The origins of the DIY Space Elevator
The idea for this experiment was born during the first year of Loft Orbital’s company in Toulouse. The Loft Orbital team was then made up of about ten employees. Most of them knew each other from a distance, since the French adventure had started in January 2020, a few weeks before the first confinement. The parent company was already located in San Francisco.
The Loft Orbital version of Secret Santa
Being happy to be in person for Christmas 2020, they organized a “Secret Santa”: the concept is to buy an inexpensive Christmas gift (less than 20€) to one of the employees drawn at random.
One of the talented and creative employees who had just joined the Team in September, coming straight from the French space agency, the CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales), Laurent, a tinkerer and maker in his spare time, thought that a customised and DIY gift could be a good idea, while coming under the 20€ limit.
When it was time to exchange gifts, Laurent gave Pierre a small package wrapped in newspaper. He opens it, and finds a simple light garland. Touched by the gift but a little surprised by the simplicity of this so prosaic object, he takes an ecstatic air and thanks him warmly “a garland, great!
Laurent, offended that Pierre could believe in such a mediocrity, encourages him to go further and better understand this gift. Pierre then notices some elements of the garland’s case: a spot of super glue here, a soldering there. They are only a few days away from the launch of the first satellite, YAM-2, for Yet Another Mission, meaning that we do not intend to get emotionally attached to the myriad of satellites we will send in the future.
A simple object, but full of meanings
The stress is at its peak. Laurent, a brilliant engineer, thought it would be great to have a fun way to find out when this satellite would pass over our heads, once in orbit at 500 km altitude. The adventure does not stop there.
The launch of this first satellite is finally postponed to June 2021. The first YAM-2 satellite is then on board the same launcher (the same SpaceX rocket) as … YAM-3. The stress is even greater: two satellites on the same rocket. They are all crossing their fingers that the launch goes as expected.
In the meantime, the team is growing in Toulouse and they are now about 30 people, and are installing their satellite control center in a dedicated room. Having a little respite a few days before the launch, with the satellites wisely waiting in the Falcon-9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, they work on other projects.
An ever more creative V2
The idea of the garland resurfaced and Laurent, always more creative, decided that it would be nice to light the garland in a different color depending on the satellites passing overhead (YAM-2 or YAM-3). So they work on this new project together and proudly install it in the Loft Orbital offices in Toulouse.
It is only later, when the Space Elevator adventure begins, that the idea of this garland, relatively simple in terms of design but also quite interesting in terms of systems, comes back to Pierre to become what we now call Experiment 1.