About this project
Campaign Conclusion & More Information
For further information about Earth’s Space Elevator, LiftPort Group’s Tethered Tower system or the Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure, please visit us at www.LiftPort.com . While you’re there, please stop by our forums – ask or answer a question!
You might also want to look over LiftPort in the media; a long list of links can be found here.
This campaign ended on the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy's famous Moon Speech. I encourage to listen to all of it, but if you're pressed for time, listen at either 9min or 5min. You'll be glad you did - it sets the tone for everything else about this campaign.
What can I say? You are incredible! I am sincerely grateful to our community of supporters; we would – literally – not be here if it were not for your efforts and conviction. Thank you!
My final thanks go to my dedicated, talented, brilliant, amazing, tireless, enthusiastic, creative, cheerful (even when I’m yelling at them) team. Nothing – and I want to stress this – NOTHING would happen without the support of the folks behind me. I count myself lucky beyond measure.
There’s lots of talk these days about ‘crowdsourcing’; and I get it. But I’d like to alter that slightly and talk about ‘community sourcing’. Because you folks might have started out as an impersonal and disconnected and anonymous ‘crowd’, but over the past three weeks, I think you have connected into an amorphous community. I’m certain as we move to the next phase, that this connection will solidify!
So once this community connects further, we will ask for your direct participation. We are looking to the community to supply:
• Braincells (It’s gonna take a lot of people a lot smarter than me, to actually build this thing!)
• Equipment, (Everything from CNC’d parts, to laser-cutters!)
• Couches (I travel a lot, and hotels add up! Besides meeting you folks is fun!)
• Money (Purchased goods and services, to keep the coffers full)
• Research (We have 1000 questions that need answers)
• Labor (“Grunt” and specialized. I’m a former US Marine, I know that no project moves forward without grunts. It might not be pretty, or glamorous or well paid, but it’s important!)
I look forward to working with you!
Michael J. Laine
President, LiftPort Group
12 September 2012.
“LiftPort is a ‘…before this decade is out…’ Lunar Elevator Company!”
The ORIGINAL CAMPAIGN follows:
Who is LiftPort Group?
IMPORTANT: We have a lot of rewards – on purpose – because we have a complex new project and a 10 year legacy (and fan support) for the old project. We’re trying to satisfy folks that are interested in each aspect – near- mid- and long-term elements of building the Space Elevator. Also, we’ve created a lot of rewards (14) under $51 – that’s more than some Kickstarter campaigns use as their complete rewards list. We did this on purpose, too.
Please scan our reward levels, even if you can’t afford to commit at the higher price points. We’re doing some pretty interesting stuff we’d like you to know about; some of which is only described in the rewards list.
Maybe you know someone at work, or school, or a relative, that might want to get involved? We’d appreciate their support as well as yours.
Have you heard of a project called the “Space Elevator”? I hope so. If not, please look it up. If you’re aware of it, at all, in any capacity other than old Science Fiction, then it is a safe bet that my talented team at LiftPort was somewhere in the background. You see, we’ve been catalyzing and coordinating the commercial development of the Space Elevator for over nine years. I was personally involved with NASA’s 2001-2003 definitive research study. My company, LiftPort, grew out of the results of that study. Between 2003-2005 we researched Carbon NanoTubes (the strongest material in the world) – and we were not very good at it...
However between 2004-2007 we got really good at building robots that climb into the sky. (More on that in a moment.) At our height we had about 60 university research partners, and somewhere between 800-1000 volunteers working on different aspects of the project. But then, in 2007, when the economy crashed, LiftPort got crushed. (Video at 3:15) We closed the company and our team went into hibernation. And now it is time to awaken!
This Kickstarter campaign marks the public return of LiftPort Group!
Where We’re Headed
Earth’s Space Elevator
- A Long Way Off
Ultimately where we are headed is – as my friend often repeats – “to get off this rock”. (3rd video, at 3:10) Ultimately, we are going to build an Elevator that climbs into the sky… an Elevator that takes humanity from “this rock”, en masse, to space! But that is a long way off. Perhaps 20-25 years. Before that happens there are some vital interim steps.
