The first month!
This is our first update since the campaign closed. I want to start by once again saying thank you! We asked for $8k for a simple experiment; and our community responded with $110k - so that we could re-start the company! This support will change everything! I'm writing now, from the first part of our epic road trip - from Seattle, to San Fancisco, back to Seattle, then Vienna, Rekjaik, New York, San Juan, and finally back home to Seattle. Each destination adds another building block to the complex task of first creating the Tethered Tower, then building an Elevator on the Moon, and then finally, eventually, one here on Earth!
We've talked this over extensively and we've made some significant changes. In the past, we build the robot first. We considered it the 'most important' aspect of the test, and most of our resources went into this. I think that was a pretty reasonable approach. But this time things are different. Everything is different. So we've decided to focus on the cargo - the sensors, cameras and other equipment. So we have not started working on the robot yet. Nevertheless, as you'll see with the rest of the update - we've been darn busy!
We've sourced the equipment we need for this. We'll use 'human-rated' climbing rigging for all aspects of balloon infrastructure. Each element in the system has a minimum life-safety rating of at least 5000lbs. In most cases, there is double or triple redundancy in the system, but there are 4 elements of 'single-point-of-failure.' I really really hate that, but we've got enough experience with the system that we know that these SPoFs are inevitable. Naturally, for these components we've increased the safety requirements. We've chosen to build two complete systems - one for the robot and a MUCH bigger one for those clients that want to jump off at 2km.
We've recruited some remarkably talented volunteers on this. Thanks Erik and Otto! (If you want to help, let us know!) Because of the success of the KS, we've emphasized the communications, navigation, cameras and other sensors. We'll be putting 8 cameras on the system: 4 video, 2 wide-angle and 2 pan/zoom/tilt. And we're placing 9 temperature sensors: 3 external, exposed to the weather, and 6 internal within the robot. Finally, we're adding 4 six-channel GPS chips: 2 on the top and bottom of the robot, 1 at the 'top' with the balloons, and one on the 'bottom' at the LiftPort Ground Station. These are the first-level requirements. This is 21 data channels. If we feel satisfied with this, then we will consider spectrographic sensors and other solutions. We've done a complete trade study. I'm very pleased that the price, availability, size and weight of these components have dropped so much! Most of our equipment will come from the Arduino family. So, if you've got a lightweight component that would show some value by being hosted to (almost) the top of the world - let us know. We probably have room for 5 experiments that we will source from our community. We can either place these on the robot, or at the base of the balloon infrastructure. We will stream all 21 data channels to the 'net! We should be able to do our first point-to-point video test within the next few weeks. I’m not sure whether we will be able to stream that, but we will if we can.
While I personally want to jump right in and start building a robot that climbs string; I can't. It's imprudent. I feel we have three primary tasks - fulfill the Kickstarter obligations, generate revenues and start the preliminary work on the Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure. To do all three of these concurrently, we have to create a team. Please remember that the day before I hit the 'submit' button on Kickstarer, LiftPort was a fond memory and a dream of the future… We didn’t have a team in place. We didn’t have any sort of infrastructure in place; other than a few guys that sometimes talked over Skype. So we have literally had to start this project from scratch. Now, with global expectations, international visibility and a very finite amount of money, we have to build a team. That sounds easier than it is... but we're working on it. Right now, there are three people working on this project non-stop. We don't have the funds to hire more - or we would! (More on finances in a moment.) So where we can't hire full staff members, we are augmenting with a tremendous team of volunteers. These folks are amazing. More on them in the coming weeks. Check our blogs as they begin posting. The three people are: Me, - I'm 100% focused on the Lunar Elevator. Tracy is totally committed to developing revenues, and Michelle has Kickstarter fulfillment as her 70hr/week focus. While we might not be posting a lot; I can assure you that lots and lots and lots of stuff is happening behind the scenes. We'll open this up further as more people join! Sometimes it's not pretty, but we'll show you how we this thing comes together.
Because of the holiday schedule and that most of our work is being accomplished by volunteers, we have to be very aware and respectful of the upcoming holiday schedules. So October, November and December are overly complicated. We'll take most of this month to continue to build the organization of LiftPort, and then November and December to design and develop the robot. Actual construction should begin in January. We are targeting March/April for the actual experiment launch date. This is totally driven by external factors like weather. We are strongly considering launching around the coastal city of Aberdeen in Washington State. If you want details of this logistics decision let me know. But we need to begin this test at 'sea level' to reduce the fatigue and impact of 'cold' on the robot/batteries/cameras and other elements.
