September 14, 2009

Lunar lander, Space elevator and space towers progress

Armadillo Aerospace have officially completed the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Level 2, on a rainy day at Caddo Mills, Texas

Level 2 requires the rocket to fly for 180 seconds before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface constructed with craters and boulders. The minimum flight times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform a real descent from lunar orbit down to the surface of the Moon. First place is a prize of $1 million while second is $500,000.

Space Elevator Games Inching Ahead
Good progress is being made on the setup of a helicopter supported cable for the space elevator climbing/beaming contest.

I just spoke to Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation and the driving force behind the Space Elevator Games. As I indicated in my previous post, Ben was coordinating another test of the Space Elevator ‘race course’ this weekend and he tells me that everything went as well as could have been hoped for. They didn’t do a full-height test on the helicopter (that will be about 5,000 feet), but they did do multiple ascents / descents of the helicopter and steel cable raceway up to 1,000 feet. All went well, everything remained under control.

This is great news and means that a second test, scheduled for sometime in the next couple of weeks can now take place. This will be a test of the system to it’s full, 5,000 foot height. If that works (and now we have great optimism that it will), then the Cliimber / Power-Beaming competition will be a “go”.

A Tall Tower Instead of a Space Elevator
A tall tower instead of a space elevator

Space tethers have been investigated widely as a means to provide easy access to space. However, the design and construction of such a device presents significant unsolved technological challenges. We propose an alternative approach to the construction of a space elevator that utilizes a free-standing core structure to provide access to near space regions and to reduce the cost of space launch. The structure is comprised of pneumatically inflated sections that are actively controlled and stabilized to balance external disturbances and support the structure. Such an approach avoids problems associated with a space tether including material strength constraints, the need for in-space construction, the fabrication of a cable at least 50,000 km in length, and the ageing and meteorite-damage effects associated with a thin tether or cable in Low Earth Orbit. An example structure constructed at 5 km altitude and extending to 20 km above sea level is described. The stability and control of the structure, methods for construction and its utility for space launch and other applications are discussed.

The Free standing space elevator paper is available here. (27 page pdf)

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