A space race lifted off Friday in Southern California, only this one involved elevators.
Powering their laser-controlled robot to climb a 900-meter-long cable, the team from Seattle-based LaserMotive was crowned the winner in NASA's Space Elevator Power-Beaming Challenge game on Friday.
Held at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, Calif., the challenge pits teams against each other to see whose robotic space elevator can inch up the cable the quickest in under 7.5 minutes. A helicopter holds the steel cable in place as each robotic elevator races to the top. The LaserMotive crew crossed the finish line four times, the fastest time being 3 minutes and 48 seconds.
The goal behind the games is to build a robotic climber that could someday be turned into a space elevator that would carry supplies into orbit without need of a ship. The elevator would rise up a tether that rotates with the Earth and be capable of carrying about 10 tons of payload.
As the winner, LaserMotive will take home a check of $900,000 from the sponsor, Spaceward Foundation. If the team had been able to climb the entire tether in three minutes or less at a speed of at least 5 meters per second, it could have won the top prize of $2 million.
The other two teams, the Kansas City Space Pirates and the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team (USST), both ran into technical troubles, preventing them from reaching the top of the cable in any of their attempts.
NASA's Space Elevator race has seen its ups and downs for the past few years, with contestants coming close but not quite attaining the grand prize.
An additional $1.1 million in prize money is still available, according to the Spaceward Foundation, so another challenge will be held in the future to see if any team can win the race at 5 meters per second.