Space elevator team aims high
– Sights set on major prize, sponsorship –
May 18, 2007
The University of Saskatchewan Space Team (USST) is well into modifying its climber for this year’s Elevator: 2010 competition, a NASA Centennial Challenge. What the team members need now is the kind of financial sponsorship that will get them to the winner’s podium.
The group of mostly Engineering undergraduates placed first in last year’s competition but missed out on the $150,000 prize money because their climber traveled the 200 feet of vertical steel ribbon just .04 m/second too slow. This year, the stakes are much higher – the climber has to cover 400 feet of ribbon at an average speed of two meters per second to win the first prize of $500,000. According to Clayton Ruszkowski, USST president, that means the team will need between $150,000 and $300,000 to get the job done.
Ruszkowski said the climber robotics will remain very similar to last year’s version. The big change will be in how the climber is powered. Last year, the team used 60,000 watts of light “but this year, we’re going with laser power.” The initial design work on the power system is done “but now it’s time to incorporate the design into real world testing” so the team is starting a sponsorship drive.
Last year, it raised $25,000 with donations ranging from $50 to $5,000. “It’s amazing how it adds up,” said Ruszkowski. “We have the manpower. We have the talent, the smarts. The only issue right now is the funding.”
The team’s decisive victory in 2006 over 11 competitors (their climber traveled twice as fast as any other) earned it world-wide recognition. In fact, the day of Ruszkowski’s interview with On Campus News – May 11 – he was contacted for interviews by both the BBC and Discovery Channel. For the fifth-year Mechanical Engineering student, the venture has turned into more than he could have imagined.
“It isn’t just an engineering project. It’s just like running a business. But as my professors say, it’s also like taking another degree. This is real world engineering.”
Ruszkowski said this year’s competition, and huge prize money, has attracted 29 teams so far, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Michigan State and small aerospace companies. There are also new Canadian competitors – U of A, UBC, McGill and Queen’s. The U of S team is undeterred though, as they are heading into the fall event as favorites with two years of competition under their belts.
Team members have also discussed what they will do with the half-million-dollar prize. Ruszkowski said they decided it will remain at the University for education-related purposes – new equipment, workspace improvements or even scholarships.