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Space Science

Space Elevator Going Up 684

Posted by michael
from the penthouse-suite dept.
Adlopa writes "The Guardian newspaper reports on scientists' efforts to realise the space elevator, as first described by Arthur C Clarke in his 1979 novel 'Fountains of Paradise'. Advances in materials science mean that 'a cable reaching up as far as 100,000km from the surface of the Earth' is no longer an impossibility and 70 scientists and engineers are discussing the idea at a conference in Santa Fe today."
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Space Elevator Going Up

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  • by knowles420 (589383) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @12:52PM (#6952000) Homepage Journal
    will it have a 13th floor?
  • Seems like (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Any excuse to hang out in Santa Fe is a good one.
  • by The Silicon Sorceror (40289) <jbonham@utm.utoronto.ca> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @12:56PM (#6952029)
    At about a third of the way along the cable - 36,000km from Earth - objects take a year to complete a full orbit.

    Uh oh...
  • Error in article: (Score:5, Informative)

    by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1@yaho o . com> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @12:57PM (#6952033) Journal
    From the story:
    ----
    A space elevator would make rockets redundant by granting cheaper access to space. At about a third of the way along the cable - 36,000km from Earth - objects take a year to complete a full orbit. If the cable's centre of gravity remained at this height, the cable would remain vertical, as satellites placed at this height are geostationary, effectively hovering over the same spot on the ground.
    ------

    Actually, at 36,000 km from earth, objects take a day, not a year to complete a full orbit. The moon takes about 28 days to complete an orbit, (one lunar cycle) and any object far enough out from the earth to require a year in order to complete an orbit would passed the instability limit, where it would be captured away by the sun's gravity, and would no longer orbit earth.

  • by Phoenixhunter (588958) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @12:58PM (#6952034)
    http://www.spaceelevator.com/ About the only place I could find with all the information piled into one spot.
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:03PM (#6952070) Homepage
    The state of the art is not quite strong enough or long enough.

    Quote from the article:

    "Until some of the basic science concerning how to connect nanotubes together and transfer load between them in a composite is understood it will remain elusive, but a lot of progress is being made."

    Basically, the state of the art with carbon nanotubes is that you can build them a few centimeters long, of almost/just about the right strength (72 Gpa); but nobody has made or can make a rope even 1 foot long with the right strength (ideally 130 GPa including a 50% safety factor).

    State of the art carbon nanotube ropes are down under 3GPa (less than Kevlar strength). To oversimplify the problem nanotubes are very slippery and hard to join with any strength. Splicing rope out of threads traditionally loses 20% of the strength, but nanotubes are too slippery, and not strong enough anyway for that right now.

    Still, enormous progress has been made; and it looks surprisingly promising; but it's impossible right now.

    • by Ugmo (36922)
      Why can't nanotubes be built through some kind of biological process like celluose fibers or wood fibers? Aren't long chains of molecules pieced together in cells by various enzymes? Shouldn't a process exist to genetically engineer a bacterium to extrude a nanotube out its but as long as sufficient raw materials and energy are supplied to it? It is not like nanotubes are chemically complicated, it is just carbon, carbon and more carbon?

      Any one know of any projects using an organic approach instead of a ch
      • It might be possible, but no known organism builds them. It's probably a very energetically intensive process, so any organism that stumbled across the right process to build it probably wouldn't keep the genes to do that; since other materials are cheaper and do nearly as well (spider silk is probably better for catching flies than nanotubes would be, since it's more stretchy.)

        Just because it's made of carbon doesn't make it easy to build. I don't know of any organism that makes diamond either (although i

    • You are correct, however, the current proposals do not envision using a single nanotube, or even a nanotube rope. Rather, they intend to use a nonetube composite material, hence the 1m x 0.3m dimensions of the elevator "cable." The site [www.isr.us] formerly known as Highlift Systems is apparantly the ones behind the proposal that's being discussed, and their site has some interesting info on it. They describe the composite material as "..be[ing] composed of individual fibers 10 microns in diameter lying side-by-side. T
  • Wow (Score:4, Funny)

    by lateralus (582425) <.yoni-r. .at. .actcom.com.> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:04PM (#6952075) Journal

    Thats the longest extension on a CAT-5 I've ever heard of, I'd go with wireless instead.

    You'd also have God's wrath to deal with when he trips over it when going to the fridge for a midnight snack.

    • by mblase (200735)
      Thats the longest extension on a CAT-5 I've ever heard of, I'd go with wireless instead.

      Brings a whole new meaning to "satellite broadband", too.

