Shimmering heat, a dusty sun-bleached desert in America’southwest. Sounds like the setting for a classic western showdown – and on May 10, 2010 that’s what may happen at NASA Dryden, Edwards AFB, California where all three teams from the latest round of the Space Elevator Games will meet again.“It appears all three teams will be back. $1.1M are still on the table, there is lost pride at stake - what could be better?” says Ben Shelef, chief executive and co-founder of Spaceward Foundation – sponsor of the competition with support from NASA's Centennial Challenges program.
The “grudge match” follows a successful fourth games which saw LaserMotive, a Seattle-based research and development company specializing in laser power beaming technology, win nearly $1 million. The company set new scientific records for laser power beaming and was the first competitor to earn any prize money since the games began in 2005.
The Games are designed to foster technologies that can be used in the space elevator – a concept for reaching orbit via a cable connecting a site on the earth’s surface with a platform in geostationary orbit. By far the most unusual option for space access without using air-breathing and rocket-powered vehicles, space elevators have so far existed only in the realms of science fiction. However the same technologies that may one day turn science fiction into fact are also applicable to nearer-term NASA programs studying the use of wireless energy beaming to power remote ground stations, aerial vehicles, satellites and even planetary rovers.
LaserMotive won the latest games by powering a robotic climber to a height of 3,280 feet up a cable suspended from a hovering MD530FF helicopter. It was the only entrant to develop its own laser system, which was built around infrared laser diode arrays supplied by DILAS Laser Diodes. The other contenders eager to duel it out in the sun include the Kansas City Space Pirates, which managed to get their machine to within 50 meters of the top but, alas, too slowly. The University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team, known as USST, will also re-compete.