SpaceElevator goes Japan


Final report for our trip to Japan

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So that’s it, we’re back in the village of munich now. Apart from a damaged suitcase (which btw AirFrance was incredibly professional about, replacement is already on its way), we had a very good flight. We didn’t even have any problems with the batteries during the security checks on the way back.

After all, the resume of our trip to Japan is extremely positive.
Regarding the competiton, winning the speed award was all we ever hoped for. Having actually won it feels really rewarding for all the hard work we put in during the last months.
We experienced, that a working brake is essential  for the Climber at all times. The easily changeable wooden crash element was our savior, without it we would not have been able to continue the competiton after the first impact. The CFRP-structure of our Climber proved to resist even bigger impacts than what we designed it for – no damage on the core of the Climber. Only the beanie has to be replaced now due to a small crack.

During the competiton we wittnessed a very professional and thought through event.
Having 16 teams sharing the rope and tether for two days takes very good organisation. We experienced no conflicts between the teams. On top of that it was a very friendly and fair atmosphere.

We also learned a few things for our own SpaceElevator Challenge (EUSPEC) that takes place in September 2018:

  • having the rope and the tether hanging from the balloon at all times is quite useful. It saves a lot of time, if you don’t have to descend the balloon in order to change from rope to tether.
  • having the right bumpers at the lower and upper end of the rope is very important. For the majority of runs a styrofoam bumper was used. When our own Climber came down without braking there were just two empty plastic containers at the bottom. We believe that the normal styrofoam bumper would have caused more damage on the Climber. We will make sure that there will be bumpers made out of plastic canisters at EUSPEC 2018.
  • during EUSPEC 2016 there were preassigned timeslots for every team. At SPEC 2017 this wasn’t the case. When ready to drive, you just told the HQ and then you got the next available time slot. This system is quite useful, because this way, no time is wasted if a team can’t get their Climber to work.

After the competiton we stayed in Tokyo for another week trying to see as much of it as possible.
A small list of what we visited in Tokyo:
Ueno Zoo, Akihabara, Asakusa, Tokyo Skytree, Imperial Palast Garden, Tokyo Tower, Odaiba Statue of Liberty, Toyota Megaweb, Metropolitan Government Building and so much more…

Here you can find some impressions of our second week:

While visiting Tokyo we noticed some things that are very diffenrent in Germany. A short extract of our cultural impressions:

  • something that was annoying when walking through the streets, was all the noice in the city. For example on many public places there were huge screens playing ads at high volume. Or: When the doors in the train are about to close, a short song starts to play. There are different melodies for every station 😮
  • if you go to a small supermarket like 7eleven or Lawson, which you can find every 200 m, you always get your purchases in a plastic bag – even if it’s just a single product. Our pockets were filled with plastic wrapping all the time. You would assume, that given this huge amount of rubbish, there are a lot of trashcans in the city. But no, if you’re lucky you could find one or two trashcans a day when walking around. Regardless the streets were clean as duck.
  • you will never walk through Japan thirsty. Vending machines with cold and hot drinks can literally be found at every corner.
  • vending machines are exremely fast, just put all your bills into the machine as a stack and about 1 second later you get your ticket and the change. It honestly makes vending machines in Germany look like ancient things (or do we just have more time?).
  • buildings are very high. That’s just a fact. Regardless if the plot of land has 1 acre or just 30 m² you just make the building 6 floors minimum. After all there is always much more space in the vertical axis.
  • if only the german trains were on time as often as the japanese ones.
  • MVG, please implement Suica Cards. They are so fast and useful.

We will stop with the list here, many things just have to be experienced by yourself. Tokyo is worth a visit 100%.

Now, after the trip we want to thank a few people.
A huge thank you to Jota Shimazaki who was our contact in Japan and helped a huge deal during the registration of our team.
Another thank you to Jota, Ohno and the rest of the SPEC 2017 crew who all supported us during the competion. We felt very welcome and will hopefully return soon.
Also we want to thank our friends at Autoliv who tried to adapt their radar sensors for our causes. Sadly the data was not as easy to interprete as we hoped which resulted in us using our old system and keeping a big saftey distance on the upper end. Nevertheless we will continue to develop the radar distance measurement.

At last but definitively not at least (quite the opposite) we want to thank our sponsor Vestner.
Without the huge financial support (covering the flights to Japan and all the costs during our stay in Mito) it wouldn’t have been possible for us to take part in the competition.
It was a very memorable experience for us to paticipate in the SPEC 17 and to see Japan. So thank you again, especially Simon Vestner and all other Vestner staff who helped organising our flights.

