LaserMotive Space Elevator

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An award-winning prototype that illustrates the possibility of sustainable planet-to-space transportation


Though the technology and physics of a space elevator are far from simple, the basic concept is as straightforward as its name. A space elevator, at its core, is a ribbon or cable anchored to the Earth, stretching into space, along which cargo and humans can travel for a significantly cheaper sum than launching a rocket. Our ability to create long enough carbon nanotubes or materials of equivalent strength is still in progress. But NASA and other public and private sector organizations have organized engineering challenges to prototype the concept. In 2009, LaserMotive (a team including founders of Fresh’s engineering program) built a model that won first place and earned nearly $1M for continued R&D.


  • Building a robot capable of ascending a 900-meter cable (2952.76 feet) suspended from a helicopter
  • Harnessing the concept of “power beaming,” using a high-power laser array and high-efficiency solar cells to convert light into electrical power
  • Compensating for wind and other environmental factors while the vehicle climbs to its target

Translating science fiction into scientific fact

“Railroads to Space” and “Galactic Harbors” sound speculative, but ever since Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first proposed “a tower into space” in 1895 after being inspired by the newly constructed Eiffel Tower, scientists, writers, and engineers alike have considered “What If?” 

Recent technological advances have brought the possibility of creating a working space elevator closer than ever. Various global companies believe space elevators can be functioning by the middle of the century if carbon nanotubes or another material becomes scalable. While material development continues, engineers need to study and advance the technology.


Illustrating the potential of space elevators with a laser-powered robot

As a part of NASA’s 2009 Space Elevator Games, the LaserMotive team set out to bring space elevator technology into reality. The team’s robot climber was “fueled” by power-beaming, a form of wireless power transfer. The climber included 5-kilowatt side power beams, with mirrors measuring 4 feet diagonally, and exceeded the goal of ascending a 900-meter-long cable suspended from a hovering helicopter in under 7.5 minutes.

Showcasing how well-designed the team’s solution was, the robot met the goal four times in the first two days of the competition. The quickest trip took 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

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A greener, more accessible bridge to the solar system

Whether paying $450,000 for a suborbital trip or $55M for a trip to the International Space Station, partaking in the nascent space tourism industry is far out of reach for most people. Escaping the Earth’s gravity uses a massive volume of fuel as well, and the sustainability of bringing space travel to scale in its current state will be a challenge on various fronts.

Space elevators based on concepts like the one built by the LaserMotivate team illustrate how clean energy power beaming has the potential to turn space missions into space transit, making travel more routine, environmentally sustainable, and available for a broader range of people and businesses seeking to take part in the burgeoning economy of space.

Key Results

$900,000 to the LaserMotive team
Technology leading to multiple world records and generational advances in power beaming

1st Place

2009 NASA Space Elevator Games