Friday, May 3, 2013

SPACE ELEVATOR – no longer SciFi

The 2013 Space Elevator Conference will be held in Seattle in August this year which got me to thinking, I think the Space Elevator is a concept long overdue!

It has been in the works for a while. NASA, Japan, Google, LiftPort, they all have been working on it and it is getting closer. So let’s review:

If you have ever played tether ball then this simple explanation should help. Hit the tether ball and it revolves around the pole (Earth) and is connected by a tether (uh, tether) and the ball is the counterweight in space.

When researching 7 months ago all angles of this concept from the Maglev Transport System (think the European speed trains – uses superconductivity and avoids the use of wheels, axels and bearings) to the climbers, and of course the anchor. The only impediment seemed to be getting the carbon nanotubes into a ribbon. The latest research seems to show two different directions of thought which leads one to think that “they” are almost there. Especially when one considers the other non-related breakthroughs in nanotubes and creating a final product that has both strength and toughness. (check out the creation of polyacrilonitrile nanofiber.)

Consider that all the pieces are in place. What more needs to be considered? The basic idea is so simple, but there are other considerations. The Coriolis effect – slow the climbers down to 200 km and for now that’s good and meteors or satellites. As far as the satellites, the RRM mission ongoing with Dextre could ultimately negate that problem. For the meteors or whatever space debris might, there is another option, perhaps Prof Winglee of Washington University’s device could be used as a repulsor. Yes, the basic idea is meant for propulsion of a spaceship where it doesn’t require an engine just the device at both the sending and the receiving sites, but why not half of the device to send space debris or meteors away?

What other areas of concern are there? The Van Allen Belts and radiation. There is a theory being tossed around that involves a plasma shield that has a wire mesh internal to it. Combine that with any hydrogen based material as a backup to protect the inside of the climber.

So it should be obvious that the concept is more than a mere concept. It is a do-able fact. And personally I am anxious for the Space Elevator as a reality, but please, no elevator music!

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