Exploit Sol System: A space elevator?


Well-Known Member
Oct 31, 2006
Should we, could we build a space elevator? A space elevator would be a connection (usually by wire) to Earth orbit, allowing people and equipment to move into orbit in a similar way to moving up a tall building. The idea being to reduce the cost of transport into orbit to an acceptably low level.

I have been disappointed at the speed of our exploitation, development and exploration of our solar system. Our probes learn a great deal, but much of our investment is still spending with no return in sight.

The return comes in two forms: First the classic monetary one, once we can make a fiscal return activity will increase. Second, the survival imperative; asteroid deflection, space habitats, Mars, moon colonies and ultimately interstellar travel.

The base problem is cost, the cost of getting payloads into space. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a kilo of equipment into space. If it rains in Indonesia the space shuttle is grounded. Most of the fuel in the ariane is used to overcome the weight of the fuel in the ariane.

A space elevator might after massive initial cost allow to get a lot of equipment into space rapidly. This would allow us to construct space ships in space. They could be much larger, and faster. This would allow us to move rapidly throughout the system.

I know there are a number of very informed folk on here, and would welcome their thoughts on the space elevators feasibility and desirability.

Here's the now traditional wikipedia link.

Space elevator - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Well - we might laugh: we did in the 50s when it was suggested man might fly to the moon! There were many space programmes on TV and we all watched them - as children thinking it would happen (as children always do) and as adults thinking it'll never happen (as adults do). But most of the things we read about, see on TV or even watch as films (Arnold's trip to Mars being one) are gradually happening so it isn't out of the imagination that this elevator will happen one day.

But, as you say, it's all taking too long so I'm afraid I don't expect to see it in my day.
The basic technical hurdle is what to make the cables out of. Carbon nanotubes have the physical traits for it, at least in theory, but manufacturing processes for them are stuck at the microscopic level.

There's also the problem of what to do about high-velocity collisions with meteors/micrometeors, parts of exploding bolts from past rocket booster stage changes still drifting around, and such. Protecting the cables would mean enclosing them in something much bigger and solid, like a sheath. And that tremendously magnifies the mass, which is troublesome in terms of both production and the structure's ability to withstand its own weight.
Always wanted to see one of these since I read 3001. I know a giant ring around the Earth is a helluva way further off, but I'd like to see a Space Elevator built in my lifetime.
One of the major problems of building the space elevator (or orbital tower, or beanstalk) is the counterweight, keeping the centre of gravity precisely in geostationary orbit. It must be comparable with the total mass of the tower, and at least a couple of orders of magnitude more massive than any payload. Worst case the tower could be built out of available materials (the argument which "proves" this wrong is similar to the one that "proved" that a chemical rocket could not achieve escape velocity), though it would be extremely big and clumsy, but a couple of megatonnes of mass couldn't be lifted into space in any reasonable time with traditional techniques (in http://www.chronicles-network.com/forum/11518-growing-a-beanstalk.html?highlight=growing+beanstalk I proposed a potential technique, but it didn't seem to impress nybody very much). Clarke, of course, flew an asteroid in, and used it as raw material for the tower, too; unfortunately that means we need major space industries before the tower can be started, or, at very least, a flourishing moon base.
Space debris doesn't bother me that much, and the fact that the tower has to go as far further out from orbit as it goes in to planet (at least mass wise, if not in length) makes it a great way of throwing things to the far corners of the solar system, but I don't expect to see the work started, let alone the finished product.
And powering it? Solar panels on the counterweight would easily produce enough energy, but transferring it to the vehicule; perhaps superconducting cables, perhaps maser transfer?