- Technology Derived From this Research
Everyone reading this message – using a computer over the Internet – in one way or another is a descendant of the Apollo era. We have all had our lives made better by the advanced technology that is created – all the time – as a by-product of going to space. At LiftPort, we hope to do the same thing; to make living on Earth better, by going to space. We call ourselves an “Idea Factory” because the breakthroughs that we need for our beloved Elevator will also have practical ‘down-to-Earth’ applications – just like Apollo did.
Our (brand new) website has tons of resources for you to review: technical documents, images of our team building the future, and lots of other stuff. Whether you choose to support our campaign or not, we’d love to have your participation on the site: www.liftport.com. Or join as a member, and get involved in the conversation, add to the wiki or simply ask questions.
Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure
Feasibility Study - This is Where We're Going
Before we can build Earth’s Elevator, we’ll need to build one on the Moon. It is significantly easier, and much much cheaper. Importantly - we can build it with current technology – in about eight years.
To meet our target date, we need to complete a 1-year Feasibility Study, beginning next year. That will cost $3M. I don’t expect to raise that through this Kickstarter campaign. But I’m throwing it out there so you know what’s ahead for this program. (But if you’re feeling generous – surprise me! All kidding aside, if you think the rewards we’ve got for Kickstarter are good, you should talk to us about the ‘rewards’ if you fund our Study!)
This Lunar Elevator is a new effort. It is part of LiftPort's revival program. This system can be built now, while Earth’s Elevator requires several more breakthroughs. We think we should focus on building this Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure (LSEI or “Elsie”) as a prerequisite to the main goal.
- How Relevant?
So if the Lunar Elevator is a precursor technology to Earth’s Elevator, then our proposed Kickstarter campaign of Tethered Towers is a precursor to the Lunar Elevator.
That’s where you come in!
- What we want to do is:
- Build a robot that can climb 2 kilometers straight up.
- Build a test platform of high-altitude balloons - tethered to the ground.
- Our Robot (which you can NAME) will climb the test platform – and set a world record.
- Let the world know that we didn’t quit, give up, or fail… we just had to ‘pause’ for a while.
- Rebuild our connection with the global community of supporters.
- Raise a little money to cover the cost of this specific experiment.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my team already climbed 1 mile, 6 years ago. At 2 kilometers, this proposed experiment is only a quarter mile farther… But most of my team at LiftPort 2.0 are new. The folks from LiftPort 1.0 moved on to other projects. I’m bringing in several of the experienced guys to help transfer knowledge to our new team. We’re ‘passing the torch’ if you will. This is a critical milestone in our development as an organization.
Once we’ve done that, the new team can reach ever higher. (See our Stretch Goals at the bottom of the page.)
I wanted our Group to hit a new altitude record, right out of the gate. But I didn’t want to push the team too far. I feel confident that we can achieve this goal. Afterwards, an altitude of 3-5 km is reachable. It becomes substantially more difficult with greater altitude. Cold is a real problem: lubricants freeze, motors seize and materials become brittle, fast. Depending on our starting location, its base altitude, time of year, and cumulative altitude, temperatures can easily drop into double-digit negative numbers… and robots don’t like that. Add in weather effects and things get complicated, fast.
So the plan is to first build the ‘bot, then an indoor test rig. Imagine a vertical treadmill; our little robot can climb and climb and climb, and still get nowhere. (Do ya feel like that some days?) Once we’re satisfied with its performance, then we build out the Tethered Towers test platform of helium balloons held to the ground with a Ribbon. We can pre-test this up to 200ft without causing a ruckus at the Federal Aviation Administration. Any further, and we need airspace clearances from the FAA, Air Force and Navy. We’ve done this 14 times, so we are not worried about that aspect. Once the regulators give us the dates, locations and clear skies, then we aim for the record books... a (temporary) man-made structure that is 2km tall – and a robot that can climb it!
- Communication / Observation
Beyond its usefulness as a Space Elevator test platform and an interesting experiment, does this system have any practical value in the real world?
