Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Great Space Elevator

The space elevator, I think, is the best, cheapest, cleanest, etc... way for the human race to get into space on a very large scale. I haven't wanted to post about space elevators until I had the chance to really explain what they are, and I today I have done just that.
First off I thought that I would update you on our current method of getting into space with an interesting article about all of the current and upcoming spaceports around the world. This article gives all of the major spaceports that are built, in construction, or at least in planning, around the world. If you are interested you really should read this article.
Now on to the great SPACE ELEVATOR. And just as in introductory note I wanted to let everyone know that there are many different designs and plans for space elevators and what I have here is the basic design that is the most well known, and as far as I know the most feasible. Okay, well all that a space elevator really is is just a metal wire that reaches 62,000 miles into space. From the bottom up it has: a base station, a cable, climbers, and a counter weight. In some plans there is no counterweight the cable just keeps going on until it has the same effect as the counterweight, which is keeping the cable taut.

1. The purpose of the space elevator is to eventually replace rockets as the main method of getting stuff into space. If it was built it would be much cheaper that regular rockets. To get stuff up into space with the space elevator would cost around $100 to $400 per pound, while ordinary rockets cost over $10,000 per pound. To build, start up costs would be around $10 billion, which would be recovered in about ten years (some estimates are closer to $4 billion but I think that $10 is more likely.)

2. The cable would be made of carbon nanotubes which are lighter than fiberglass and are 30 times stronger than steel. The tubes would be light and strong enough to support the 62,000 mile high elevator. The tubes shouldn't be too expensive to make, but they have yet to be made in large amounts.

3. The climbers would be very unlike regular elevator cars. They would have treadmill like rollers on both sides of the cable climbing at around 200km/h. The climber would have two large panels on its sides to fuel its solar powered engine. The middle of the climber would depend on what kind of stuff it was carrying, such as space station supplies, scientific equipment or hopefully people.

4. If there was a counterweight, on the elevator, that counterweight would most likely be a space station where the cargo would be stored and then sent to its final destination. Though if there was no counterweight, the speed of the whole space elevator going around with the earth’s rotation would propel the climber to a couple miles per second which could blast it to other planets in a very short time. The center of mass for the elevator would be at geosynchronous orbit which is the location away from the earth where satellites look as if they are standing still.

5. The bottom of the cable would be attached to the base station and to get the elevator up in the first place a rocket that was holding the cable would take off and the cable would unfold as the rocket went higher until it reached the 62,000th mile. That’s a fourth of the way to the moon. At least that is what I would do, some say that wouldn't work and they have their own plans, but more on that in future posts.

6. NASA has space elevator games every year where people compete to find out who has the best ideas. Also many governments have donated millions of dollars to fund space elevator research projects.

7. One of the main problems for the space elevator is just finding funding for it. Also the carbon nanotubes may not be able to be produced in large enough amounts. Some dangers are that satellites around the earth are very likely to hit the cable or counterweight, meteoroids could hit it, the weather could harm it, also if it was built and worked well it would be a large target for terrorists. Some things being put into the planning of the elevator for these problems are putting it on a mobile base station that would be able to dodge objects that might hit it, also putting it in a remote location that had favorable weather so that any saboteurs would be seen coming from a while away. One last danger is that if the cable was cut, the cable and counterweight might come tumbling down onto the earth. Most people think that it would burn up it the atmosphere and this would cause no real damage. But you never really know.

So, overall the space elevator is still in the planning stages but it is a possible way of getting into space in the future and who ever builds it first would pretty much own outer space. And that is why I plan on building one, just give me let's say... 20 years.

Thanks for tuning in!
The Fool
P.S. RIP Arthur C. Clarke
~"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."


Bob Johnson said...

Hey the fool, saw a bit about the space elevator on the Discovery Channel, very interesting. I thought it was a great idea, then I read your #7, lots can go wrong, never brought up these point in the special I was watching, so good job. I still think it is a great idea, glad you are going to build it,lol.

Rob said...

The series of books: Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson -- besides being great stories -- tell you many things about why a space elevator is a good thing, and what terrorists can do with it too.

Well worth a read.

Swubird said...


Well, you've gone and done it this time. The space elevator is one technological gadget that I think will never work. I never believed in it. To me it's just a big piece of rope with a space station at one end and the earth on the other end. I can't even imagine how difficult it would be to maintain the integrity of that thing. Just think back to the days when you used to fly kites. Remember how sometimes you'd lose control of the thing for no apparent reason? It would just decide to drift away. Now imagine that your kite keeps going up and up until you can't see it any longer. Hello! No, my friend, this is where me and elevator science part ways. But, as always, another great post on your part. It was timely and interesting. Your the man when it comes to space news.

Would you ride an elevator all the way up to the space station?

My the force be with you.

The Fool said...

Hey Bob, I saw the special on Discovery also, it was pretty interesting and a good way of getting the idea of the elevator out to the public.

The Fool

The Fool said...

Thanks for the book list Rob, I will have to go check them out, and in addition to these boooks there are many scifi books that include space elevators.

The Fool

The Fool said...

Well Swubird, I have to disagree with you on this one, technology does need to advance a little more for this idea to be possible but I would imagine that the tech needed will be available in a few years. But only time will tell. And yes you would ride it all the way to the space station.

The Fool

Max-e said...

This looks like an interesting concept. It goes back to the old dictum, if you can dream it you can do it. Give the project to Richard Branson - with his "Screw it", let's do it attitude it will happen in no time at all.

Ali T said...

Ok. Somebody said that this space station is like flying a kite and it could float off. There is such a thing as a geostationary orbit. The cable itself is not required to hold the space station in place and merely serves the purpose of offering grip to the actual elevator. The idea is very feasible and the only issue is adding the carbon nanotube cable. The post itself said it could be attached to the rocket but most obviosly wouldn't the rocket burn the nanotubes with its intense engine heat? And wouldnt parts of the nanotube float away in 0 gravity. I think that the cable would require to be attached to a high momentum object and sent to the earth from the satelite but my knowledge in the matter is very limited and this is just a very primitive solution.

great thread, look forward to seeing more of you!

Web Designer said...

I watch it on discovery channel. Its really cool.

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