Sf fan Jordin Kare and Thomas Nugent of LaserMotive won $900,000 at the Space Elevator Games on November 6. Theirs was one of three competing teams which built prototypes designed to climb a one-kilometer cable held aloft by a helicopter.
LaserMotive’s climber was a sheet of photovoltaic panels 2 feet square topped by a motor and a pyramidal frame of thin rods. Ground-based lasers shined on the photovoltaic cells to power the electric motor.
NASA, along with the nonprofit organization Spaceward Foundation, sponsored the contest. A $2 million purse was available, which might be won by a single team or shared depending upon the competitors’ achievements.
What LaserMotive won was second-prize money. Later they made a final attempt to reach the 5 meters/second prize threshold for the rest of the purse:
In their last climb, attempting 5 m/s, they modified their climber to decrease its weight (LM’s Dave Bashford referred to this as “Steamboat racing”) and ended up removing too much structure – they got stuck to their launch structure and dragged it up the cable 75′, with an additional force larger than the weight of their climber.
[Thanks to Janice Gelb for the story.]