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Power NASA Robotics Space Science Technology

$2 Million NASA Power Beaming Challenge Heating Up 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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$2 Million NASA Power Beaming Challenge Heating Up

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  • Re:Space elevator? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @05:40PM (#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? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @05:45PM (#28800723) Homepage

    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. :)

  • by f0dder ( 570496 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @07:22PM (#28801709)
    Wouldn't it be more cost effective to use a balloon for this sort of stuff?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 23, 2009 @09:29PM (#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."


"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll