A Seattle team has collected a $900,000 prize in a NASA-backed competition to develop the concept of an elevator to space — an idea spurred by science fiction novels.
The team's robotic machine raced up more than 2,950 feet of cable dangling from a helicopter.
Powered by a ground-based laser pointed up at the robot's photo voltaic cells that converted the light into electricity, the LaserMotive machine completed one of its climbs in about three minutes and 48 seconds, good for second-place money.
The contest is intended to encourage development of a theory that originated in the 1960s and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's 1979 novel "The Fountains of Paradise."
Space elevators are envisioned as a way to reach space without the risk and expense of rockets.
Instead, electrically powered vehicles would run up and down a cable anchored to a ground structure and extending thousands of miles up to a mass in geosynchronous orbit — the kind of orbit communications satellites are placed in to stay over a fixed spot on the Earth.
LaserMotive LLC was presented the check by Andy Petro, program manager of NASA's Centennial Challenges, in a ceremony at Dryden Flight Research Facility on Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.