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!
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."