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Originally published October 19 2006

Space elevator technology race launched: Beam Power Challenge to award $150,000

by Jerome Douglas

(NaturalNews) Space elevators are becoming a reality, and will be advanced even further once some new prototypes get off the ground at the Wirefly X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The competition is this weekend.

One of the results that may spawn out of the competition is that one day, a robot will be able to climb a strong, 60,000-mile long tether to send humans or other cargo cheaply into space; a space elevator.

In order to spur the development of that technology, NASA has set up two annual competitions -- the Power Beaming and Tether Challenges. In 2005, the first of those competitions were held, but no one won either of them. NASA is hoping that the competition this weekend will provide more successful results.

In the Power Beaming Challenge, teams have to send a robotic climber up a crane-mounted tether at a minimum speed of one meter per second. As the robotic climbers ascend the distance, they will be judged by their speed and weight. The top three teams in the Power Beaming Challenge will take $150,000, $40,000 and $10,000, respectively.

One of the potential pitfalls of the Power Beaming Challenge is that the robotic climbers cannot be powered by fuel, batteries or an electrical extension cord -- because a real space elevator could not carry these things on a trip into space.

The other part of the competition -- the Tether Challenge -- aims to spark the development of lightweight materials strong enough to stretch 60,000 miles into space without breaking. Proponents of space elevators believe a thin rope of carbon nanotubes will ultimately be needed for the task.

For the Tether Challenge, a group of two-meter-long tethers will be wrapped in loops and stretched to the breaking point. The tether itself cannot weigh more than two grams and must carry 50 percent more weight than the best tether from the previous year before breaking.

These two space elevator competitions will be held annually until 2010. Even if no wins are posted this year, the competitors can try again every year until 2010.


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