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No winner in space elevator contest

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No one managed to claim the top prize in NASA's Beam Power Challenge and Tether Challenge, competitions to develop technologies that could be used in space elevators.

The two top prizes of $50,000 went unawarded because none of the ten finalists managed to meet all the qualifying criteria, NASA said.

To win the Beam Power Challenge, teams had to construct robotic climbers capable of climbing a 200-foot cable, at a speed of a metre per second, powered only by the light from an industrial search light.

The winner would be the team that got the furthest carrying a load, but no robot could sustain the qualifying speed, and none made it to the top of the cable. The best efforts were from Team SnowStar, which was the first past 20 feet, and The University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team, whose robot hauled itself 40 feet up the cable before running out of oomph.

Metzada Shelef, founder of the Spaceware Foundation, a supporter of the contest, said that the climbs were the equivalent of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight.

The second competition, the tether Challenge, teams had to produce high-strength, low-weight tethers. Part of the competition was a head to head strength test, which was won by the Centaurus Aerospace team. To win the jackpot, though, the tether had to be 50 per cent stronger than a commercially available material.

New Scientist reports that Centaurus manage to carry 544kg before snapping, but that NASA's in-house tether was still stronger, registering 590kg before it failed.

Both purses will roll over into next year's contest. NASA says the competitions will be more difficult, as the teams will have to create their own power supply for the climbing robots, and the tethers will have to be even stronger. ®

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