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Hi. A lot of folks have been interested in the robot we are building; so this update is long long overdue. If you have specific questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer them in future (more frequent) updates.
We’ve named it/him “Neil” after Neil Armstrong. I don’t know if you remember, but Armstrong died while our KS campaign was underway. We’d originally had a $10,000 level reward where someone could name this robot. I was expecting some sort of corporate sponsor or something like that. Instead, I chose to remove that reward level (at the suggestion of a KS backer) and name the ‘bot in honor of this great man.
Coincident to his death and our ongoing KS campaign, we were holding the annual International Space Elevator Conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. There is an extensive ‘space’ exhibit, and a small section dedicated to Armstrong. So the museum held a moment of silence when word of his passing circulated. It was a good feeling to be there, in that place, at that time. Our campaign was growing, momentum was building, and for a moment it really felt like we were doing the right thing to honor his legacy – by building a new Lunar Infrastructure that could take humanity to our nearest neighbor.
So, #RobotNeil is proceeding. I’ve been posting images and updates of ongoing progress on Twitter (@mlaine & @LiftPort), Facebook (Space Elevator, Lunar Elevator, LiftPort), Instagram, YouTube, AngelList (Me & LiftPort), and Google+ (Michael Laine & LiftPort). Work has been very, very, very sporadic. Between trips to the hospital, ICU, urgent care, physical therapy and to the morgue, funeral parlor and cemetery; and between Space Elevator-related trips to Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Phoenix – work on the robot has been ongoing.
If you follow the links, and the associated posts, you’ll see that #RobotNeil is over 2m tall, and his (ten) 20cm wheels are custom-made from foam PVC. His motors are bolted to a primary spine, and the communications, computer and batteries are on a flat plane at the bottom. We presented our work-to-date at this year’s #SpaceElevator Conference. We got some worthwhile criticism and helpful advice. This ‘bot is a pretty radical departure from our prior 19 robots – we’re climbing a string instead of a ribbon. I know that sounds trivial, but please consider how much gripping surface has changed in this new configuration. We changed because when we build the Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure (#LSEI) we’ll be climbing something similar to very very strong dental floss. So we had to spend a lot more time working out the mechanics of this new Lifter design.
Overall, the system works… but it doesn’t work as well as we’d like. (I’m in DC right now. When I return home, I’ll use my new/empty Vine account to show Neil in action.) We still need to integrate the communications array with the ‘bot – that will be a time consuming task. I’m going to leave the comms for a separate post; as that is a complicated beast and worthy of a more complete description. Other elements we are wrestling with include “lash” and the “coefficient of friction” between the wheels and the ribbon we are climbing. (Which is another lengthy post... It occurs to me that if I’d been posting regularly like I should have been, that I’d be able to spread these out over a more reasonable timeframe.)
After this current round of upgrades, we should be ready to begin testing – endurance, and cold. We’ll erect a “treadmill” test inside an industrial kitchen freezer. That’s not a real-world analog, but it’s probably enough. Real world conditions are much harsher: colder, (obviously windier) and there’s a certain amount of humidity in the atmosphere. My hunch is that we will wind up replacing the motor mounting brackets, and possibly the motors themselves. I think everything else will work fine.
Take care, mjl
Michael Laine, President, LiftPort Group