Now we have to get used to the german weather again. We were really lucky having 11/14 sunny days in Japan. This blog will probably be updated during our next trip 😉

勝者スピード賞: ワン、サード

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After our last run impact – not knowing what’s the cause of our reboots – we decided, it was to risky to go for another run. We stored away all our stuff, cleaned up and watched the end of the competition. As the sun set, they pulled down the balloon (including one climber stuck at the top) and gathered the competitors for the award ceremony.

After some introducing words in Japanese, some more Japanese, and even more Japanese, we heard speed award and everybody looked at us. We had the fastest climber (by far) and got an incredibly beautiful certificate.

Our certificate – yes, that’s the right orientation

The award for the climber with the highest payload-to-total-weight ratio went to a climber lifting 16 kg (rumors say it is able to lift 100 kg, but the balloon could’t handle it this time). The climber itself weights 15 kg. For the mission challenge there were three little manikins attached with magnets of different strenght. The more figures standing in their initial position after going up and down, the better. There was a draw between two teams, they both had one figure standing. The winner was the team with less deviation from the starting point.

The mission challenge payload

It was an honor for us to be part of this competition. Special thanks to Jota Shimazaki, Ohno Shuichi and all the other HQ staff for always helping us and organizing the competition, aswell as our supporters at Autoliv.
Huge thanks to our sponsor Vestner, who made the whole trip possible.

We had lots of fun, learned a lot and are now continuing our japan trip.

Our final blog entry will be published in a few weeks after we are back in Germany.

In case you’re wondering: The title of the article means „winner speed award: one.third“

Brace for Impact

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Today was a beautiful day, although it started with a few clouds. After analyzing yesterday’s logs we tried to optimize our acceleration curve and really pushed the climber to its limits.

After the arrival at the competition-site, we had our first timeslot for testruns. Due to „strong“ winds, today the balloon was lowered. At every attempt we increased the travel distance step by step and finally set it to 147 m. This is a good point for explaining our descend algorithm. It works as follows: (1) Let the climber fall and (2) brake 20 m above ground level. As you know our electronics were developed „long time ago with perfect testing“, but after plenty of successful runs our microcontroller decided to reboot and thereby invented a new brake system – impact.

Our climber vs. japanese water container

Fortunately the climber remained one piece – just breaking the lower rope guidance. We didn’t even need a vacuum cleaner to collect the thousands of pieces we expected. BTW: The bumper had been designed as a crash element, so we brought spare parts (also painted in black).

20 minutes later our climber was repaired – shining as if nothing happened – and we were ready for our second….


But this time it was our own fault (like last time but differently): We had a perfect run but on the last 10 meters (which we typically descend manually) our wireless connection gave up for a short period of time… just in the wrong moment. Since we had a third rope-guidance-replacement-part we could repair the climber a second time and can now take it back home fully functional.

Successful Trials

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8 o’clock am, Senba Park, sunny, 12°C
Official start of the Space Elevator Challenge 2017.

First off, all participants gathered at the Challenge Headquarters. Unfortunately the introduction and all instructions were in japanese.

Afterwards our climber got checked by the technical Inspector. For official altitude and speed measurements we had to attach a Measurement Payload Unit (MPU) to our climber. We wanted to use zipties because they are simple, also because we’re a bit lazy.
Since they thought zipties are weak as duck, we were not allowed to use them. Hence we had to improvise.  We hat very little tools, but luckily other teams could spare some materials and lent their tools.  So we built an aluminum frame for the MPU. The curbside was good enough to grind off all sharp edges.

The Japanese visitors were very interested in our technology, especially after we had completed our testruns. When having a look at the other team`s climbers, we noticed many interesting and clever solutions to problems we also encountered during our development. At this point, it should be mentioned that not all teams focused on speed. There are two other objectives: having a high payload-to-total-mass-ratio and a very stable ride. Our design was just aimed at maximum speed though.

After two successful drive slots with multiple climbs, we were quite happy. The numbers are’t published yet, but we are now analyzing our own log files to further improve our performance tomorrow.

BTW: The climber is called one.third, because it only weighs a third of its predecessor (before adding all the safety and measurement stuff).