      "Where d'you want us to send the cable into your house?" "Oh, just drop it straight down through the chimney, same as everyone else."
    • Actually they are planning on using wireless to power the elevator (probably laser power)- wires would be far too heavy; and you need a lot of energy to climb that high.

      So far as I know the data connection technology for the car has not been speced yet, so I don't know how they intend to get Slashdot :-)

  • by mblase (200735) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:05PM (#6952082)
    One unlikely problem could be capturing the public's imagination. "When we actually start launching this it's going to be kind of boring," Dr Edwards said. "There's no smoke, there's no pillars of fire and there's no loud rumbling noises. There's just this thing that slowly ascends the ribbon into space."

    This problem would be neatly solved once the initial expense of the elevator was recouped. At this point it would be much cheaper to send objects into orbit, including people... ride up the chain, get on a space suit, get out on your own nanotube cable and float around 36,000 km above the earth without ever needing to learn how to help fly a space shuttle.

    I foresee an enormous tourist interest, to the point that someday several elevators will be sent up exclusively for tourists to use.
    • by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:19PM (#6952189)
      The ascent is going to be very very slow. Imagine going at 100km/h, a speed that would impress most normal elevator designers. 15 days for the ascent, 15 more for the descent. (Admittedly the descent could be done quicker).
      • The ascent is going to be very very slow. Imagine going at 100km/h, a speed that would impress most normal elevator designers. 15 days for the ascent, 15 more for the descent. (Admittedly the descent could be done quicker).

        It isn't going to be even close to 15 days to get to the top. Some very simple physics tells us that if we accelerated at 1 g for 1 second we would be traveling at a velocity of 9.8 meters per second (gravity on earth equals 9.8 m/s/s). If we then traveled at that constant speed we w

        • by Idarubicin (579475) <.moc.liamtoh. .ta. .teiuqslla.> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:32PM (#6953392) Journal
          So t= 10,000 seconds, or roughly 2.8 hours traveling at a velociy of 10,000 meters per second (36,000 km/hr or 21600 mph).

          Eek. We have enough trouble building a horizontal railway that travels faster than a few hundred kilometres per hour--now you want us to build a vertical one that reaches a speed thirty times greater? One little hiccup in your track mechanism (presumably some sort of magnetic suspension) and the moving cargo drags against the elevator cable at ten kilometres per second. Suddenly, you have a much shorter cable...

          I'm prepared to accept a slow and stately climb at four or five hundred km/h, even if it means it will take ten days to ascend.

    • One unlikely problem could be capturing the public's imagination. "When we actually start launching this it's going to be kind of boring," Dr Edwards said. "There's no smoke, there's no pillars of fire and there's no loud rumbling noises. There's just this thing that slowly ascends the ribbon into space."

      This just means we have to reverse the viewing of the 'launch' to be from a camera mounted from the object. It'd be really neat to see the world as this climbs up above it.

      As for tourists, I imagine thi
    • I foresee an enormous tourist interest, to the point that someday several elevators will be sent up exclusively for tourists to use.

      Yeah, but imagine the security screening they'll have to go through... Probably make an alien abduction feel like a casual glance....
  • by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:05PM (#6952083)
    Nasa played around with dragging wires through the atmosphere to generate static electricity.

    This thing will could possibly generate HUGE amounts of SE as the atmosphere whizzes past it 24/7. Are there plans to capture and use this electricity or what??

  • 7 billion USD? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dark Lord Seth (584963) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:07PM (#6952096) Journal

    Fuck Iraq and let's cough up roughly 12 space elevators instead.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:11PM (#6952123)
    Pretend that I posted a lame joke about listening to elevator music for a very long time. Then mod me up as "Funny". Half of the so-called "Funny" posts aren't, so this one will fit in nicely.
  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by merlin_jim (302773) <`James.McCracken' `at' `stratapult.com'> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:11PM (#6952128)
    A space elevator would make rockets redundant by granting cheaper access to space. At about a third of the way along the cable - 36,000km from Earth - objects take a year to complete a full orbit. If the cable's centre of gravity remained at this height, the cable would remain vertical, as satellites placed at this height are geostationary, effectively hovering over the same spot on the ground.

    Objects take one DAY to complete a orbit at 36,000 km... and if that orbit is in the same direction as the earth turns, then you can orbit continuously over a spot on the equator. There's actually a minor perturbation, but those forces are minor compared to the other forces a space elevator would have to deal with...

    BTW, a nice recent sci-fi novel on the subject of space elevators is _Rainbow_Mars_ by Larry Niven, of _Ringworld_ fame.
  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:11PM (#6952129) Journal
    From the article: "When we actually start launching this it's going to be kind of boring," Dr Edwards said.

