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Moon Space Science Technology

LiftPort Wants To Build Space Elevator On the Moon By 2020 210

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-we-just-have-to-get-to-the-moon dept.
Zothecula writes "When the late Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 went to the Moon, they did so sitting atop a rocket the size of a skyscraper that blasted out jets of smoke and flame as it hurtled skyward. For over half a century, that is how all astronauts have gone into space. It's all very dramatic, but it's also expensive. Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to take the elevator? That's the question that Michael Laine, CEO of LiftPort in Seattle, Washington, hopes to answer with the development of a transportation system that swaps space-rockets for space-ribbons. LiftPort ultimately wants to build a space elevator on Earth, but the company isn't planning on doing it in one go. Instead, Laine and his team are settling for a more modest goal – building an elevator on the Moon by 2020. This is much easier. For one thing, there’s no air on the Moon, so no icing problems. Also, the lower gravity means that no unobtainium is needed for the ribbon. Kevlar is strong enough for the job. And finally, there’s very little in the way of satellites or debris to contend with."
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LiftPort Wants To Build Space Elevator On the Moon By 2020

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  • The Earth has an atmosphere, so a space elevator needs to go up to get out of it. On the Moon, there is no atmosphere, so the you can just build a mass driver [wikipedia.org] horizontally, along the ground, and launch stuff in a tangential trajectory.

    • by LurkerXXX (667952)

      Space elevators also allow you to bring things gently DOWN from orbit. How's that mass driver gonna work for ya?

      • No sure how a space elevator is going to bring something gently down assuming the object was launched at the moon from the earth. Your going to have to slow down quite a bit to dock with an elevator. Might as well use that energy to land on the surface. Plus you run the risk of damaging the elevator if you attempt to dock things with it.
      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:32PM (#41157953)

        Space elevators also allow you to bring things gently DOWN from orbit. How's that mass driver gonna work for ya?

        It could work quite well. Mass drivers can decelerate as well, and can recover and convert the kinetic energy to electricity in the process.

      • Get the trajectory just right and maybe you could 'catch' the object in the end of the catapult and slow it down using the electromagnets in a manner similar to the regenerative braking used in electric cars?

    • True, but there are mountains and craters and other geological things that need to be avoided. Its not like its a perfect marble.

    • Yep real good for launching grains and such from the lunar colonies, as long as you have a decent computer to run the whole thing.
            Though if you use convict labor things could get interesting.

      Mycroft
      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        Yep real good for launching grains and such from the lunar colonies, as long as you have a decent computer to run the whole thing. Though if you use convict labor things could get interesting. Mycroft

        I see what you did there, tovarisch.

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:06PM (#41157615)

    That problem is that there is no way to create a lunar-centric orbit where the upper terminus of the ribbon hovers over a fixed position. So any tether can not be fixed to the ground. So lifting anything with that tether will involve something like a skyhook catch, except it will be at orbital velocities.

    • Which, at least in my opinion, makes it not a space elevator at all. After all, we could probably make a ribbon strong enough for an ultra sonic sky hook today or at least quite soon. A space elevator is a completely different ballgame. Using misleading buzzwords to get your funding off the ground is a bit of a red flag IMO.

    • by ClickOnThis (137803) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:23PM (#41157827) Journal

      That problem is that there is no way to create a lunar-centric orbit where the upper terminus of the ribbon hovers over a fixed position.

      Actually a Lagrange point would do fine for that. L1 is about 58,000 km [universetoday.com] from the moon towards the earth.

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        I hadn't considered that, it isn't strictly a lunar orbit.

        And the length of cable would actually be as long as or longer than the cable required for an earth-geosynchronous orbit elevator (~36,000 km)

        • I hadn't considered that, it isn't strictly a lunar orbit.

          And the length of cable would actually be as long as or longer than the cable required for an earth-geosynchronous orbit elevator (~36,000 km)

          As others have pointed out here, it would need to be a bit longer still and with a mass at the end, in order to maintain tension on the cable.

    • Since the moon is tidally locked to the Earth, does that mean the geostationary point would have to be at an Earth-moon distance? Or do you mean that the moon's rotation is so slow that there is literally no "geo"stationary orbit above the moon?
      • by Nadaka (224565)

        I mean that there is no geostationary orbit within the moons hill radius. And orbits do not exist outside an objects hill radius, things outside the hill radius by definition orbit something else or are on a non orbital trajectory.

  • woudln't you need a body that rotates fast enough (at the equator) to keep the elevator line taught?
  • by yotto (590067) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:10PM (#41157667) Homepage

    They're forgetting the single most important part of a space elevator: It needs to actually be useful.

    What are we going to do with a space elevator on the moon? We don't go there for a very good reason: Its expensive as hell. Making the cheap and easy part a little cheaper an easier isn't going to change the fact that the entire rest of the trip is prohibitively expensive.

    It's like your friend moving across town to be closer to you, but he lives in Seattle and you live in London.

    • by alphatel (1450715) *

      They're forgetting the single most important part of a space elevator: It needs to actually be useful.

