LaserMotive wins NASA’s Centennial Challenges program with wireless energy beaming technology

WASHINGTON—LaserMotive of Seattle won $900,000 in the 2009 Power Beaming challenge, part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, for its demonstration of a new wireless energy beaming technology.

Dec 1st, 2009
Th Laserm 0912 01

By Courtney E. Howard

WASHINGTON—LaserMotive of Seattle won $900,000 in the 2009 Power Beaming challenge, part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, for its demonstration of a new wireless energy beaming technology.

LaserMotive engineers enabled a robotic device to climb a vertical cable via wireless power transmission, technology that could help power a “space elevator” in the future.

“To win a prize, teams had to develop a power transmission system and robotic climber that could reach a height of 3,280 feet,” says a NASA representative. “Teams that reached the top shared in a total purse of $2 million, based on their vertical speed and payload mass.” LaserMotive’s average speed of several successful climbs was 8.7 miles per hour over a four-minute period. LaserMotive claimed the entire $900,000 prize for that level for two reasons: for exceeding the average speed of 4.5 mph and being the only team to reach the top of the cable. Teams had to exceed an average speed of roughly 11 mph to qualify for a share of the remaining prize purse of $1.1 million. No teams did so, and that amount will be up for grabs in the next Power Beaming competition.

NASA officials are interested in power-beaming technology for its potential use in remotely powering rovers and instruments on the moon, for example. On Earth, says a representative, the technology might be useful in delivering power to communities that fall victim to natural disasters. Other potential applications include power beaming for aircraft, satellites, and space transportation.

LaserMotive engineers competed against two teams: the Kansas City Space Pirates and the USST team from South Bend, Ind.


A LaserMotive team member prepares the climber prior to launching on the prize-winning climb.
Click here to enlarge image

“I have watched these teams steadily improve their designs since we began the challenge in 2005 and the sophistication of the systems that they demonstrated is impressive by any standard,” says Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation of Mountain View, Calif., which oversees the competition. The competition was held at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.

A vertical “racetrack” was created for the competition by suspending a cable from a helicopter flying 4,300 feet overhead.

“The kilometer-high vertical cable system established for this competition was something that had never been done before and is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. The Spaceward Foundation and their partners, along with our hosts at NASA Dryden, deserve a lot of credit for their creativity and determination,” notes Andrew Petro, Centennial Challenge program manager.

The Power Beaming Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges managed by NASA’s Innovative Partnership Program, the goals of which are: to drive progress in aerospace technology that is of value to NASA’s missions; encourage participation in aerospace research and development; and find innovative solutions to technical challenges.

For more information about NASA and its Centennial Challenge program, visit www.nasa.gov.

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