    After watching rockets (and shuttles) explode into spectacular fireballs, boring is just fine with me. Considering the majority of mass on any rocket is used to just get it to a level of orbit, this could be a nice way for us to start working toward the moon (and eventually beyond) again.

    The really exciting will no longer be GETTING into orbit, but rather what we can do once we get there.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:13PM (#6952141)
    ...estimates it would take about $7bn (4.4bn) to turn the concept into reality...

    So how exactly do you come up with a budget for a project that calls for an unknown (but massive) amount of nonexistanium, delivered to orbit no less?
  • by jerryasher (151512) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:15PM (#6952157)
    From the article.... "The biggest technical obstacle is finding a material strong but light enough to make the cable; this is where the carbon nanotubes come in. These are microscopically thin tubes of carbon that are as strong as diamonds but flexible enough to turn into fibre. In theory, a nanotube ribbon about one metre wide and as thin as paper could support a space elevator."

    I know the fiber is as strong as diamonds, and I understand that along it's 100,000 km length it's flexible enough to dodge objects.

    But how will they protect it from, well, planes at altitudes below 100,000 feet?
  • Sources (Score:3, Informative)

    by starbuzz (590877) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:21PM (#6952207)
    The novel by Clarke is a nice read. Clarke is not the source of the idea, though, as he acknowledges himself in the appendix of Fountains:

    This apparently outrageous concept was first presented to the West in a letter in the issue of Science for 11 February 1966,
    "Satellite Elongation into a True 'Sky-Hook'" , by John D. Isaacs, Hugh Bradner and George B. Backus ...

    That's in Science vol. 151(3711), p. 682 (1966).

    ... It was later discovered that the concept had already been developed six years earlier - and on a much more ambitious scale - by a Leningrad engineer, Y. N. Artsutanov (Komsomolskaya Pravda, 31 July 1960). Artsutanov considered a "heavenly funicular", to use his engaging name for the device, lifting no less than 12,000 tons a day to synchronous orbit.

    Interestingly, Clarke envisioned the thread leading up (or down) the skytower to be nanodiamond, while these days nanotubes are all the range. The difference in the materials is that in diamond carbon atoms have four neighbours but in tubes they have only three, as in graphite, yet at about the same formation energy. That makes their chemical bonds actually stronger than in diamond and gives nanotubes their extraordinary tensile strength at low mass - perfect for engineering a space elevator.

  • by mikey573 (137933) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:22PM (#6952218) Homepage
    From what I've head, a space elevator is a bad idea in the sense that the atmosphere has a singificant EMF gradient between the surface of the earth and far up in the atmomsphere. Completion of such a device would case the world's largest lightning bolt ever. You'd be basically creating the largest "short" ever. :P
  • by thorgil (455385) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:24PM (#6952224) Homepage

    According to A. Clarke himself the space elevator was invented by Jurij Artsutanov from St. Petersburg.

    (3001, The final Odyssey, under sources)
  • by Mr. Darl McBride (704524) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:26PM (#6952234)
    ...about the space elevator is when the kid who launched his satellite just before you mashes every button before getting off.
  • Going up... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Foozy (552529) <[jbrown] [at] [thrupoint.net]> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:31PM (#6952266) Homepage
    "3rd floor; stereos, TVs, radios..."
    "203rd floor; binoculars, range finders..."
    "56,304th floor: parachutes, hang gliders..."
    "124,202nd floor; helium baloons, oxygen tanks..."
    "973,404th floor; motion sickness pills, glare filters..."
    • Re:Going up... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jfengel (409917)
      And it goes up from there. At 25 feet per story (not uncommon for office buildings) you're talking just shy of five million stories. At a more house-like 10 feet per story, it's more like 10 million.

      I know you were just joking, but I found that number kind of put it all in perspective for a second.
  • How cheap is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AchilleTalon (540925) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @01:53PM (#6952375) Homepage
    a 100 000 km cable made with a yet to invent material, with a yet to invent manufacturing process, with yet to invent deployement mecanism, with a yet to invent protection measures and with a yet to estimate electricity bill (since the vehicles will climb up and down using electricity converted from a laser beam they will received from earth)?

    The estimate of 7 billions $ seems very, very, underestimated.

    And I suppose all known NASA locations are not consider as potential site to build this escalator, most of them are much more to near regions where tropical storms are likely to happen. Because, what would happen to a nice 1 meter large, paper thin, 100 000 km long light weight ribbon under a tropical storm? For sure, it will be hard to align the laser beam on the vehicles.

