“Going Up”: An Elevator to Space

March 1, 2014

We’re not talking science fiction here. A large collective of diverse experts from the International Academy of Astronautics have come together on the publication ‘Space Elevators’ to look into the feasibility of such a concept. And what did they find? Not only does it seem completely possible, it also seems to be a good idea. The reason being that rockets just aren’t quite cutting it; 80% of a rocket is the fuel mass and once it has been used just once, it’s discarded into space never to return. Space elevators could offer a much more efficient and sustainable method of space travel.

The 300-page paper looks into various solutions posed in the past but focuses mainly on laying out the guidelines to one solution. A long tether attached to the Earth’s equator extends 62,000 miles into space which is attached to a geo-node that rotates geosynchronous with the Earth’s rotation. A counterweight ensures the center of mass stays in orbit with the Earth and also keeps the cable taut. Payload carriers can then be elevated along tracks via electromagnetic propulsion allowing speeds in the thousands of km/h; basically, a fast version of the trams you find between airport terminals or something like the MagLev train.

A workshop at the Marshall Space Flight Center found that a 12,000-kg Space Shuttle payload would cost no more than $17,700 for an elevator trip. A passenger with baggage at 150 kg might cost only $222! “Compare that to today’s cost of around $22,000 per kg” said NASA’s David Smitherman, author of ‘Space Elevators: An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure for the New Millenium’. Not only that, the payload carrier can return to Earth and be reused, unlike single use rockets.

The idea of a space elevator has appeared often in science fiction but the idea of a real working solution has often been laughed at. However, recent development in nanotechnology predicts that lightweight materials strong enough for the task could be ready as soon as 2020. Japan have also claimed they will be able to build a full working space elevator solution by 2050 with the company claiming it will ‘build an orbital station at 36,000 km with a six-car elevator carrying 30 people at 200 km/h’.

Rumors have already sparked of Google X Labs looking to produce a space elevator and we already know that NASA have shown interest in the idea since the 90’s. We’ve already seen a successful Kickstarter campaign to create an elevator from Earth to the Moon. Maybe sometime in the near future, an idea which was originally laughed at may leave us laughing at the idea of rockets. How about that rocket scientists?

via: [Science Deck]