KC Space Pirates

In pursuit of NASA loot.

2009 Results

Although it is all old news by now, Lasermotive won the 2 Meters per second prize of $900,000. This leaves the $1.1 Million prize for 5 m/s unclaimed.

USST did not climb any significant distance because their tracking system could not get and keep a GPS signal. I have speculated that this was due to static charges built up on the helicopter discharging repeatedly down the cable. I don't have any concrete evidence of this and any tests of this theory are expensive and unlikely to occur. I hate to see a competitor taken out by factors beyond their control. Almost as much as I hate to be taken out by factors that are within my control.

We finished second and out of the money. Although we had numerous problems that we were able to deal with effectively through our preparations and problem solving abilities.

We discovered our main problem was a simple missed adjustment that I made myself. We lacked the experience and equipment needed to identify the problem in time to save our 4.5 year $200,000+ effort from failing.

The simple explanation is that the focus was off. Much as your camera has a focus adjustment so does our laser. It has to stay focused on the climber as the climber moves away. We had the focus adjusted near perfectly after our July testing. We did more testing in Sept that called for changing the focus. I installed a stop so that we could put it back after we were done and simple forgot to do so.

I have analyzed all of the systemic reasons for this error. Constantly added safety requirements, changing setup and preparation requirements. Lack of funding for proper cameras that could see the beam well or the ability to have enough personnel to delegate the focusing. Continuous distractions and deadlines during the competition. But all of that is little comfort because all of these systemic issues are, and always have been, just a normal part of this competition.

I would like to thank my teammates, sponsors and my wife for believing in the team and myself to get us as far as we got in 2009. Over the years of the competition over 21 teams have entered the competition. Some are far more prestigious than ourselves. Others are much better funded. But three times we produced entries that showed the best qualifying performance of any team, Twice positioning ourselves as the team to beat. Our team has produced and fielded at least as much innovation as any other team.

And I suppose this is a good time to mention that along with the hard work we did have a lot of fun. We got a lot of press coverage. And we advanced the cause of the Space Elevator and Power Beaming along the way.

As for what happens next? Watch this space or ask me to add you to our mailing list. I really should post the back issues of the newsletter.

Brian Turner