September 9, 2012

Space Elevator, Other Projects Get Boost From Kickstarter Funding

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

The founder of a company hoping to one day build a space elevator to the surface of the moon turned to the public for help funding his dream, with overwhelming success -- and he's not the only one.

According to Forbes Staff Writer Alex Knapp, Michael Laine, founder of the LiftPort Group, launched an August 23, Kickstarter campaign to further their research.

Their goal was to raise $8,000 so that they could launch a tethered robot 2km into the atmosphere, surpassing their previous mark by approximately 0.4km. As of Saturday night, that campaign had attracted more than 2,400 backers contributing a total of more than $72,000, and there are four days remaining.

The success of the campaign, according to Science Editor Alan Boyle, "is in line with what other space entrepreneurs are finding: Crowdfunding campaigns can capitalize on the enthusiasm that regular folks have about outer-space ventures such as ArduSat (which would put Internet users in control of a yet-to-be-launched small satellite) and Uwingu (which aims to "game-ify" space exploration in an as-yet-unspecified way)."

Laine told Boyle that the money is not enough to construct the actual space elevator itself, and the fact that far more has been given than was needed for the originally planned experiment has left him and his colleagues scrambling to figure out exactly what they should do with the funding.

"The $70,000 is enough to get LiftPort back in the game, five years after it faltered," Boyle said. "Back then, Laine and his colleagues in Bremerton, Wash., were experimenting with balloon-borne platforms and tether-climbing robots. Thanks to those experiments, LiftPort was taking small but significant steps toward building aerial systems that could be used for wireless communications and surveillance."

"LiftPort's business plan relied on such incremental innovations to make the money required for higher-altitude ventures, eventually leading to the construction of a 'railway' to outer space," he added. "The plan didn't work. When a deal to make carbon nanotubes in a New Jersey factor fell through, Laine faced legal action in the Garden State. Regulatory issues were raised in his home state of Washington. He lost the company's building to foreclosure, and had to put his space-elevator dreams on hold."

For now, Boyle said that Laine and his company will focus on delivering "premium items" to those who donated through the Kickstarter campaign, as well as working on experiments involving the launching of tethered balloons to heights starting at 2km and, if possible, ultimately going to 3km or 5km as well. Laine also told that he was "grateful" to those people who gave their money to support his vision.

Boyle also notes that other companies have enjoyed similar online fund-raising success. For example, Uwingu had earned $35,000 as of Saturday evening, and announced that their first online project would be released prior to the end of the year. Ardusat is currently developing the hardware and software required for their mission after earning over $100,000, he said, and SkyCube, a project that says it will launch "a nano-satellite that lets you take Earth images and 'tweet' from space," had also raised more than $100,000 towards its goal.