

Re:The quarter and the lamppost (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866828)

I think its a matter of "first things first." The climber currently is the most attainable technologocal component. The cable will require breakthroughs in new materials to be viable, and I doubt a contest for $50,000 is going to speed that up.

Re:The quarter and the lamppost (1)

Pulzar (81031) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866872)

You two should RTFA. The other part of the prize was building a light cable that was 50% stronger than a 'reference' cable provided by NASA.

Nobody achieved the goal there, either.

Junkyard Wars (3, Funny)

KilobyteKnight (91023) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866733)

Didn't they do this on Junkyard Wars with a jet ski engine, duct tape, and a couple pieces of PCV?

Re:Junkyard Wars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13866883)

It's PVC you twit.

Re:Junkyard Wars (3, Funny)

KilobyteKnight (91023) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866990)

Oh... no wonder it didn't work.

"Space elevators stuck on the first floor" (2, Funny)

Monkeyman334 (205694) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866753)

It seems the solution to this problem is to add a basement.

Well my team.. (3, Funny)

modi123 (750470) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866819)

... was disqualified for "inappropriate" elevator music... Under testing situations, all of our patients (read: monkeys, elderly, humans, and fish) were driven insane, then promptly driven sane, then insane, then sane, and so forth during the 62.5 mile elevator ride finished. After the tenth go around we decided the cost to hosing out the compartment filled with bile, blood, and bits of hair were not worth the cash prize. So it goes. Additionally, the PSP battery life wasn't sufficient to stave off elevator-maddness either. http://trs.nis.nasa.gov/archive/00000377/01/tm1085 37.pdf [nasa.gov]

deathray (1)

jzeejunk (878194) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866829)

FTA "One of the problems with a power beam is you get so much fall off in light intensity the farther it goes,"

hm... looks like no one thought of using a death ray for this. http://www.google.com/search?hs=tTo&hl=en&lr=&c2co ff=1&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aof ficial&q=death+ray+site%3Aslashdot.org&btnG=Search [google.com]

No wonder (1)

Rac3r5 (804639) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866877)

no wonder they fired all those engineers/scientist...

offer potatoes as prize, free student labor, no need to spend $$ on materials or labs, leech technology... PROFIT.. yes... excellent..

Um, anybody see the last line in this... (3, Informative)

hotgigs (899872) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866902)

Why would I try to win this year when the prize money doubles for next year? "Next year, both contests will be repeated but the top prizes will rise to $100,000." Let me guess... the year after that the prize money goes to $250k? Sounds backward to me...

They may do better if they were funded. (2, Interesting)

Hussman32 (751772) | more than 8 years ago | (#13866945)

The top prize is 50K...deduct 50% for university overhead, about 12K for graduate student salary, 5K for professor salary, and you might have 8K for materials budget. What happens when you need a special diode that costs 2K?

It sounds like a great idea, they should sweeten the pot a little more (and I did RTFA, 100K won't be enough either).

The Aliens Won! (1)

Darius Jedburgh (920018) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867005)

I guess they're sighing with relief right now.

Forget elevators, Super Canons are the way! (2, Informative)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867019)

Jules Verne thought that in the future man would get to the moon by being fired there in a bullet shaped craft from a gigantic canon, and for a time afterwards many scientists agreed that the easiest way to get something into orbit would be some form of "Verne canon". Of course then you get all those wacky guys in the 20s playing around with rockets with good results. Later some Germans sped up the research into these rockets to be used as weapons of war and the development of rocket systems well, skyrocketed. Several of their best rocket scientists went to the West after WWII and development continued, though this time the focus was split between missile design and space exploration. Meanwhile, in Canada a few nutty guys were involed in a little project called the High Altitude Research Program [astronautix.com] (HARP), the idea was that payloads could simply be fired into orbit by a huge canon, mind you the payloads would be inorganic (satellites, radar chaff, other innert material, etc) because the escape velocity would be too great for living creatures to widthstand.

At the time (the 60s) people were interested in sending people into space, not to mention the Canadian Gov't no longer had interest in the project it was killed off by 1967. Now, I think the focus has changed a bit (what with successful robotic expeditions and the desire for a cheap way to get material into orbit) that the Verne Canon might once again be relevant.

Power on the lines? (1)

misleb (129952) | more than 8 years ago | (#13867027)

What I don't understand is why they don't just supply power on the cables that they are climbing. I realize that in a real elevator, the cables would be carbon fiber or something else that isn't conductive material. Is it too much to run a metal wire for power? Does it add that much weight? If so, this is a serious limitation to the whole space elevator idea. It is going to take a lot of energy to take more than a token amount of cargo into orbit... even on an elevator.

Here I thought that the elevator itself was unrealistic. Now we have to figure out how to power it?

-matthew
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