We’re glad you asked that. The answer is yes! Radio frequency communications are all based on ‘line-of-sight’. Which means the farther you can see, the farther you can communicate (within the limits of sending and receiving power). That is why cell towers and TV broadcast towers are constructed on hills, mountains and tall buildings. Every vertical foot matters. The system we’ve designed can be used for communications in remote villages, to monitor crops for efficient harvesting, early warning for forest fires, perimeter security or to provide wireless internet to a campus. (Did you see the “Kony 2012” videos? I’ve just started an email conversation about how we might provide an early warning system to those in need.)
- Emergency Support System
During a natural disaster, communication infrastructures are overwhelmed. The people that need comms’ the most – aid workers – don’t have it. But our system can be deployed in 2 hours from the time our boots hit the ground. Speed matters. We think we can save lives. We can use our ‘eye in the sky’ to provided camera support, to scan through infrared and detect human heat signatures in the rubble – and connect the nearest responder to the nearest victim. Tethered Towers can provided vital support to the brave folks trying to help.
- For the Fun of It
Finally, perhaps we can raise your adrenaline level? What if you could use our balloons and robot to calmly, gently and quietly float into the sky, and then parachute jump from the top? Every time we’ve conducted an experiment with our Tethered Towers, we’ve gotten emails from folks that wanted to jump…
Why "only" $8000?
We’ve gotten critiques from our friends that “we’re not asking for enough…” The (usually unspoken) implication being that “if you’re really serious about building an Elevator on the Moon, why are you only asking for $8,000?”
We made this financial decision for a reason. Sure, there are many things we can do (will do) that will take a lot more cash… But that’s not the point of this – specific – campaign. The goal of this Kickstarter event is to rebuild our community. We will launch another campaign; and another, and another and another. Over time, after some successes and after we’ve rebuilt trust that our company can do what it says it can do, we’ll raise our financial targets.
I realize that the point of most Kickstarter projects is to raise money. Trust me, I get it. And I do want you to commit cash to our campaign. Let me restate that – I want to trade your capital for our goods and services. This is not a ‘donation’, but a transaction. I think that sometimes people misunderstand what Kickstarter is all about.
I did some pretty deep analysis on the top 39 Kickstarter campaigns. (Ask me about this.) I looked at the top three campaigns over Kickstarter’s 13 categories. One detail I learned is this: that 2/3rds of the folks that contribute to a campaign give less than $51 and that that total only amounts to 12% of the funds raised. What this tells me, is that while the media and hype points toward Kickstarter as being a fundraising tool – Kickstarter’s most important value lies in coordinating and confirming a community of supporters.
And that’s what we need now. We need you!
We feel it is much more important to re-connect with our supporters. We’ve been out of business for 5 years – but we didn’t quit! We’re using this (first!) Kickstarter campaign to let people know that we’re back and we’ve got a new and better plan.
As for the cost of our experiment, my team is volunteering so labor is not a factor (yet). We’re really just talking about purchasing new hardware for the system. We already know how to build the robot – this will be our 20th. We already know how to build the Tethered Tower – this will be our 15th. But all of our equipment is 5+ years old and both for safety reasons and because technology has advanced, we think it’s important to start fresh. Also, because I’m trying to do a ‘brain-dump’ from the LiftPort 1.0 team to the LiftPort 2.0 team, I want the 2.0 team to get their hands dirty building stuff.
We are going to have multiple Kickstarter campaigns. In the future, we’re going to raise more money for specific programs – sub-projects that are within the scope of the penultimate goal: an Elevator in the Sky! But for the first experiment since our recent restart, I felt it was better to not target ‘cash’; but to target ‘community’ instead. I’m certain the financial support will come… but I missed you guys. Really. And no, I don’t expect to raise $800M for the Lunar Elevator through Kickstarter, but if we raised the $3M for the Feasibility Study I’d probably lose my mind!
There is a time and place to ask for a lot of money, but this first Kickstarter campaign isn’t it. Still, I’d be very grateful of we went substantially over our Kickstarter minimum. I hope we do.
