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A Heated (and Premature?) Post-Mortem

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again ....

Bob Dylan: Times They Are A-Changin'

Beset by lawsuits and financial problems Liftport Group is taking a standing eight count and trying to figure out whether to throw in the towel or come out swinging. Some of those sitting ringside are already calling it a TKO.

Marc Boucher of wrote this yesterday morning;

"Building a Space Elevator will not be an easy endeavour. The hurdles to overcome are numerous. ... No one company today will start from scratch with the stated business aim of building a space elevator and succeed, it’s too soon." [!!!? --PB--]

"Companies today interested in the space elevator need to focus on technologies, materials needed for the space elevator and produce tangible spin-off products that can be made the foundation of a business. The space elevator is no ordinary product, so applying traditional business models and fundraising techniques won't work.

"Liftport created their own roadmap, one in which they stated that in 25 years they would start sending cargo up an elevator. What investor today who is thinking about a return on investment would consider such a long term investment? None who have the funds to get such an endeavour off the ground. And in applying traditional business models this is in part where Liftport went wrong. And I feel for those who made emotional decisions to invest in the Liftport Group. In fours years Liftport went from one company to a group of four companies. This was all part of the fundraising strategy. And while they got a lot of people excited, raised expectations and did do some work, for the most part what was produced was hype. And hype is not a product, and without a product and with your expenses mounting the day will come when your business fails."

And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'....

Bob Dylan: Times They Are A-Changin'

Michael Laine of Liftport took exception and replied in the comments section;

"Marc, you have gone way over the top with this post. [Liftport] is NOT dead. please re-read Brian's post. yes, I -personally- have a pretty big problem. And it changes our company - a lot. that said, we are still here, hurt, and fighting, but don't count us out just yet!

"The business model has not failed. It's perfectly intact. My -personal- ability to fund this project from my own checkbook is damaged. To date I have put in well over $400,000 of my own damn money into this project. Don't you dare start slandering me and my team by implying that the only thing we ever produced was 'hype'. We produced a realistic, working roadmap, (which was a catalyst for Bryan's effort) a small amount of carbon nanotubes on our own furnace, and robotic lifter systems that actually work - they have climbed into the sky...

"What have you and your 'buddies' done? What skin have you put into the game? What risk have you taken to further this elevator to space?

"This sort of mudslinging is unacceptable."

For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Bob Dylan Times They Are A-Changin'

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LiftPort April General Newsletter Updates Lawsuit Situation

In late 2005 Liftport Group, arguably the most visible corporate entity in the space elevator community, seemed to be on a roll. They had a line on the Space Elevator (SE) version of the holy grail - continuous production of carbon nanotubes (CNT's).

CNT production is still done in batches. Liftport's April General Newsletter describes their "continuous flow process" as "a huge leap forward in the production quantities that will be required for supplying the growing [demand for CNT's] across a vast array of industries."

Not necessarily CNT's strong enough to make the tether for the SE but any supply of CNT's is likely to find a buyer in a market that projects growth in individual sectors in billions of dollars. Profits from a successful CNT plant would provide research money to take Liftport's SE research to the next level.

Liftport found willing partners in the City of Millville, NJ and the federally-funded Cumberland Empowerment zone named for the surrounding county. Each loaned Liftport $50K. Liftport's newsletter picks up the story from here.

"Unfortunately, our contractor did not fulfill their end of the contract and slipped over schedule and over budget. We assured the city and county that we were still committed and continued development. Once again the time table slipped, and promises were broken. We again went to the city and county to reassure them and make promises based on assurances from our contractor that results were imminent.

"At the end of March [2007], we read an article in the news that claimed we were being sued. We followed up by calling various contacts and ended up leaving several messages but getting no new information. We had not received any mail, email, or voice messages about this.

"Patrick Boake emailed us asking about it and mentioned it in his Space Elevator Journal. Further digging by Patrick yielded assurances by city and county officials that though they were indeed moving forward with filing a civil suit to defend their taxpayer's interests, they are still hoping that we'll be successful and that they'll be able to settle the suit with a mutually beneficial outcome.

"Our contractor has chosen to default on the contract and we will be bringing the furnace home to Bremerton where there has been a growing interest by University of Washington researchers in working on this project. Our furnace as it exists now does indeed produce carbon nanotubes, and has for about four months. The process, however, does not sustain as intended and is therefore not yet ready for installation. The news article suggests that after the suit is filed and LiftPort is served, we'll have ninety days to respond (we finally received notice on April, 5. It is being reviewed by our attorney). We're fairly confident that we will be able to install CNT production in Millville within that time frame, but will only do so if the ROI can justify it."

The Demise of Liftport?

Erik a blogger listened to Michael Laine of Liftport at a panel on Infosnacking and Infobingeing: A Guide to Being Well-Informed at the recent Conference on World Affairs and put a partial transcript in his blog Pikamac;

"I've got a scoop for all the all the bloggers in the room. Other than the X Prize, if you're on the cover of Popular Science or Popular Mechanics then your project is not going to go anywhere. But failure is a critical component of growth.

"Two hours ago I lost a three million dollar building. I'd rather pay for this space elevator then pay my mortgage. I'd rather talk to schoolchildren about the project than pay my phone bill. I've been in foreclosure seven times in the last five years. And now I don't have a place to live. I don't have a place to for my staff to go to. I don't have a place to put my cat.

"Is this the straw that breaks the camels back? Not quite, I'm pretty tough. I've got to go get a job... I'm not a very good employee. How do you build an elevator into space on the evenings and weekends? I'm counting on the two million people on the network who have referenced the project to make a difference... to put some skin in the game.

"I thought I had this fucking problem solved on Wednesday, but I'm not going to let this stop me."

Julie Fredrickson AKA Almost Girl was also there and had this to say about it. "a space elevator is clearly one of the first steps towards our future off this planet.

In fact, NASA and its funding is one of the few places where I find my libertarian mindset in a quandary. Individuals clearly cannot fund research, corporations taking control of space has some vivid problems, and rarely do people come together to fund purely exploratory ventures. Space, at this point, is a nonprofit world and it is generally governments with the resources and longevity to fund that which will not return a profit for decades if not centuries.

And today, with an audience of people held rapt, Michael Laine demonstrated today just how true this problem rings. And it broke my heart. During the panel [on] Infosnacking and Infobingeing: A Guide to Being Well-Informed, a composed but clearly emotional Mr. Laine began to wax poetic about network effects and the blogosphere. He talked about information flow and the power of many people coming together to discuss and influence topics.

The blogosphere has been good to Lifport, bringing to light their smaller victories. Blogs have helped keep the spirit alive even as progress is slow and the victories are hard won in this type of work. Networks of people have in some sense replaced the support of governments and big money. And that support has allowed Michael and his team of merry twentysomethings to forge on.

But today, roughly two hours before the panel, an obstacle was placed in Michael and Liftport’s path. Zealot that he is, even his belief and passion could not hold against this reality of finance. They lost their office space. The money ran out. And on Monday they will announce this fact.

I almost cried in sympathy as Michael described how this would impact not only Liftport but his personal life. He had no home, no place for his animals, no job, no source of income, and no place for his staff. A three million dollar building that held the hopes and dreams of more than just a few space crazies was taken away from a project that for better or worse is attempting to bring about a future I was weaned on. And a future I don’t often get to remember in a day to day way and now perhaps will not see even in dreams anymore"

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