Sunday, August 24, 2014


One of my favorite technologies in development, possibly for years to come, is the Space Elevator. Combine its simplicity with its logic and all that it offers (access to space for far less and with more frequency) and I am sold – hook line sinker, reel me in!

But there’s a minor issue, a slight hiccup that has placed the concept to the expected date of 2035-ish when it was originally 2020 – I am speaking of the tether. Granted a tether using such a technology, if in a different atmosphere or lack thereof, could certainly exist. Consider LiftPort the company that hopes to build one on the moon. Consider that NASA out a request for companies to submit bids for cargo transports to the moon. Consider the many other worlds that it would not only be beneficial, but would be pretty much required.

Graphene is the anticipated material for building the tether, but at the moment it cannot be weaved to more than a few meters when what is needed is in the neighborhood of 60,000 km. Is it possible that we should be looking elsewhere? Should the fact that we have achieved a couple meters when for a time we couldn’t get to an inch give us hope or should we move on, to meta-materials such as the one created that offers bullet proof protection. OR maybe we should go organic.

Such as Hemp.

Hemp will not get you high, has no THC, but it may get you higher!

Allow me to explain. The main component of the Space Elevator, the one that is holding up the works as far as building one on Earth, is the tether. The tether is anchored to the surface of the Earth and also extending out into space beyond geosynchronous orbit where another anchor of sorts holds it in place. This long ribbon-like connection (much like any elevator, minus the building might have) connects on Earth to an oil rig type of structure out in the Equatorial Pacific (the ideal location – less storms plus).But here’s the problem. This ribbon has to be long – around 60,000 miles, and strong-carrying 140 tons of  cargo into space at a time and want to drop a satellite into geostationary orbit? The cost per kilogram just went down from $20,000 to $500.

BUT that’s not the half of it. Get far enough above the Earth’s gravity and that fuel for the launch and the fuel so there’s enough fuel to lift the fuel + spacecraft up, no longer necessary. All you need is an elevator ride to the stars, and the spacecraft parked, fueled up and waiting in our parking lot and space-cantina/rest-stop and off to Mars. Need to send cargo to/from the Moon colony? Why not have LiftPort with their lunar elevator and another here – perhaps a Google-NASA joint effort and maybe a weigh station at L1 or L3.

But back up- The tether? How is that a problem? Consider that this tether will be going up through the various levels of the atmosphere. Not only will it have all that to contend with, weather, radiation, it will be carrying a huge weight, so what material is strong enough? We thought we had figured it out, Carbon nanotubes weaved into a tether and probably ten feet wide and as mentioned, 60,000 miles long.  Now think about Graphene, a form of Carbon Fiber.  When Carbon nanotubes are ‘unzipped’ they become Graphene. Graphene exists as a sheet about 1 atom thick – its atoms arranged into a two dimensional honeycomb structure. It is approximately 100 times stronger than steel and conducts electricity better than copper (if you want to provide power from a solar farm up top or generated at the Earth side). The problem – well, while different labs are certainly making headway, no one has ever been able to weave together more than 10 meters. Enter Hemp. 

If the Hemp is “cooked” into the Graphene sheet, the combination would be strong, as they both have strength, but the Hemp can better be weaved. There are some area such as stress or reaction to acidity where Hemp is not great, but besides the combination, there is the hope for the ‘bubble’ – the technology that takes the magnetic protection of Jupiter and gives it to whatever we want to protect. The bubble creates the shield that allows the elevator to exist.

There are so many angles about the space elevator that can be discussed. It is a great soon-to-be-wonder-of-the-world and will expensive on paper, an ‘ISS’ type approach will make it so cheap we will wonder why we waited so long.AND upkeep? Countries that aren’t space faring but might want a satellite placed in orbit etc. will pay a few much as they would to launch a rocket into space – and that income will keep it going!

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