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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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  • 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 Nethemas the Great (909900) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:11PM (#41157687)
    Well I'm not so sure... It would make transport on and off the surface cheaper. This would in turn make it more economical to conduct mining operations on the the moon--which is presently our easiest to access source of Helium-3.
  • The Moon is Blue (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:28PM (#41157903) Homepage Journal

    My orbital mechanics sucks, but apparently smarter people have thought this through. It's not as intuitively simple as a tether between the Earth's equator and a geostationary satellite, but the physics does work:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_space_elevator [wikipedia.org]

    My issue is that this is yet another fancy space project that presupposes an earth to high-orbit launching capability we don't have, nobody is seriously working on, and would seem to require more financial support than anybody has the will to deliver.

    If somebody can crack this nut, then we can start talking about lunar space elevators, missions to other planets, and other fun stuff. But until that happens, all these fancy proposals are just so much hot air.

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:28PM (#41157907)

    The moon rotates once every 28 days, not 24 hours. Too lazy to calculate the numbers, but I think a lunastationary orbit would have a ridiculously long radius. Not practical. Better do do what the GP suggests: put the upper part at Lagrange point.

    A lunastationary orbit would have a radius of ~384400 km (the distance from Earth to the Moon).

    If you put the upper point at L1 or L2, you'll still have to put an anchor farther out to keep tension on the cable. Which may or may not be really useful, but it's an interesting idea, anyway.

  • by bertok (226922) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:33PM (#41157967)

    Except that it's not economical: all current plans for fusion power intend to breed the required fuel isotopes from lithium, which is several orders of magnitude cheaper than mining anything from space.

    So, that leaves what? Nothing. There is nothing on the Moon even remotely worth the multi-trillion-dollar expense. It's just rocks in a vacuum. We've got plenty of rocks here!

  • by randall77 (1069956) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @06:37PM (#41158027) Homepage
    Because catching a bullet with a gun is just as easy as shooting a bullet from a gun...
  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @07:10PM (#41158517) Journal
    There's plenty worth lifting off the moon, if we can do it. There's water for starters, plus plenty of raw materials for making high quality metals, ceramics, semiconductors and so on. If you can send them into a low Earth orbit then you'll probably find you can beat the per-kilo costs of launching similar material from Earth, what with the big gravity well and atmosphere and all. If you can undercut an entire planet then I'd call that a worthwhile business opportunity. Can't see how a space elevator helps much, but there's plenty worth lifting off the moon.
  • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @07:10PM (#41158525)
    Similar ideas were had about computers and a great many other things. Sometimes the destination is a bit farther from you than your myopic vision permits to be seen. I also didn't say "economical" relative to earth bound alternatives but then you're also making the assumption that we're taking this stuff back to earth. Let's throw a few points up that you might not be considering:
    • He-3 is preferable for a fusion fuel since it's aneutronic--no radiation to deal. It comes that way from the moon, the path to producing it on earth does everything but avoid radiation.
    • He-3 is useful as an advanced fuel in rocket propulsion
    • Power can be produced in space and beamed down to earth
    • Many of those rocks we have down here on Earth resulted from really big rocks from space slamming into us. Might be good idea if we have technology, infrastructure and humanity already in space before we're in need of it.
    • Putting multi-trillions of dollars into the vacuum is preferable to craters into the middle-eastern sand. The same jobs are created but at the end of the day at you have something far more impressive to show for it and far fewer lives expended.
  • by bertok (226922) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @07:48PM (#41159127)

    He-3 is preferable for a fusion fuel since it's aneutronic--no radiation to deal. It comes that way from the moon, the path to producing it on earth does everything but avoid radiation.

    Even the "aneutronic" fusion reactions have side-reactions that produce neutrons [wikipedia.org]. While a lower neutron flux helps with materials engineering from a longevity standpoint, it still makes the reactor wall materials radioactive. That's the real problem, and He-3 doesn't fix it.

    He-3 is useful as an advanced fuel in rocket propulsion

    a) Requires technology that is currently at the wishful-thinking stage of development.
    b) Rockets don't require aneutronic fusion, because fusion engines would be most useful in deep space, where radiation is not a problem.
    c) He-3 fusion isn't entirely aneutronic anyway.
    d) He-3 fusion is harder than D-T fusion.

