No prizes for space elevators

Times Staff Writer

NASA didn’t have to write any checks at this year’s X Prize Cup competition in Las Cruces, N.M., after judges decided Sunday not to honor any of the competitors in a $200,000 space elevator competition.

Ben Shelef, an executive with the Spaceward Foundation that organized the competition, said the entry by the University of Saskatchewan climbed a 200-foot-high carbon fiber ribbon in just two seconds over the time allowed. Shelef said the judges agonized over the decision, but finally decided it would be unfair to make an award to a team for simply coming close.

The Space Elevator Games was one of three events offering $2.4 million in NASA prize money at a two-day fair in New Mexico to spur innovation in space technology. Video game designer John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace unmanned rocket ship failed to win the million-dollar prize to design a next-generation lunar lander after his craft crashed in the desert.

Several teams also competed in another $200,000 challenge -- to make a tether strong enough to carry an elevator to space. None won that event, either.

The idea of transporting astronauts and cargo to space in elevator-type carriers attached to tethers thousands of miles long and anchored to satellites in space is considered too fanciful to be practical anytime soon. But NASA has included the elevator competition as part of its Centennial Challenge program to see whether backyard inventors can overcome any of the idea’s seemingly insurmountable problems.


The Space Elevator Games challenge was to climb a long tether using only beamed power.