What We’re Doing for this Campaign
What We'll Do - For as Long as it Takes
- So what will we do with the money?
This is not a very expensive experiment; that’s why we chose it first. To push an analogy too far – It’s low-hanging fruit; but it’s the tree we’re after! So it seemed like a good place to start. It is hardware focused and that’s very important to our team. It’s achievable within our current resources of people and time.
The robot is time consuming and somewhat complicated. There have been advancements in all sorts of relevant technologies in the past five years. Motors are lighter and stronger, batteries perform better, and computing and communications are much much simpler. To put that in perspective, we used to have to build our radios and computer boards from scratch, and hope they worked. Now, we can simply order them from a parts catalog! In contrast, the Tethered Tower balloon test platform has not changed much. She’s still a temperamental little beastie… But so long as the weather cooperates, I’m not anticipating any serious problems with that infrastructure.
Specifically, we’ll build a robot, and climb a string into the sky. We’ll reach as high as we can, safely, and collect all sorts of data. If we raise more, we’ll do more. If we go beyond our $8000 goal, we can add all sorts of stuff. I’ve detailed that in our Stretch Goals below.
Long-term, we’ll use results from our first experiment to build a better ‘bot; a better Tethered Tower. And we’ll climb higher. We will do this until we reach the limit of what can be achieved here on Earth: ~ 30 kilometers/100,000ft. Once we’ve got altitude, we’ll combine that with long-term endurance, starting with 6 hours, then 24, then a week, a month, a year, and then finally 2 years. Once we’ve got that, we’ll make the top “human rated” because our robot Lifters will need a tested life support system, or else what’s the point of all this…?
Are we going to do all that on $8000 from this Kickstarter campaign? No. But I include it here because I want you to see where we’re going. This stepped approach was laid out in our technical roadmap in 2004 and we stand by it. If we only reach our $8000 goal, then we’ll only do one part of this plan. If we raise more, we’ll do more. See our Stretch Goals.
- More Sensors: Telemetry is the key to climbing higher. Knowing the kinds of conditions our little-‘bot-that-could’ is climbing through, is vital. At the $8,000 level, that is a bare-bones system. If we stretch to $20k, then we can install a much improved sensor suite. Sensors will likely include things like GPS, a full package of weather monitors like temperature, wind, humidity, and placement of sensors on vital elements of the robot – wheels, motors, Ribbon guides. And we’ll improve the communications network, too. This might seem pretty dull, and an uninspired first “stretch”, but it is essential knowledge if we want to climb farther.
- Higher: With the improved sensors, we’ll have a better handle on the environmental factors we are facing. With that knowledge – we’ll climb higher. It will depend on the results of the first test, and what the sensors tell us, but I presume that we should be able to climb to at least 3-5km.
- Web Video: I’m especially excited about this part. I think we can provide a live video feed from the ‘bots-eye-view’! Take a trip with us – from the comfort of your computer monitor – as we break new ground. Imagine the view from 3-5km high. Is that much different from being in an airplane? Yup. 360 degree visibility.
- Higher: This will require a new robot. If we surpass the 3-5km mark we’re in unknown territory. Exciting right? We’ll need thermal protections, interior heating, and a different communications configuration. Something’s bound to break. We know our balloons are not made for this, so we’ll have to figure something out. We call that ‘science’.
- Longer: (Subject to FAA approvals) We’ll aim for “longer”. Honestly I can’t really tell you what that means; not until we run the first test. But whatever we get for the first one, we’ll try to double that. It will probably be for just 6-12 hours. We’ve stayed up as long as 60 days, but that was at a stable 200ft. It’s a completely different problem when it’s at higher altitudes.
- Web-Controlled Camera: Remember the camera? How about an upgrade? What about a web-controlled Pan/Zoom/Tilt, that our community of supporters can manipulate?
- Even Higher: What does this mean? I have no idea. I can’t even guess. But at this point, we’re transitioning the problem of ‘altitude’ to that of ‘endurance’. It’s a trade-off. While altitude is more important for the robot and the end-goal of the Space Elevator, endurance is more important for the life-saving applications of Tethered Towers.
