Space Elevator Competition this Weekend

Posted 19 Oct 2005 at 23:43 UTC by steve Share This

If you're anywhere near Mountain View, California, you'll want to be sure to see the first annual Elevator:2010 competition. It will happen on October 22nd and 23rd at the NASA Ames Research Center. The idea is to construct an autonomous robot that can carry the greatest possible weight up a 10cm-wide, 50 meter tether at at least 1 m/s. The whole thing is designed to be a scaled down version of a space elevator. The robot must weigh less than 50kg and can't carry any type of internal power supply. Power is beamed to the robot from the elevator base station in the form of a 10Kw xenon search light with an 80cm beam (that's a potential 500 watts for the robot if you're wondering). There's a $50,000 cash prize waiting for the robot builder that can do it. Next year the prize will double to $100,000. As many as 20 elevator teams may compete this year. There is also a competition for the strongest tether material. For more see the NASA press release.

Completion..., posted 20 Oct 2005 at 13:19 UTC by JamesBruton » (Master)

I misread that as "space elevator *completion* this weekend"

Anyway, was just thinking about the whole light source thing, I was wondering if there's any other way to get the power to the robot, microwaves, lasers etc. After all, if it's going to go into space one day then it will need a very bright light.

Although I guess it's fine for this competition.

What is it really testing?, posted 20 Oct 2005 at 13:32 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

It looks like the challenge won't be so much constructing the lifter but figuring out the most efficient way to convert light into energy.

lifter hardware, posted 20 Oct 2005 at 15:10 UTC by steve » (Master)

I read the rules a while back and seem to remember that there were some pretty tricky requirements for the lifter robot. It's definitely a non-trivial task.

not so easy, posted 20 Oct 2005 at 16:27 UTC by steve » (Master)

Here's the official rulebook.

Check out section 3 on the climber requirements. Among other things the climber robot has to be able to mount and unmount the tether on it's own. It also can't bend or twist the tether beyond certain limits. I imagine it would be pretty hard just to figure out how to get a 100lbs of hardware to grip a flat ribbon tightly enough to accelerate at the speeds they require without slipping. The climber also has to operate as a state machine that can pass in and out of four states autonomously as needed (off, idle, ascend, descend). It has to be designed not to fall if it loses power. It has to have an average speed of 1 m/s or greater but can't pull more than 2gs when accelerating or decelerating.

I think it sounds like a pretty challenging contest and it has a pretty cool goal. Probably won't get as much media coverage as the Grand Challenge though.

In answer to the question about real elevators, they wouldn't use a xenon searchlight as a power source. This is really just designed as a functional model. Real ones would likely have a carbon nanotube composite tether about 62,000 miles long, about 3 feet wide, and the thickness of a sheet of paper. The climbers would be traveling at around 200km/h. There are all sorts of proposed schemes for powering the climbers ranging from the lasers and microwaves already mentioned to things like having descending climbers use regenerative braking to store power and then pass the power to ascending climbers. For the curious, a good place to start for more info is the Wikipedia Space Elevator page.

Wired article, posted 21 Oct 2005 at 04:32 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

Here's a Wired article on beaming power and even mentions NASA's space elevator stuff.

what about, posted 21 Oct 2005 at 12:00 UTC by c6jones720 » (Master)

what about using two tethers carrying power?

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