Monday, September 27, 2004
The Space Elevator
For some reason the Space Elevator (SE) concept has been getting more visibility (as measured by the number of articles I run across discussing it in a given month).
If you haven't heard of this before, the basic idea is that we tie a very long cord to the earth, put some heavy weights on the end of it which would result in a stairway to heaven of sorts. Much like the classic experiment where you take a bucket of water and rotate your arm quickly through a circle (if done right, the water doesn't spill out even when upsidedown), the earth's rotation will keep the weight out in space and the cord tight.
If you have this, then you can build a machine to climb up the cord and drop off loads of equipment, satellites, and people into space without dangerous and wasteful rockets.
While I remain skeptical, I am impressed by the fact that most approaches to this topic appear to be genuinely exploratory and are examining a wide range of reasons that it might never come to be (though they are not yet focused on non-technical, non-budgetary reasons).
Here's a link to Elevator 2010, which is hosting a contest to create a material 25 times stronger than the best steel (and light too). It has a primer to help get you up to speed on some basic concepts. Elevator 2010 purports to provide an answer to whether SEs are feasable by 2010.
This last June witnessed the The Space Elevator: 3rd Annual Internation Conference. The site for this contains many interesting presentations given on such subjects as the state of nanotube technology (for making the cord) and getting power to the crawler, to how to frame public discussions about the SE to sidestep some tricky issues that might otherwise muck up the ability to make the SE happen.