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Wed, Nov 11, 2009

It's A Long Ride To The First 'Floor'

NASA And Spaceward Foundation Award Prize Money For Successful Wireless Power Demonstration

NASA has awarded $900,000 in prize money to a Seattle company that successfully demonstrated new wireless energy beaming technology which could one day be used to help power a "space elevator."

LaserMotive of Seattle was awarded the money after its performance in the Power Beaming Challenge competition, which was a demonstration of wireless power transmission that enabled a robotic device to climb a vertical cable. The competition was held Nov. 4-6 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The Spaceward Foundation of Mountain View, California, manages the competition for NASA's Centennial Challenges program.

To win a prize, teams had to develop a power transmission system and robotic climber that could reach a height of 3,280 feet. Teams that reached the top share in a total purse of $2 million, based on their vertical speed and payload mass.

LaserMotive's average speed on their best of several successful climbs was 8.7 mph over a four minute period. By exceeding the average speed of 4.5 mph and being the only team to reach the top of the cable, LaserMotive claimed the entire $900,000 prize for that level. Teams had to exceed an average speed of approximately 11 mph to qualify for a share of the remaining prize purse of $1.1 million. That amount will remain available for the next Power Beaming competition.

NASA is interested in power-beaming technology for a variety of purposes including remotely powering rovers and instruments on the moon. On Earth, the technology might supply communities with power following natural disasters. There also are potential applications for power beaming for airships, satellites and space transportation, including the space elevator concept.

LaserMotive was competing with two other teams, the Kansas City Space Pirates and the USST team from South Bend, Indiana. Although they did not post prize-winning performances, the other teams kept the contest outcome in doubt up until the final moments.

"I have watched these teams steadily improve their designs since we began the challenge in 2005 and the sophistication of the systems that they demonstrated this week is impressive by any standard," said Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation.

A vertical "racetrack" was created for the competition by suspending a cable from a helicopter flying 4,300 feet overhead. This arrangement, along with the high-power laser systems, provided a unique and unprecedented testing environment.

"The kilometer-high vertical cable system established for this competition was something that had never been done before and is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. The Spaceward Foundation and their partners, along with our hosts at NASA Dryden, deserve a lot of credit for their creativity and determination," said Andrew Petro, Centennial Challenge program manager.

The Power Beaming Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges managed by NASA's Innovative Partnership Program. NASA's Centennial Challenges program's goals are to drive progress in aerospace technology that is of value to NASA's missions; encourage participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups and private companies of all sizes in aerospace research and development; and find innovative solutions to technical challenges through competition and cooperation.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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