- Even Longer: Before our company crashed, we were in talks with the FAA to redefine what a “tower” meant… If we’re aloft for very long, we’ll have to re-open those conversations. You see, a normal tower is a rigid structure, and they are clearly labeled for pilots. They stay in one place… And there is a column of restricted airspace. However our Tethered Towers are flexible. The move with wind... We need to cordon off a ‘bubble’ of airspace, instead of a column. If we hit the 24 hour mark, we’ll need blinking lights and radio equipment to warn aircraft. It would be ‘bad’ if a plane flew into it. That’s why we get approvals from the FAA, Air Force and Navy for an experimental system. They keep our skies clear.
- Series: At this point, it stops being about a single experiment, and becomes a complete series of independent experiments – each with their own goals and achievements. At this point, LiftPort Group is back in business for real; doing what we should be doing – building an Elevator to Space. At this level, everything changes. We transform from being an ad hoc collection of volunteers with a vision – into a cohesive team with a plan. The series will be a set of experiments along the continuum of altitude and endurance. Kickstarter enforces a minimum threshold for a project, because of its ‘all or nothing’ model. And we can absolutely run our initial experiment for the amount we budgeted. But this is really the target I want to hit. If we ‘only’ hit $8001, then we are going to remain a ‘hobby’ team. If we can hit this number, then LiftPort is a “…before this decade is out…” Lunar Elevator company!
- Edge of Space: It’s a misnomer that I’m reluctant to extend, but the limit of balloon technology is about 20 miles high, whereas the ‘edge of space’ is about 60 miles. For whatever reason several balloon experiments talk about reaching the ‘edge of space’. I disagree with the terminology, but bow to convention. However you define it, we’ll reach for the practical limits and aim for ~100,000ft (30km). We’ll stay there as long as we can. We’ll have our webcam running and you should be able to see the blackness of space, perhaps some stars, the curve of the Earth, and a helluva view – straight down. We’ll have to do this somewhere off the East coast; perhaps on a boat. (Winds blow from West to East in America). That way the Tethered Tower is out over the ocean, away from air traffic. We’ll keep this system in place as long as we can… and we’ll test it to its literal breaking point. We’ll do our best to recover the system, but it’s unlikely.
- Life Support: Look, eventually we’re going to space… to the Moon. It would probably be a good idea if we had some basic understanding of what it takes to keep a person alive, right? O.k., that’s not going to happen on $500k, but we can do basic tests like plants and such. (No, PETA folks, we’re not sending up a kitten or monkey to freeze to death.) Since cold and oxygen will be our biggest problems we’ll want to ensure that we have lots of sensors, heaters, and thermal insulation. Perhaps we’ll test this on some tropical flowers that will wilt/freeze if we get this stuff wrong.
- Feasibility Study: Obviously, we’re pretty sure this plan of ours is ‘feasible’. But there is a lot that we don’t yet know. I spent more than a decade working on the Space Elevator, but we’ve only been working on the Lunar system for about 10 months… I’m often quoted as saying: “We don’t even have all the questions, yet, let alone all the answers.” If that is true of Earth’s Elevator, it is especially true with the Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure. To that end, we need to gather (back together) a group of some of the smartest folks I’ve ever encountered – the team of world-class experts that form the core of the Elevator community. We need to assign problems, and give them time to work on this stuff. At the end of a year, we’ll finish with a set of three deliverables:
- Go/No Go Decision – Build it or don’t build it (there is no ‘try’!)
- Library – ~500 Independent Research Projects, and ~1500 Technical Documents reviewed and assembled. This is the documentation, and results of the questions we need to answer - before we proceed with the Lunar Elevator.
- Path Forward – Specific Plan on how to build the Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure or a Detailed Analysis on how to get to the point where it’s possible – if there is still required technology development.
Here's some other resources we thought you might be interested in:
International Space Elevator Conference kicks off in Seattle this weekend.
MoonAndBack has a nice set of video interviews with me. The second video specifically talks about this Kickstarter effort.
Finally, my sincere thanks for your interest in what we are doing!
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