Where to live and build this thing?
Believe it or not, one of the most fundamental questions we need to deal with is 'where is our home?'. We could go anywhere to build the team and the company... so where should it be? There are good reasons to keep it in Seattle, but there are good reasons to look in other places to. We're considering: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Washington DC. I'd love to hear feedback on these locations (and any others you think we should consider). Post these ideas on the message board! We're looking for access to capital, education and a host of other criteria. One of the reasons we're on this roadtrip is to scope out the SF area.
Lots of other people
Lots of people are joining our team. Some are working 5 hours a week, some are clocking it at 20-30. Some are way more than that! We're grateful. We haven't even begun to on-board all the people that want to help - so if you are sincerely looking to volunteer, please be patient and occasionally a gentle nudge wouldn't hurt. Right now were adding folks with IT and Comms experience. As the year winds down, we'll be specifically looking for folks with advanced technical degrees and advanced experience in every field imaginable. Our goal is to have about 250 people on our Board of Advisors by January. We've added about 10 to our original 30, so far.
I’m on the road now. We’re meeting (some of) the people that backed this project and we’re using the time to connect! It’s a lot of fun, and more importantly it’s valuable to establish working relationships within a larger community interested in space travel. There are two trips planned. The first, I’m on now. I took a roadtrip down to California. Along the way, I (it’s actually ‘we’ as Michelle Cadieux is here too) stopped in Olympia to hang with Dr. Bryan Laubscher – Bryan is the only person that is still on the project that actually started before me! Then we went down to Portland to see Charles Radley MSc about a big database project. We were supposed to stop in Salem for another meeting, with Dr. David Appell, but he was sick, so we’ll meet him on the way back up. David and I started talking about a really fun science fiction project while at the International Space Elevator Conference, and we are going to continue that conversation. Then it was down to Jamesburg Station in Carmel Valley.
Tonight – if you’re in the Silicon Valley come by! – We’re holding an impromptu meet and greet at Hacker Dojo! If you backed this project at $35 or more, you can come for free! If you backed at a lower amount, we’d appreciate $20 to cover the expenses of this trip. Tomorrow was designed to be ‘open’, and now we might be using it to go to Monterey, and San Jose. Then Fri/Sat here http://opensciencesummit.com/ : and then Sun/Mon we are meeting with an angel investor in San Jose, and finally, just before we get back on the road for home, we’re going back to Carmel for another angel talk. Then I’m home for 2 days, and it starts all over again. I present at Microsoft’s Garage, http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-20080542-75/microsoft-opens-garage-to-spark-innovation/ then hop on a plane to Vienna, for this http://pioneersfestival.com/, and then Reyjavik for a couple days, back to New York for my birthday, and then down to San Juan / Arecibo to work with students, to teach teachers about our project, and to develop the education kits for KS fulfilment. (I’m excited about working with the student and instructors, but I’m sure I’ll be distracted by the James Bond theme music with the Arecibo dish in the back ground… )
We’ve worked really hard to develop a video for you. We had a lot of questions about the video for the Kickstarter campaign, and so we decided to create one that told the story better. It’s not complete yet, but I think you’ll agree that even in it’s unfinished state it’s still pretty amazing. It’s 300mb and 3minutes long. Message me for a sneak-preview link. We have a LOT of volunteers working on different aspects of this project; and I’m grateful to all of them. And right now I want to pay special attention to Rene Thomasius and Erik Unger who have clocked over 200 hours working on imagery and animation.