This picture shows the machine at work – and also the climber 😉

Lightning strikes

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We started our third day in Mito like all the others – in a bakery.

Things we had on our list for today:
– Try the famous Taiyaki – a sweet fish-shaped waffle with different fillings
– Buying stamps, since we hadn’t found any the day before
– Meeting with Mr. Shimazaki at the event area mud field
– Charge all batteries for the climber
– Eat something
– Pick up Max at the train station

The journey of our 5th team member was also very eventful. A plane got hit by a lightning (not his plane) which resulted in a huge delay for him. When changing flights in Paris CDG, Max ran across the airport and was lucky enough to still catch the plane. Sadly the luggage didn’t make it. When we were finally reunited in the evening, we celebrated with a reasonable amount of beer and sake.

Settling down in Mito

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In order to prepare for the competition and to get know the japanese culture, we (most of our team) arrived two days earlier. So we took the time to walk around in Mito city and explore the surrounding. After a french breakfast we went to an arcade and played airhockey. We were quite surprised how many people were there at 10 o’clock in the morning fishing manga figures from thousands of toy grabber machines. Since it was raining all day we decided to vist the biggest shopping center in Mito. Slightly annoying christmas music on all 11 floors. After struggling to buy paper, an envelope and a stamp we stumbled upon a suspicious gadget: a beer foamer.

No idea, why you would use that.

For lunch we got some miso-soup at our favorite 7-eleven shop and „cooked“ it in our „hotel room“.
Well nourished by the way to salty soup we gave the climber a final check: Reparing damages caused by the flight, testing sensors and charging batteries.

Meditation: Feeling the climber vibes

In the evening we continued our culinary adventure at the McDonalds 100m from our hotel.

Exited about the first day of SPEC2017 tomorrow.

Flying to Tokyo

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Today we started our trip to Japan. The route was spread with some, let’s call them „hickups“ just for fun. The S8 to the airport got cancelled, so just business as usual there. We managed to get to the airport eventually and that was where the fun started.

Our battery packs are a bit too big for just taking them into a plane. They have to be approved by the airline. Perfectly organized folks like us, do this several days in advance just to make sure. After getting a „not approved“ status we got a little nerovus and tried to solve all this. After many mails and phone calls (some of us now have PTSD just from hearing the KLM jingle for hours), we managed to get a „approval pending“ with the hint to check again just before boarding the plane.


And of course nothing changed. It still stated „approval pending“ when we entered the security zone with the batteries for a try. Luckily after some nice explanation with the guy at the security we could bring the batteries. KLM just seemed to have forgotten our request and so after what you whould call a casual 14 hours of flight we found ourserlves in Tokio Narita. Just the final check for „approval pending“ – Yep it was still there.

First on our to-do list now: fulfilling basic human needs – money, WiFi, food.

Money was no problem – we just had our passports checked from time to time, because standing in front of an ATM for longer than 10 minutes does not seem to be something a busy Japanese working guy would do.

Wifi – this part is very cool in Japan. You can get a mobile wifi router which itself has a 4G connection to the internet. This small box cost us about 9.000 Yen for 15 days of unlimited data. – Great-

After getting our passports checked again – standing in front of a wifi router store for 15 Minutes is obviously nothing a busy Japanese working guy whould do eiter – we got our bus tickets to Tsuchiura station where we switched to a train to Mito.


As a group of engineers, Japan is super exciting for us. The pace of machines like the ticket vending machine is simply stunning. It takes one second to print your ticket and return your change.

After a short walk we arrived at our Hotel in Mito, where we checked in. The accomodation there is, well let’s just say it’s there. So after a short walk through the town of Mito we found ourselves super exhausted in a 1,20m wide and 1,90m long „double bed“, along with a team mate, of course. – very „efficient“ use of space –

That’s all for now, folks. Time to sleep -_-

Kontronik saves the day

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During a testrun last week our ESC, the old Kontronik KOSMIK 200 HV went up in flames, one week before the 1. advent. We send it to Kontronik for a check and they told us they can’t repair it. So we had to get a new one. Special Thanks to Kontronik at this point for the fast and uncomplicated replacement.

They even sent back the old one. So have a look at it:

First look: soot everywhere. The only thing we we saw when its life ended, was a flash near the LED and SD socket . If you follow the path of soot, the smoke most likely ended up under the front cover at the MOSFETS.

After cleaning we could see a big hole in the copper shielding of the IRF7759.

Even the PCB got vaporized!