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21 August 2012


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Sean Paul Kelley

As attractive as this idea is I don't really seeing anything like it happening until there is a very significant movement towards a very real de-militarization of space. Yes, I realize there are no offensive military assets in space but I think that's only because the US so totally dominates in the area. Happy to be proven wrong, however.


Before we can do that, we'll have to clear the low to medium orbits of debris that can run into the space elevator and destroy it. Also will have to adjust the orbits of satellites that can run into it, or else the elevator will be in constant collision avoidance mode.

John Minnerath

It's going to happen. Someday.
Not in our lifetimes and most likely in a form we don't or can't imagine now.
We need these young people working on wild and crazy ideas that seem as magical to us now as a common light bulb would have been in the dark ages.

Allen Thomson

I agree that Earth-to-orbit elevators aren't going to come along for a good long while, if ever, for strength-of-materials and engineering reasons among several others.

However, people have pointed out that the problems are much less if you're talking about Moon and Mars elevators. Not that those are real easy or anything we're likely to see in our lifetimes, but at least they're slightly inside the range of the plausible.


It's hard to grasp the scale of the job, though. Geo-sync orbit is 22,000 miles up; the "elevator shaft" has to be twice that length (plus?) so it balances. It's doable, but not while humans are still wasting vast resources squabbling about, well, all the usual things.

Funny take here (beware f-bomb):


Kim Stanley Robinson deserves a hat-tip for his description of a worst-case disaster in his Green Mars trilogy. Hint: if it comes down, it will likely wrap ALL THE WAY AROUND THE GLOBE at least once...


While I agree with the part about needing to clear out LEO/MEO debris before an elevator is feasible, there's not much that can be done about active satellites other than make sure they or the elevator do preplanned "dodge" maneuvers from time to time. In LEO all orbits intersect the equatorial plane (where a space elevator would be), and high inclination orbits (the most useful ones) intersect it at pretty high relative velocities. The good thing is that the position of the cable is known very well, so doing what is called "conjunction analysis" (trying to figure out how close an object in orbit will pass to another object) should be pretty easy.



I'm kind of skeptical we're going to see that style of space elevators anytime soon. Carbon nanotubes are making progress little by little, but we have such a long way to go still. There are other variants on space elevators (MXER tethers are my favorite) that are more likely to happen in our lifetimes, but there's a lot of non-trivial engineering in any of these systems, and I think that there's still a lot of room for improvement with good ol' fashioned rockets. The problem is that most rockets to-date have effectively been designed with performance as the first, second, and third priority, with cost not even ranking in the top ten. I think there's a lot of room for improvement, especially with reusable rockets, but it's going to take some time for rockets to evolve in the right direction.


João Carlos

I too hope that happens, but...

only the chinese have the money for built it...


I'm very optimistic about this, now that neoliberalism has become the accepted, and, basically, only model for govt. So, what we have is a great formula. For some. Get the taxpayers to pony up the money (risk), parcel out, ahead of time, who gets the IP Rights (broadly employing that term)

IF the overall plan/technology works privatize the profits to the 'design team'. (aka known as the marketing folks who pay for the ballyhoo and lawyers, to write the tax loopholes/govt grants to get it off the ground, so to speak). And if it does not work....hand the bill to the taxpayers.

Charles I

Great dream, never adverted to the logistical obstacles cited above. I hope they can be solved, unlikely as it seems, but then we'd have the same old trinity of concerns.

Mind the gap.

Do we have an Elevator Gap?

Can we afford an Elevator Race?



That's all right. The Chinese will build it. I remember my father telling me in 1950 that man would not reach the moon in his lifetime or mine. He died in 1985. He had a problem with the "vision thing." I'm happy that Columbus did not have to get funding from a lot of you. pl


Dear Colonel,

I am with you on this Pat, I think there are a number of (will be gov't supported) technological developments that must be made, and then the economics will make sense. Once legal (liability) aspects are addressed (something that always happens quicker when the economics make sense), it will happen for whoever puts together the capital and technological know-how base.

A space elevator would be equivalent to the interstate highway system on steroids, one of those vision things that unlike dumping a few trillion into banks or wars, would create incalculable economic growth opportunities (think portugal and opening of the new world), and I suspect could be done for a few trillion and a decade. Right now economic growth is constrained by our planet being finite and the need for technological development to overcome these constraints - slow - or beggar thy neighbor (China vs US manufacturing . Opening the solar system would change, if not overturn, virtually all dynamics on this small overheated planet.

(But people would still be people, sighhh).


I have no problems funding it. I would love to try this. It seems to me to be the type of thing a govt, in theory, does best. My issue is; who owns it? Certainly it should be the entity taking the risks of funding it. Yes?

As to the Chinese building it? Maybe. but if were a citizen of China I believe I would want my govt to work on allowing the citizens of China to breath freely. On all days. That is what I'd focus on....of course I'm funny that way, I put a lot of stock in breathing.


"The competing forces of gravity, which is stronger at the lower end, and the outward/upward centrifugal force, which is stronger at the upper end, would result in the cable being held up, under tension, and stationary over a single position on Earth. Once deployed, the tether would be ascended repeatedly by mechanical means to orbit, and descended to return to the surface from orbit."

