Force Carbon

What is Space elevator?

What is it?

A Space Elevator is significantly less interesting than fictional accounts represent. It's simply a very long, very strong ribbon that is attached to the earth and extends outward far enough that inertia can overcome gravity. Robotic "lifters" climb this ribbon with cargo attached to them. Commercial ventures working on space elevators plan to carry from 7 to 100 tons of cargo per trip, and can makes those trips weekly or even daily.

Unlike rockets, these lifters will not have to carry their own fuel. Attached to them will be massive photo-voltaic cells (solar cells). Energy to power the system will be "beamed" to the lifter using lasers from the ground. By not having to carry it's own fuel, though slower, the process will be vastly more efficient than using rockets. Initial estimates suggest a price of $400/lb (657 euro/kg). At that price, pre-university students could even send up science packages with the proceeds from a weekend car-wash.

The way a space elevator works is like a ball on a string. Hold the string over your head and spin your hand. The ball overcomes the pull of gravity and the string gets pulled taut. The Space Elevator works the same way. A 62,000 mile (100000km) long string or ribbon is attached to the earth which spins. A small satellite acts as a counterweight at the end and the centrifugal effect pulls the string a little bit harder than gravity does.

This process results in incredibly strong forces pulling in both directions with the maximum pull being just above geosynchronous orbit at 22,800 miles. With a ribbon made out of Spectra (tm) the mass required to hold itself up would result in over 100 heavy lift rocket launches just to get the material in orbit to assemble and deploy. The cost involved would be phenominal and not practical.

A developing material, "Carbon Nanotubes", have the potential to make it financially feasable. To keep the number of launces down to a reasonable number, a ribbon capable of supporting one ton of cargo with a small safety margin would have to be able to withstand at least 60Gpa (gigapascals) of force. Carbon Nanotubes have been measured with a strength as high as 100Gpa, but have not been able to show that strength when assembled into any sort of rope, ribbon, or other structure. Further development does, however, look promising.

A lunar based space elevator, however, could be done today. The gravitational forces involved are much lower. A lunar space elevator (LSE) would be held in place by balancing the pulls of gravity from the moon with the pull from earth. This would require a ribbon of material with the strength of Spectra(tm) or Dyneema(tm) and would be roughly 150,000 miles long. The biggest problem with the LSE is that in order for it to be cost effective, there has to be a customer wanting to transfer cargo. News from the LiftPort Group on April 7th, 2007 suggested that there is indeed a customer who is interested in working on a LSE to support a moon based manned observatory they're constructing.

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