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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Are you ready for an elevator into space?

"To better understand the concept of a space elevator, think of the game tetherball. In this game, a ball is attached to a pole by way of a rope. Think of the rope as the cable, the pole as Earth and the ball as the weight. Now, imagine that the ball is put into perpetual spin around the pole, so fast that it keeps the rope taut. This is generally how a space elevator would work. The weight at the end of the cable spins around the Earth, keeping the cable taut. The spacecraft would simply ride up the cable as a train rolls over tracks. As the vehicle rides farther up the cable it requires less electrical energy, relying more on the centrifugal force produced by the spinning counterweight to pull it into orbit. By the time the vehicle reaches the end of the cable, it could be moving as fast as 11 kps! At these speeds, a vehicle could detach from the cable and fly off into space at speeds fast enough to reach Mars in days or weeks instead of months."

And yes: People will be able to ride in it.

Studies estimate that the cost of sending payloads into space could be reduced from $20,000 per pound down to $400 per pound.

Carbon nanotubes (CNT), discovered in 1991, are ... 3-5 times as strong as we need them to be, and laboratory measurements of their strength, though very difficult to do and not yet definitive, have shown more than half the strength we need. Carbon nanotubes have the potential to be 100 times stronger than steel and are as flexible as plastic.

Like the space station or space shuttle, the space elevator will need the ability to avoid orbital objects, like debris and satellites. The anchor platform will employ active avoidance to protect the space elevator from such objects. Currently, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks objects larger than 10 cm (3.9 inches). Protecting the space elevator would require an orbital debris tracking system that could detect objects approximately 1 cm (.39 inches) in size. This technology is currently in development for other space projects.

"Our plans are to anchor the ribbon to a mobile platform in the ocean," said Tom Nugent, of LiftPort. "You can actually move your anchor around to pull the ribbon out of the way of satellites."

I found this at how stuff works. The concept is being worked on by LiftPort Group and several others.


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