  • by cryptogryphon (547264) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @02:17PM (#6952496)
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @03:43PM (#6952865) Homepage
    Is that at this conference they seem to think that carbon nanotube fibers of any kind don't exist? While a pure nanotube fiber has yet to appear, why wasn't any mention made in the article of this:

    Slashdot - Texas Scientists Spin Carbon Nanotube Fiber [slashdot.org]

    Other promising research:

    Slashdot - Scientists Crack Silk's Secret [slashdot.org]

    and

    Slashdot - Nanotube Applications Grow And Grow [slashdot.org]

    Maybe they did discuss all this and more at the conference - I would like to hope that these scientists and researchers are aware of what is going on in this far-flung field. I only wish they would have made mention of this stuff in the article for the common man, to show that it wasn't all so much "hooey" - that it is something which may be inevitable, and will happen sooner than we all expect.

    We (all of mankind) are rapidly moving in a very funky direction, technology-wise. We have carbon-nanotube fibers. We are looking into other advanced fibers and fiber processes. We have found sea-creatures that make insanely great fiber optic fibers (and with the other stuff, we will probably be able to replicate the process very soon). The gains in communications alone will cause a lot of other gains to be made, because of distributed processing amongst far-apart supercomputing centers that need more bandwidth than they already have (and they have a crapload, but not as much as they want or need). Such fibers may help in the optical-computing dept as well. Remember also the stories of "growing diamonds" - that are so pure they are almost impossible to distinguish from real diamonds - and they have DeBeers quaking at the possibilities to their "markets", maybe destroying them. But these companies don't want the diamonds for prettiness or money (well, they want them for the money, true), but to be able to use them for the substrate of computer chips, instead of silicon, for higher speeds and better heat dissipation.

    Couple that with all the other "funky" advances we have seen - we are all being dragged in a very wierd direction, speeding up the computing and learning capacity of all involved (and even if you are at the edge of the network, like most of us are here, and not where the action is, you will still be pulled in)...

    I don't know where to go with this - except that our current distopia (and if you don't think we are living in a distopia, one every bit as scary, strange, and awe-inspiring as science fiction can come up with - you haven't been paying attention) is going in a new and strange direction, strangely reminiscent of what the "early-years" (which are only touched on) of Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" might have been like.

    This is all strange shit, yet very few of us are even seeing it or thinking about the real implications, for some reason...

  • by UnixRevolution (597440) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @04:32PM (#6953098) Homepage Journal
    So even at 100KPH it takes 15 days up or down?

    I'd imagine that theme would get old on the way up.

    Baaaaaaaa....
    Baaadaaaaa....
    Baaaaaadaaaaa...
    BAAADAAAA BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM

    i mean jeez.

  • Access and Traffic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Snuggles the Psycho (707012) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:01PM (#6953238)
    "the floating base platform would be placed hundreds of miles from aircraft routes and shipping lanes and would be in a region of the sea where storms, lightning and high waves are rare." I understand that they are concerned about access, but in reality it's a waste of time and money. Any sufficiently useful transport technology has historically generated growth and traffic around itself. Instead of having to deal with restricted and obscure access routes, these elevators should be dropped into the major trade centers of the world. Ports bring boats, airplanes, highways and trains all into one place. The next logical step is to include access to space. If the space elevator is built in the middle of the pacific ocean, the next great challenge will be to supply a floating airport and direct shipping routes...
  • I don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @05:57PM (#6953509) Homepage
    How do you gain traction on the cable without damaging it? Just throwing a rope up isn't enough, you need to be able to climb it as well. If you start with a 1m x 0.3m cable, then sloughing even a tiny amount of cable material as you climb or descend is going to chew though it quickly.
  • by djmitche (536135) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:32PM (#6954230) Homepage
    OK, so these folks think they can move the base station to avoid space junk. That sounds extremely tricky already. But I wonder what they can do about meteorites and other smaller stuff that comes in much larger batches? The cable may be able to take one or two hits from these little buggers, but it's going to sustain *some* damage!
  • by rpiquepa (644694) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @03:54AM (#6955717) Homepage
    The Guardian says: "The biggest technical obstacle is finding a material strong but light enough to make the cable; this is where the carbon nanotubes come in." But what about selecting the appropriate carbon nanotubes among the 56 known varieties? Two teams of chemists from Rice University [rice.edu] and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [uiuc.edu] (UIUC) have found a way to separate and manipulate these varieties of carbon nanotubes. Obviously, it will help to build the Space Elevator. More details are available on my blog [weblogs.com].

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