Kickstarter AccountingI wanted to share the simple economic realities of our Kickstarter campaign. I’m doing this for several reasons: 1) you, as our supporters, deserve to know where the money is being spent. 2) in case you ever want to run your own campaign (talk to me, I can help you with this!) and 3) because I want to set realistic expectations at the onset of this project. First, let’s do some simple math. 1) According to the KS website, we earned $110,000 dollars. 2) Because both Amazon and Kickstarter Inc charge fees for their element of each transaction, that added up to about $9000. Then, when the campaign ended, some people had their credit card declined. That was about $1500. So 14 days after the campaign ended, we had $99,838 in our checking account. That was a pretty good day! Now, that we’ve got that money we have two ‘social contracts’ that we MUST fulfil, and a third that everyone expects… 1) build robot and climb a string as high as we can, 2) send all the schwag items ontime with reasonably high quality, and 3) build an Elevator on the Moon. Let’s look further at each of these… it will take about $45k to cover the cost of the ‘stuff’. I am so very very pleased that you folks want to wear our t-shirts, and jewelry and other things… but this stuff adds up, and it will take the lion’s share of the revenues. There’s a basic cost of goods sold, and that’s fine. Then, there’s the robot that we are building. The ‘bot won’t be too expensive, but the quality and quantity of sensors will add to the price. Also, the price of helium has more than doubled since our last experiment. So we’re budgeting about $25k for all of this. So $100k minus schwag and robots comes down to $30k. Some might call that “profit”. I don’t. I consider that the seed funds to do the thing we all want – to build an Elevator on the Moon. I can assure you that it costs a lot more than $30k to build an Elevator… So I consider it my responsibility to use this money in the best way I know of; in order to accomplish this task. It won’t be easy…
You asked for a way that you could support this thing in an ongoing way. We’re not a ‘non-profit’, so I am philosophically opposed to just taking ‘donations’. I think it sends the wrong message to our fans and to the investment community whom we hope to raise $800m from. So, we’re creating four clubs for $10/month each: fiction, non-fiction, art and one more that we can’t talk about yet. These are still in development, but we should be able to release them by the end of the month. If you want to receive these digital products, please send a message to “Tracy.Stewart” – and, I suspect you know that her email ends with @liftport.com. If you want to contribute, either as a fiction author, or technical author or to create space, elevator, lunar or space station related art, then also get in touch with Tracy.
This stuff is happening! It was a whole lot more than we anticipated – and that’s a good problem to have. But like our robot budget, we had to throw out our original plans and start fresh. I’ve got a sample of the Card Carrying Supporter card in my wallet already – and it’s awesome! We’re meeting with the t-shirt vendor while we’re on this roadtrip, and the designs are great. The jewelry is causing all sorts of headaches, but we’re working on it. In most cases we think that the complete fulfillment of schwag will be done by the end of November (as promised). The first round of t-shirts will be available within the week! We’ve delayed sending all the surveys until the CRM database is completed – so don’t worry if you think you’ve missed something.
GetLF8D As part of my Kickstarter obligations at the $1 level and all the way up, I said I’d keep you involved with the process. Well, since the campaign, I’ve STILL got more than 10,000 unread messages. It been impossible to keep up with everything. So – for you Kickstarter people only, I’ve created a new email address: “GetLF8D”. I imagine that you know that the domain name should be @liftport.com, right? Since I’m posting this on the ‘net, I don’t want this new email address to be flooded by spam the way my other addresses are.
Volunteer Hours Tracker
We’re tracking our hours. And publishing them. Take a look at this sheet to get an idea of the kind of folks involved, and how much they are contributing. We’ll be adding more volunteers to this list as we go forward. There are a LOT of people that are helping, that are not on this list yet. We’re working to include as many people as we can. The top line is a summary = more than 700 hours on this project in October alone! Thank you! http://publish.smartsheet.com/0a83e18fce504c4c9e388a3aed10045b
Announcing the Pearson and Artsutanov Prizes
In conjunction with the International Space Elevator Consortium, and partially funded by the Leeward Foundation, this is a set of prizes for technical papers related to the Space Elevator. The theme this year is on “Tether Climbers” (I always use the phrase “Ribbon Lifters” because I think it is more correct and appealing…) Regardless of what you call it, these are $1500 and $2500 prizes for writing on this technical topic. Details can be found here: http://www.isec.org/index.php/activities/the-artsutanov-and-pearson-prizes
The End, finally.
I know this was long. Sorry for that. I’m trying to cover a lot of important topics. We’ll be posting a lot of this to the website for more in-depth details. (Yes, I know our current website doesn’t really work for most people; we’re fixing it.) Rather than ‘spam’ people’s inbox, I felt it was better to write one complete document, then to send out an update every week… Soon, once the new CRM database is set up, we’ll reserve these mega-posts for the newsletters, and just send essential fulfillment updates through Kickstarter.
Thanks again, and we’ll keep you posted.
Take care, Michael Laine President, LiftPort Group