    Power can be produced in space and beamed down to earth

    Has nothing to do with the Moon, or an orbital tether.

    There is no realistic source of power that either exists only on the Moon, or would be cheaper to produce on the Moon.

    Many of those rocks we have down here on Earth resulted from really big rocks from space slamming into us. Might be good idea if we have technology, infrastructure and humanity already in space before we're in need of it.

    A tether on the Moon won't help you solve this problem. If this comes up, robotic space-probe technology will be all we need, and we have that already. Stop watching Hollywood sci-fi where brave men have to go deal with the problem in a giant space ship. The real solution will likely be as simple as coating one side of the incoming object with soot.

    Putting multi-trillions of dollars into the vacuum is preferable to craters into the middle-eastern sand. The same jobs are created but at the end of the day at you have something far more impressive to show for it and far fewer lives expended.

    [citation needed]

    Things aren't that simple in the real world. As cold and sad as it is, the lives of brown people in a distant desert just aren't worth much to anybody in the United States, unlike the oil they live on top of. By some calculation it was worth it to invade. Thanks to various mistakes, the cost ended up spiralling out of control, but even so the wars are probably a better investment than going to the Moon.

    He-3 is worthless, because it doesn't achieve aneutronic fusion, just slightly-less-neutronic fusion. So then, what's left on the Moon that's worth a multi-trillion investment?

    Seriously, name one thing that's on the moon that you think is worth trillions of dollars, keeping in mind that its surface is entirely covered in rocks.

  • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @07:57PM (#41159225)

    The mining machines wouldn't necessarily need to be: massive, transported via the tether, and/or come down fully assembled. Not everything has to start out on massive scales. For instance consider the state of global shipping back in the 18th century then compare that to the early 21st. Or farming in the 18th vs. 21st. Normally things start out small and gradually build out as technology and resources develop. Staging things is simply an engineering problem which if Curiosity is any indicator we seem to be getting pretty good at. Even during the Apollo missions we were dropping some pretty serious hardware down onto the moon. Powering these machines can come from any number of technologies from mundane to exotic. We already have well proven solar and RTG technologies, there are a few rather interesting possibilities using in-situ resources as well. For instance using the newly discovered water with the aluminum in the regolith to produce hydrogen for fuel [smartplanet.com]. The Aluminum Hydroxide byproduct has its own interesting uses. The obvious one is of course simply using the mined He-3 for fusion power (whenever we get that one figured out).

    Few grand adventures into human frontiers are ever "practical" initially and that unfortunately prevents people from seeing what humanity's pioneers and explorers see. In the 1800's no one got what Charles Babbage saw. During the first half of the 1900's very few saw what Konrad Zuse saw. Today no one can miss it and everyone demands it. People too often are quick to see problems as "too hard", too near-sighted to see possibilities, too self-centered to appreciate the benefits to others. You might not get to holiday on Utopia Planitia, or sail the methane seas of Titan but wouldn't it be awesome to initiate the projects now that make that a reality for your progeny? Both incomprehensible business opportunities and human delights await us on this next frontier. What are we waiting for?

  • 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.

  • by spauldo (118058) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @04:07AM (#41163147)

    Seriously, name one thing that's on the moon that you think is worth trillions of dollars, keeping in mind that its surface is entirely covered in rocks.

    Rocks in space.

    Seriously, look at the price of titanium on earth - about $7 US per kg for commodity ferro titanium. Look at the price of titanium in low earth orbit - according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], it costs about $4300 US per kg using a Proton rocket (the cheapest non-subsidized launch method listed). There's quite a lot of titanium on the Moon, as well as aluminum, iron, and magnesium.

    That's why we want to mine asteroids and the Moon - getting material out of the Moon's gravity well is a lot easier than getting it out of Earth's gravity well (and of course asteroids generally don't have an appreciable gravity well).

    If we want a space station that's more than just a few tin cans glued together and can protect its inhabitants from radiation, we need building materials. We can get many of those materials from the Moon. We'd have to learn how to process and smelt them there first, of course, but you have to start somewhere.

    He3? Well, maybe later. You don't build a gas station before the invention of combution engines. Water is more valuable, if it can be collected in any serious amount, which we still don't know.

    That said, I have my doubts that anyone could put a space elevator on the moon in 8 years. It's just not going to happen. The design phase would take at least half that time.

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