In 2011, Google was revealed to be working on plans for a space elevator at its secretive Google X Lab location. [27]

In 2012, the Obayashi Corporation announced that in 38 years it could build a space elevator using carbon nanotube technology.[28] At 200 kilometers per hour, the design's 30-passenger climber would be able to reach the GEO level after a 7.5 day trip.[29] No cost estimates, finance plans, or other specifics were made. This, along with timing and other factors, hinted that the announcement was made largely to provide publicity for the opening of one of the company's other projects in Tokyo.




Yup. I guess I was just "taken in' again. pl


That is if you discount all their debt and malinvestment.

Please recall in the late 80s the media frenzy of how the Japanese were going to dominate the world with their model of "state capitalism" - remember MITI? This was the conventional wisdom until their credit and asset bubbles got punctured in 1989. Two decades later Japanese real estate and the Nikkei are some 70% below their 1989 peak. And this after their neo-keynesian "stimulus" of government spending which has taken government debt from 50% of GDP to now over 200%.


Good idea as long as they don't build it in my neighborhood.


Hello, Sir:

"Space Elevators" are a 20th Century response to a problem we do not yet truly have. Engineering issues aside, you would need to build at least two to provide failover capability if they're going to be moving more than a handful of people into space, and then you would have to add in infrastructure and maintenance costs to the design.

I think that the current approach of using the current technology to service needs like satellites, coupled with entrepreneurs invited into the mix to try and innovate something better is the best bet. There isn't going to be some trans-national effort to put time, effort and lucre into a large-scale effort like this unless and until we find a pressing need to do so.

My $0.02,



Colonel, and All - I will be arrogant here and say that these technologies (chemical combustion rocketry) or mechanical 'space elevators' will be a matter of roaring loughter and amusement for future generations (say, in year 3000) - these are s.c. 'wrong technologies' - in analogy to what Dr Lewis Thomas described in medicine in reference to treating polio victims: the yards of bookshelves wih texts by orthopedic surgeons who tried to reposition tendons of unparalized muscles, or the whole concept of polio victims living in 'iron lungs' (there are pictures of whole rooms of those poor people confined in those iron tubes) - and the 'right' technology which was the pursuit in the virology lab and the development of vaccines, the 'right' technology was developed by people thinking about viruses and how to culture them, they did not think of how to treat polio!. I think that the conquest of earth gravity will be through the understanding of force of gravity and development of a force which will neutralize it. Sorry for the long paragraph, but I could not help to say, how 'small minded' this talk of rockets and elevators is....(No offense to the illustrious gremium).

Babak Makkinejad

I agree.

Also lacking has been attention to hybrid launch vehicles; e.g. a jet aeroplane mated to a rocket-propelled payload.

Babak Makkinejad


There is technology for exploration of solar systm based on controlled thermo-nuclear explosions.

It is called Project Orion and its details are classified.

Space is not being explored due to lack of technology; it is absence of will to do so.

Yes, I know, someone will hijack the ship and smash it into a building - let us bring back horses and donkeys.


I love Orion. "let's build a giant coke machine that dispenses nuclear shaped charges, and use it to blast a million ton rocket to mars!". This was, at one point, being seriously advocated as government policy. Ours is truly an era of stagnation and decline in comparison.

The problem with the design is political. Specifically, the launch from the surface. A few hundred open air nuclear detonations would probably be hard to get away with.

Now, if we had a space elevator we could build and launch Orion well away from earth, where fallout would be less of an issue. It all comes back to getting out of the gravity well.

Mark Logan


Quick question: how much weight can we (current rockets) put in geosynchronous orbit in one shot right now? I'm thinking this first feeder cable will not be splice-able. Even at a few kilos a mile, it's going to be heavy.

The only other thought that struck me, being from the Pacific NW and all, is a bit of trepidation about the ribbon idea...


The Twisted Genius

These comments have stirred ancient memories of my youth. During the heady days of projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, my friends and I would design rockets and spacecraft and plot our futures in space. Among our ideas was an antigravity drive where we played with the equations for gravity and centrifugal/centripetal forces. This is where I first learned to use a slide rule. We dreamed of building a massive space factory city between the Earth and the Moon. This is where we would build the interplanetary craft to explore the solar system and beyond. We imagined ships using ion drive, solar sails and nuclear propulsion being constructed in this spaceport before embarking on their voyages of discovery.


To fanto:

There is no evidence to date that gravity has a polarity, so "anti-gravity" is still very much a product of the imagination. At least until some bright boffin manages to unify General Relativity with the Standard Model that has unified the other three forces into a single force that manifests itself differently at different scales. Even then, the result may still mean that there is no anti-gravity.

To Babak and Grimgrin:

The main issue with Orion is that it won't work to get *into* orbit -- the concept was for interplanetary or interstellar travel. We don't have the technology to confine an atomic or nuclear blast in such a way as to provide enough thrust to get out there (let alone to keep the pesky byproducts from dissipating into the atmosphere :-)).

To Twisted Genius:

So where is my flying car?!?



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