Are Traditional Space Elevators The Wrong Way Up?

Posted by on Apr 10, 2009 in Blog, Solar Essay, Space Elevator, Technology | 2 comments

After being first envisioned by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, then perfected by Yuri Artsutanov, Jerome Pearson and Brad Edwards, the space elevator has captured the imaginations of thousands of individuals who believe it’s humanities best hope for colonizing the solar system en masse.

This radical space concept led to the creation of two startups (LiftPort and Blackline Ascension), as well as support from NASA who (despite their skepticism) is offering $4 million in prize money towards successful teams/companies (thanks in part to their Centennial Challenge).

Despite the momentum that the space elevator community has built up over the years, their dreams of a 100,000 km “beanstalk” stretching into the heavens may not come to pass as the earliest plans for a structure coming into being hover around 2030.

Rather than spend decades perfecting carbon nanotubes and power climbers (key ingredients if a traditional space elevator is to become a reality), it may be better to focus on Skyhooks (aka orbital space elevators) instead.

Instead of grasping the Earth’s surface from either a seaport or a mountain top, a Skyhook would hover 150 km above our home world, giving it several advantages over its earth bound cousins.

While a traditional space elevator would require a massive counterweight at the end (i.e. an asteroid or a large space station), a Skyhook would only need a light counterweight at the top of the structure, which might be feasible with today’s technology (not to mention this economy as well).

A Skyhook would also be much shorter than their traditional brethren, spanning a length of no more than 4,000 km compared to 100,000 km for a traditional space elevator. Even if a Skyhook’s cable had to be fashioned from carbon nanotubes (which may not be needed as Kevlar and/or Spectra might be sufficient), it would be much easier to fashion due to its shorter length.

Last but not least, Skyhooks would probably not need to beam power to their transport climbers from below, a feat that may be extremely difficult for traditional space elevators (especially 100,000 km away!). Instead, climbers transporting cargo on a Skyhook could be powered by miniature nuclear reactors or via solar power from the rays of the sun.

Although Skyhook’s have a significant advantage over their earth bound friends, their Achilles heal lies in the fact one would need to construct a rocket/jet hybrid capable of “breathing air” when flying through our atmosphere, and later on switching to rocket engines when they reach the edge of space.

Fortunately the British are in the process of developing a new craft called Skylon (by Reaction Engines Limited) which may help remove that hurdle, making the construction of a Skyhook possible.

While space elevator enthusiasts may still opt to construct their terrestrial beanstalk in an attempt to link heaven and earth, it may be wiser to focus their efforts on Skyhooks instead–especially now that companies like Lockheed Martin may seriously pursue building a Skyhook which in the end could help open the final frontier to the masses.

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Google: We Would Invest In A Space Elevator, But Only If It Worked

Posted by on Apr 9, 2009 in Blog, Google, Space Elevator | 0 comments

Last week, the search engine giant known as Google launched a venture fund creatively known as Google Ventures, which the company will use to invest in startups in and outside of its main industry (example: cleantech, healthcare, bio-tech, etc.).

Erick Schonfeld from TechCrunch had a chance to interview both Google execs running the fund, Bill Maris and Rich Miner (the latter known for helping create the Android OS running on T-Mobile’s G1 and other phones), and here is what they had to say regarding a potential investment regarding space elevators.

(TechCrunch) The day of the announcement, I chatted on the phone with Bill Maris and Rich Miner, the two Google executives who are managing the fund to get a sense of what they are interested in and how the fund will work.

It turns out they are open to investing in pretty much anything from the Internet and cloud computing to healthcare and mobile. “We don’t want to artificially limit ourselves,” says Miner. What about space elevators? “Show me one that works,” retorts Maris, “and I will invest in it.” The two of them will run the entire fund pretty much by themselves, bringing in other Googlers as needed for expertise and to help evaluate startups.

Note: Emphasis mine.

While Google is not shy about investing in space related projects (after all the founders helped launch the Google Lunar X-Prize a little over a year ago), there seems to be a high amount of skepticism regarding space elevators as a whole–at least among Googler engineers.

Perhaps the newly founded International Space Elevator Consortium could help convince Google that a space elevator is something worth investing in, as gaining the support from a public company could go a long ways towards convincing the masses that this long term project is indeed viable.

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Awesome: Japan May Commit $10 Billion Towards Space Elevator

Posted by on Oct 7, 2008 in Blog, Japan, Space Elevator, Technology | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: Space Travel)

With both the US and China relying upon rockets to secure their solar future beyond the heavens, it looks as if the nation of the rising sun is placing its bets on the space elevator.

(RIA Novosti) Japanese engineers intend to build an elevator to deliver cargo into space. Japanese authorities are prepared to allocate $10 billion for the project.

