29. August 2004 · Comments Off on For Those That Liked Toy Trains, Slot Cars, And Arthur C. Clarke… · Categories: Science!

As well as science projects, this competition may be right up your alley:

Enthusiasts on Friday unveiled an effort to establish an annual competition for space-elevator technologies, taking a page from the playbook for other high-tech contests such as the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Many of the details surrounding the “Elevator:2010” challenge — including financing — still have to be fleshed out, however.

The project, spearheaded by the California-based Spaceward Foundation, would focus on innovations in fields that could open the way for payloads to be lifted into space by light-powered platforms. Such platforms, also known as climbers, would move up and down superstrong ribbons rising as high as 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.

From fiction to fact
The space elevator concept goes back to vintage science fiction — with emphasis on the “fiction.” But in the past couple of years, researchers at institutions such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center have been looking into ways to turn the idea into reality.

‘We firmly believe that the set of technologies that underlie the infinite promise of the space elevator can be demonstrated, or proven infeasible, within a five-year time frame.’

If space elevators could actually be built, the cost of sending payloads into space could be reduced from $10,000 or more per pound (455 grams) to $100 or less — opening up a revolutionary route to the final frontier. Like the X Prize for private spaceflight, Elevator:2010 is aimed at jump-starting the revolution.

“We firmly believe that the set of technologies that underlie the infinite promise of the space elevator can be demonstrated, or proven infeasible, within a five-year time frame,” the Web site for the competition declares. “And hence our name. Elevator:2010. We promise to get an answer for you by then.”

In order to work, the elevator’s ribbons would have to be made of materials stronger than any that exist today; carbon nanotube composites are the current favorites. Conventional rockets would launch components of the elevator, which would be anchored to an Earth station to form a bridge to outer space.

Most of the current schemes call for the climbers to be powered by sunlight and/or intense artificial light focused onto photoelectric cells. The climbers would ride on the ribbons like rail cars.

Enlisting student teams
Elevator:2010 seeks to encourage technology development through annual contests that start small: One contest would pit climber prototypes against each other in races up a roughly 200-foot (60-meter) ribbon. A second contest would focus on developing better materials for the ribbons, and a third would encourage construction of power-beaming systems.

The first competition is tentatively scheduled for next June or July in the San Francisco Bay area, said Ben Shelef, a member of the Elevator:2010 team. That time frame would give student teams at universities enough time to build light-powered climbers — just as teams of engineering students build solar-powered vehicles during the school year for the American Solar Challenge.

“We’ve gotten feedback from the universities, so we know it’s feasible,” Shelef said. “It’s the same thing as the solar cars, but on steroids.”

The fastest-moving climber would earn its team a $50,000 prize, with a $20,000 second prize and a $10,000 third prize. The strongest ribbon would win a $10,000 first prize, and the best power-beaming system could win $10,000.

Details of the ribbon and power-beaming competitions have yet to be fleshed out, and the financial foundation of the entire challenge depends on sponsorships yet to be announced. The Silicon Valley mechanical design company where Shelef works, Gizmonics Inc., is listed as an initial sponsor.

Actually, if anyone is interested in talking to me about collaborating on this project, I have some ideas.

Hat Tip: Instapundit.

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