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NASA hands over $900K for Laser propulsion system

$1.1m still unclaimed

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LaserMotive has scooped a $900,000 prize from NASA for demonstration of an elevator powered from a ground-based laser.

LaserMotive's climber crawled up 1km of rope held in place by helicopter, achieving an average speed of four metres per second and powered by a laser focused onto solar panels on the back of the climber. That gained the company $900,000 from the Power Beaming Challenge being run by the Spacewards Foundation for NASA.

Three teams entered the competition, with the Kansas City Space Pirates coming second having nearly gained the top of the vertical track. The Pirates were let down by their lightweight climber which lacked rigidity, but the official coverage at Space Elevator Games reports the design is sound, and could deliver more power than LaserMotive's if they can get it working.

The third team, from the University of Saskatchewan, had technical problems and didn't get to compete on the day.

No one managed the five metres per second necessary to win the remaining prize fund of $1.1m this time, but the games will continue.

All this is intended to discover whether or not a space elevator is possible: not having to carry fuel would reduce the weight of such an elevator considerably, even if batteries had to be used for part of the journey, but practical applications are still a very long way off and for the moment it's just a matter of seeing what can be done. ®

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