      But we can use the ribbon to hurl the moon at Melancholia and save ourselves!

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      We don't go there because we're shortsighted and stupid. There's plenty of things the Moon would be good for, such as astronomy, and especially mining. There's a lot of He3 there, which would be very valuable for fusion reactors.

      • First we need a fusion reactor.
      • by bware (148533)

        There's plenty of things the Moon would be good for, such as astronomy, and especially mining. There's a lot of He3 there, which would be very valuable for fusion reactors.

        The moon sucks for astronomy. It's covered with a particularly nasty form of dust, the temperature variations are extreme, and your telescope is in the blazing sunlight for two weeks at a time, so your duty cycle is horrible.

        What can you mine on the moon that you can't mine on Earth for much cheaper? And by "much" I mean astronomically.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          I'm sure the dust problem can be overcome with engineering. How much worse can the temperature extremes be than what our orbital telescopes have to deal with? As for sunlight, isn't that already a problem on Earth?

          For mining, it's hard to say without actually going there and looking more closely. There's tons of stuff we mine now that it very rare and we could use more of. Even copper is getting more and more rare, as the prices for it keep rising greatly, and it's of critical importance to our technolo

          • by bware (148533) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @07:49PM (#41159139) Homepage

            Why deal with dust at all? Put your scope in space.

            The temperature extremes are much worse on the moon - close to absolute zero to hundreds of K if my memory serves right . In space, you just put your scope at L2 or Earth-trailing, build a passive solar shield (or use a cryopump if you need really low temps), and point it away from the sun. Voila, constant temperature and 100% duty cycle. Put your scope in space.

            There's also the fact that during the two weeks of duty cycle where you can operate the scope, you don't have solar power, so you have to have some way of storing energy. A telescope in space just uses solar panels and gets power 24/7. You'll have to cool your electronics half the time, and heat them the other half, so again, power, and storage. Go ahead, say nuclear. My understanding is that the moon has very few heavy elements, so all that has to come from Earth. So add a nuclear reactor, RTG, or batteries to your expenses.

            Telescopes on the moon have to have pointing mechanisms, and the moon has gravity, so it's more mechanically complex (dust, vacuum). Telescopes in space have reaction wheels and thrusters to control pointing. No dust, and also few moving parts in vacuum. Much simpler. Put your telescope in space.

            That is, in fact, why we are putting our telescopes out at L2 or Earth-trailing. Hubble would have been there had it not been for the mandate that it ride the shuttle. Have you noticed that we're not putting telescopes in Earth orbit anymore? It's not because we don't have the shuttle. It's because Earth orbit is sub-optimal, and not just a little bit.

            As far as comparing astronomy on the moon to astronomy on Earth, well, Earth has a lot of advantages for telescopes, and that's why there are lot more of them here on Earth than there are in space. Not least that you can breath the atmosphere and find cheap places to sleep and have grad students pull the late night shifts. There are of course disadvantages, and you could never have JWST on the ground, but the moon is just not a great place for telescopes. I'm not entirely talking out of my ass here. I've sat in the rooms where these tradeoffs were made, and the moon gets put on the list. Then we start ranking. The moon ranks low in performance (duty cycle, power), high in cost (humans in space suits have to build it, everything has to be shipped from Earth), and high in risk (you have to ask why, srsly?). Then by the wonders of Excel, the moon drops to the bottom of the rankings.

            But it is considered.

            That's even assuming we had the capability to build a telescope on the moon. Which would be insanely expensive. Humans building telescopes, launchable or not, where they can breathe is always going to be way cheaper than building them on the moon.

            Care to link to any peer-reviewed documentation that shows the abundance of He3, or any other interesting mine-able elements on the moon? I am ignorant of the geology of the moon, so if there's evidence that there are mine-able elements on the moon (including He3), I'd be happy to have my ignorance lessened.

            You haven't really addressed the question of you know, actually having a working fusion reaction that needs He3. We don't. And probably won't any time soon. What are the economics of mining something we don't yet need and is difficult to store?

            • by bware (148533)

              Holy cow. Never mind, I just read the Wikipedia page for He-3. It's even more far-fetched than I thought. 150 MT of regolith to get 1T of He3 (1.5e8:1 !!!), and He3 fusion might not even be realistic?

              Sigh.

            • "Hubble would have been there had it not been for the mandate that it ride the shuttle."

              Hubble was serviceable, hence it needed to be in LEO. It had nothing to do with being launched on the shuttle. Plenty of probes have been launched beyond LEO from the shuttle, they just use an upper-stage (just as they would if launched from anything else.)

            • by jamstar7 (694492)

              Why deal with dust at all? Put your scope in space.

              A radio telescope? Naw, put it on Farside. It'll have a small planet between it & all that radio noise from Earth to block it, should make for some sensitive scopes. As for an optical telescope, just put a barrel around the mirrors to keep out the daytime sun. The big problem is going to be thermal expansion of the optics. It'll seriously warp 'em.