The space elevator is expected to cut the cost of delivering cargo into space and is considered one of the most ambitious projects of the 21st century. The Japanese plan to unveil a schedule for the elevator’s assembly and commissioning this November.

While the space elevator has its share of engineering problems, its successful construction would pretty much guarentee Japan’s space dominance over its rivals, as Japan would be able to launch cargo at much lower prices than either China or the US could via rockets.

A space elevator would enable Japan to establish large colonies fairly quickly on both the Moon and Mars–not to mention help the nation generate billions of Yen by renting it out to half the planet.

Note: The first Japanese Space Elevator conference is coming up, so be sure to check out the Space Elevator Blog for highlights from Tokyo!

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Video: Space Elevator Invades Conan O'Brien Show

Posted by on May 5, 2008 in Blog, Space Elevator, Video | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: The Space Elevator Blog)

The Space Elevator, a future technology that has the potential to revolutionize how humanity ventures beyond the sky was able to gain more public exposure thanks in part to the Kansas City Space Pirates (a team competing in the Elevator 2010 competition).

Congrats to Brian Turner for presenting the concept in a humerous, yet understandable manner (although it appears as if O’Brien did his homework regarding the space elevator).

The Kansas City Space Pirates are looking for a few good sponsors, so if you have deep pockets (or just feel like helping them out) feel free to invest in their project.

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Could An Orbital Space Elevator On Phobos Open Up Mars?

Posted by on Jul 25, 2007 in Asteroids, Blog, Mars, Solar Essay, Space Elevator, Technology | 4 comments

Like many of the worlds that orbit the Sol star, Mars has the potential to play a significant role in our future solar economy. The red planet could easily serve as a stepping stone towards humanity colonizing other worlds such as Ceres, Ganymede, and beyond.

But before we can dream about conquering this red gem, humanity may need to figure out how to land humans safely upon Mars, as the crimson planet’s atmosphere may pose problems for future explorers.

If humanity is ever going to conquer Earth’s favorite neighbor, then scientists are going to have to figure out a way to transport large payloads to the crimson world below.

Although a space elevator would compliment Martian colonies by providing a low cost method of delivering goods to the surface, such a structure would easily be destroyed by the red planet’s global storms that dust the surface every three Martian years.

But despite the fact that constructing a space elevator upon Martian soil may be not be feasible, constructing an orbital one (that does not touch the ground) from the base of its nearest moon may not.

The moon Phobos orbits its guardian planet at less than 6,000 km, a distance that should be within easy range of any powerful rocket. With the red planet’s atmosphere extending only to about 11 kilometers, a strong space tether could be constructed just above the clouds, allowing easy access for smaller space craft seeking easy access to the stars.

Another advantage an orbital “Phobian space elevator” would have is the availability of the space port towards the Martian masses. Phobos orbits its parent world in under eight hours, seeing up to three sunrises in an average Martian day.

Constructing an orbital space elevator from underneath this asteroid moon belly would enable colonists to have frequent access towards needed supplies off world, as well as a dependable quick exit if terraforming Mars takes a turn for the worse.

An orbital space elevator underneath Phobos could ultimately open up the crimson world towards human habitation, and allow us to not only land colonists upon this rusty world, but quickly transform Mars into a second home.

Note: Due to time constraints, images will be inserted later on in this post.

Update: Images added.

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LiftPort Arising From The Ashes?

Posted by on Jul 25, 2007 in Blog, Space Elevator, Space Industry | 0 comments

(Hat Tip: Space Elevator Blog)

(Image Credit: LiftPort)

LiftPort, a company dedicated to building the worlds first space elevator may be having a recent change of fortune. Having previously encountered what some would regard as a “mortal wound,” it looks as if the company may be making a comeback after launching their sister company, Tethered Towers.

(Cosmic Log) “I’ve got four people I’m talking to right now as potential customers,” he said. “Any one of them will be good. Two or three of them will put us in great shape. And I think that’s just the beginning. I think we’re going to be OK.”

Laine declined to go into the detailed applications envisioned by his potential customers – or, more accurately, his potential strategic partners. But he said the business model called for balloon-borne platforms capable of staying up for three to 10 days. Such platforms could be used for aerial wireless communications during an emergency, or for aerial monitoring of a particular area.

“For example, if you want to monitor bison migration in Wyoming, you put a balloon up there and you can watch what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve talked about border security, things like that. … We can’t tackle all of [the potential applications], so what we’re trying to do is find partners. Each of them have their own markets, they’re not overlapping.”

LiftPort is one of several companies striving to build a space elevator on (or orbiting) planet Earth. Although there are many other groups desiring to construct a “railroad to the stars,” LiftPort is probably one of the few out there who seek to do this entirely in the private sector (as opposed to relying on NASA who does not seem too fond of the concept).

Hopefully LiftPort can arise from its financial ashes like a Phoenix, as its demise would be a devastating blow to the space elevator community.

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