    • by Iskender (1040286)

      What are we going to do with a space elevator on the moon? We don't go there for a very good reason: Its expensive as hell. Making the cheap and easy part a little cheaper an easier isn't going to change the fact that the entire rest of the trip is prohibitively expensive.

      For the Apollo missions, they needed their rockets to use fuel to lift the fuel that carried the payload that was fuel for the lunar descent to retard the fuel needed to lift the fuel for the ascent. It gets complicated pretty quickly.

      Absolutely none of this was of course free, and the most expensive substances were those at the lunar end - every gram has a much larger fuel equivalent at the start of the process.

      It will still be expensive to go there even with the elevator, but any reduction in price will i

    • by p0p0 (1841106)
      No, it's more like you living in London and him in Seattle, then building a tunnel between your houses that takes half the time and cost to travel between the 2, no too mention is is easier then catching 3 connecting flights and a submarine to Atlantis before the UFO transfer and bomb drop to Seattle after which you still need to ride in a cab.

      It is significantly easier and cheaper, much more than you are making it out to be.
    • They're forgetting the single most important part of a space elevator: It needs to actually be useful.

      This is Micheal Laine you're talking about here - useful is optional and definitely secondary to his Vision of a Glorious Future.

      Did they ever get around to repossessing his 'factory' in (IIRC) New Jersey? He's come a long way from shilling for dodgy tech based initiatives, but that's long been his pattern - when one scheme falls apart, move on to another even more dubious one.

    • I think the idea is that we will have already hurled a bunch of people and equipment to the Moon (or are getting ready to do so) and we have a "cheaper" way of getting stuff back than using 1/8th the thrust to get stuff off the Moon's surface than we do the Earth's. 2020 is a bit ambitious for that goal. Be more like 2050 or beyond. Remember, in the 1950s they thought we'd have flying cars by the 1980s.
  • ..ok, how? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kheldan (1460303) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:10PM (#41157675) Journal
    Wouldn't we need to get back to the Moon, establish some sort of colony there, and create the industry and infrastructure just to build such a thing in the first place? I can't see this all happening in the next 8 years.
    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      Seems like the biggest challenge would be building the cable and satellite; the work you have to do on the Moon should be minimal, mainly just anchoring the cable after it's dropped from the satellite. Of course, afterwards you'd want to build a base or something, but just to get the elevator working that isn't strictly necessary. The cable would be built on Earth. After this is all done and in place and a base is established, and mining operations started up, then we can start building up infrastructure

    • by Svippy (876087)

      Simple! They build the elevator on Earth, then strap it to a rocket that they fly directly into the moon. Fortunately, they have turned the elevator upside down, so when the rocket crashes into the moon, the elevator stands upward.

      This is kinda like how they build skyscrapers: Build it lying down, then straight it up when it's done. Much cheaper and safer.

    • Re:..ok, how? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tool462 (677306) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @08:49PM (#41159861)

      You're reading this wrong. 8 years is exactly the right amount of time.
      It's less than 10 years, which is sufficient to attract VC funding
      But it's also greater than 5 years, which is long enough to avoid any expectation of progress or success.

  • I can just see the cable breaking and some fool tries the stunt of jumping just before it hits. Given the gravity I wonder just how much force his head would have when it hit the ceiling? A study of that could be worthy of an ignoble award.
  • google: ( ( lunar cycle / 2*pi)^2 * mass of the moon * gravitational constant )^(1/3)
    That's 429,000km .. 1.12x the earth moon distance. Uhhh

  • by moniker127 (1290002) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:54PM (#41158263)
    "settling for a more modest goal – building an elevator on the Moon"
    Did someone just use the words "settle" and "building on the moon" in the same sentence? Who are these people?
    Where are the billions of dollars this is going to take? How the hell are they going to prototype it?
    Do they realize that 2020 isn't some lofty far off time these days? That's a bit more than 7 years.

    If NASA, Russia, or China (or Elon Musk) said they were going to try this, I'd be excited. But this shit is not going to happen like this, lets just be honest.
    • by chriso11 (254041)

      I think it makes more sense to make a space elevator from LOE. All the advantages of a lunar elevator, but actually in a useful location,

  • Reservationist: Oh, I can reserve you a flight coming back from Chicago at 5:55. Does that help? Richard: Hi, I'm Earth. Have we met? Reservationist: I don't think so.
  • by Esteanil (710082) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @07:43PM (#41159057) Homepage Journal

    You put LiftPort on the front page and forget their KickStarter campaign?
    It started on the 23.08, and in 5 days it's raised $27.514 of the 8000 goal.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/michaellaine/space-elevator-science-climb-to-the-sky-a-tethered [kickstarter.com]

  • So let's see, how fast does a spaceship go after blasting off with a rocket? And how long does it take to get to the moon? Okay, now let's compare that to the speed of something traveling along an elevator wire. If it's pulled by the wire, the most powerful metal alloys in the world still wouldn't hold up to a reasonable speed. Then there's friction so let's say it's mag-lev, except not really lev since it's going straight up. That'd get maybe 100MPH if they're lucky since a bullet train can go like 20

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